Sunday, March 17, 2013

Gore v. Fear: What's scary?

I was sitting here the other night watching THE CAR (...and giggling).  It was rated PG and didn't have much gore or blood or...well...anything. But, it was still engaging, even if the story was a little thin. I think I remember some blood on a wall at one point - that's all.

Then I thought about it not being at all scary because the premise was just rather flat. One car driving around just wasn't scary to me. I'd just run up a hill, down many ways to get away from a car.

That, in turn, got me thinking about what really scares me. Gore in films tends to just be gross to me. (Sure...FUN, but...) Blood and guts are just that and they don't get me scared. Story based tension really gets me. Situations that place people I care about at risk. Showing the gore can up the risk factor and danger, but the true fear comes from the "surface tension" and story. And, there's just no fear if I don't care about the characters.

It's not to say that I don't enjoy a great splatterfest like BRAIN DEAD or EVIL DEAD, but the viscera just doesn't scare me on it's own. (Honestly, not much can really scare me these days.)

Films like SAW don't put fear in me at all. Neither does something like HOSTEL. (Those of you who frequent the site already know how I feel about those films as a whole.)  But, it's not the violence that really makes these films a wash for me. It's the violence with nothing at stake. Nothing is at stake because the characters are so hollow that I really don't like them, which makes it difficult to care what happens to them.

Now, bring in some heavy hitters. Films like MARTYRS or INSIDE manage to ramp the gore factor way up, but that's not the draw. It's a solid story with fleshed out characters. You care about them and about what happens to them, so the threat of violence makes the stakes higher and the outcome more frighting. The fear stems from the situation. I want the characters to survive. I'm invested.

The 60s and 70s were thick with violent, gore-fests. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, THE BEYOND, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, DEEP RED,  and THE WIZARD OF GORE were just some of the wet-works to come out of that time. Many of the films of the period were exploitation based with little or no attention to story, but some like the aforementioned DEEP RED had very strong story lines that the gore was meant to support.

Now, ramp it back a bit.

In 1973, a little film came out called THE EXORCIST. It didn't have chainsaws, hatchets, or body horror. It had a little girl that was possessed by something evil. Why was that frighting? Because we spend a lot of time with the family beforehand. We see them play, laugh and love. We identify with that. We care. When things start going bad for them, we actually don't WANT then to get hurt.

ROSEMARY'S BABY had people squirming, but I'm not sure there was any blood in it at all.

Now, the other side of this little coin is films - like SAW - where the main goal is to "Set 'em up and knock 'em down". I use this term for films where the main goal is the introduction of canon fodder. People introduced to get killed. There is a HUGE market for these films and I think they have their place, but they just do not illicit fear in me. It's more like what was going on back in the coliseum. "RELEASE THE LIONS!", as the crowd roars to life and the victims meet their deaths. Bloodsport done on a more humane level. 

I love a film like THE INNKEEPERS or INSIDIOUS or DEAD SET (BBC) where the stakes are high due to a good script, good story development and characters I care about. I don't need the gore like I did when I was a teen. Back then, I was in love with the monstrous visions of folks like Dario Argento - violent, bloody and nasty with the wet stuff. But, when I re-watched SUSPERIA recently, I realized that even the violent nightmares Argento put to screen were story based and packed with character development.

I also find that I'm more scared while watching a film if I can identify with a situation or character. 28 DAYS LATER and 28 WEEKS LATER had my heart racing a few times. There's one scene where a guy freaks out and leaves a loved one to escape from zombies. I found that horrid and horrifying.  Then he has to flee as a horde chases him down when he tries to make his way to an escape vehicle. It had my heart pounding.

And lack of fear doesn't mean I don't squirm from time to time due to the gross factor. The shivers are there, but that's not fear talking. :::grin:::

What do YOU look for in the scare department? Does the sight of blood instantly fill you with fear or just give you a little thrill? Do you need to care about characters to feel fear for their safety? 

Let me know! I'm curious!

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