Resurrecting The Ghost

The last couple of posts over at Pillock's Pad have got me thinking about ghost stories in cinema.

It's interesting how few genuinely scary ghost stories there have been since The Blair Witch Project. The genre has somehow become funnelled into one of two categories...

(1) The Japanese 'chiller'. Has its roots embedded in 1998's Ringu, but adds up to nothing more than an exercise in box-ticking. Girl with long black hair, walking and/or crawling erratically? Check. Terrible events in her past? Check. She's been wronged and is now back for more? Oh yes. She's eventually presented in a sympathetic light and thus becomes way less scary? Yes yes yes.

(2) The Grown-Up 'chiller'. Centres on a couple who have usually either lost a child, want to adopt one or already have a child who starts acting strangely. Robert De Niro generally appears, clearly with one eye on funding his new garden conservatory.

Neither are, to my way of thinking, healthy trends. Hopefully the recent critical drubbing dealt to The Grudge 2 and its diminished Box Office returns in comparison with its predecessor, will put paid to Ringu-inspired flotsam, while the similar fates of Movies About Grieving Couples should snuff out that subgenre too.

It's time for the return of movies which haunt you, shortly after you turn off the bedside lamp. Doesn't happen very often. Here are a couple of more obscure scary flicks which might inspire/scare the Christ out of you: Whistle And I'll Come To You (1968) and Session 9 (2001). The former 42-minute TV movie (adapted from an M.R. James short story) barely shows you much at all, but manages to create a sense of toe-curling supernatural dread. Then Session 9 ably demonstrates how the scariest thing of all can be the human mind's collapse. Both are available on Region 2 DVD and I strongly recommend them.

While I agree less is more when it comes to spook-fests, I only mean this in a certain sense. One thing's for sure: the less you know about the Ghostly Antagonist(s), the better. Furthermore, I'm a big fan of Proper Evil. As soon as the GA is revealed to be 'basically all right, but terribly wronged', my eyes glaze over and I reach for the 'stop' button. Characters shouldn't be black-and-white in general drama, but when it comes to scary fiction, what's wrong with a bit of out-and-out malevolence, hmm?

I disagree, though, with the generally-accepted notion that ghost movies can't be scary and gory. Don't see why this should be the case - and it's something I attempted to disprove with my own Panik screenplay. If it ever gets transformed into a motion picture, we'll see if it succeeds in this task.

I'm due a rewatch of The Blair Witch Project, come to think of it. Just need to find someone to watch it with... *trembles*


Good Dog said...

A creepy girl with long hair crawling erratically can be disturbing, but it’s nothing compared to the genuinely unsettling scene in the second season of Twin Peaks when Bob climbs over the furniture in a forced perspective set, effectively getting bigger as he heads toward camera. That was just as creepy as fuck.

We don’t call them ghost stories anymore do we? Now it has to be “supernatural” – whhhhhoooooooooooooaaaaaahhhh!!! Yikes!

Is the problem that few ghost stories nowadays are genuinely scary because of the available movie technology? Some film makers – who obviously have serious issues that need addressing – mix up terror with torture and ladle on viscera and ‘inventive’ deaths.

Whistle And I'll Come To You and Session 9 sound interesting. The former, directed by Jonathan Miller and photographed by Dick Bush, probably had to be inventive and leave it to the audience’s imagination through suggestion because of the crappy BBC budget. That’s another thing... less money should make it all the more effective.

And then six years later the BBC broadcast Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape. I’ve seen a couple of minutes of it and was seriously freaked out enough to not want to watch the whole thing.

Agree with about the Ghostly Antagonists who were once decent coves before they were wronged and went off to exact their revenge. Yeah, right.

Actually, I’m trying to remember the ending/explanation of 1963’s The Haunting, Robert Wise’s adaptation of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House. But that was certainly a creep-out.

Anyone wanting to do a really scary ghost story should study the above, as well as the films of Val Lewton.

And then there’s The Blair Witch Project. Oh, dear. Creepy, certainly, but the trio of characters pissed me off by their utter stupidity.

If you’re lost in the woods and you come to a river, follow the fucking thing downstream, yeah? Because, as we should know, settlements were built on rivers for drinking water and effective trade routes.

Pillock said...

Been thinking about Blair Witch quite a bit recently. Scared me senseless. But then Sixth Sense and What Lies Beneath both worked on me. My ghost gland is a little over-active.

Judging by your post, you know the genre well. I think I've fallen into the 2) Grown-Up chillder cliches.

You also will not be a fan of the ending I've got picked out, since it has the GA turning out to be 'wronged.'


Pillock said...

Bugger, clicked the big orange button before I'd finished.

I was going to say, 'Clearly, I've got some studying to do.' Thanks for the refs.

Jason Arnopp said...

Oh lord no, Mr Pillock - there's still room for well-executed examples of each subgenre! And just because I'm not a fan of them, doesn't mean they don't appeal to a large number of people. :) Go for it!

Robin Kelly said...

Can't the GA be wronged and scarily evil? At least it provides good motivation for the bad acts.

Jason Arnopp said...

Robin, well yes, I'd say so. But it depends in what way the GA has been wronged. If it used to be a cute li'l balloon-holding kid who got thrown down a well by school bullies, then that's 'nil points'. If it used to eat old ladies' faces off for fun, then got kicked to pulp by a rabid mob of townsfolk - and therefore wronged from its own evil perspective - then that's okay by me. ;-)

See, there isn't enough Pure Evil around. This is true of action movies, too: I miss Totally Evil & Irredeemable Villains like Die Hard's Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), or Invasion USA's Rostov (Richard Lynch). Yes, that last one is a Chuck Norris film. I like a bit of Chuck Norris...

Pillock said...

Hmm. Now that you mention it, there is something to be said for True Evil. And that's, 'Damn you to eternal hellfire, Scootch!'