Friday, March 27, 2009

Dan Akroyd: "Hey, do you wanna see something really scary?" Me: Yes, dammit!

The odds of this new The Haunting in Connecticut scaring me in any way, shape, or shriek are slimmer than Nicole Richie's waist, yet I'm still seeing it later tonight. When it comes to horror flicks that my better judgment says will be mediocre at best, I'm a total masochist. Minus the ball strapped into my mouth, or hands tied behind my back. Instead, overpriced fountain soda in hand, significantly leaner wallet in pocket. The main problem I have with modern-day "haunted house films" is that they never, ever steer clear of convention, jacking scenes and set-ups from the infinitely superior classics. It's best to accept that no film of this ilk will ever come within a peachfuzz-hair-strand of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, or 1963's The Haunting---both stellar in all facets. Hell, these new flicks don't even stand a chance of topping the original, not-as-good-as-those-two-greats Amityville Horror, even when they're blatant moving-photocopies (see The Haunting in Connecticut).


Yet, I'll continue to spend hours upon hours in darkly lit theaters watching these latest attempts, because I'm sucker for horror-love. I can't help but feel pounds of inner sadness, though, at the dreadful feeling that it's become nearly impossible for a new ghost story to give me the shivers. Have me frozen in my seat, overpriced fountain soda poking at my bladder in a state of "Let me out, man! This shit is freaking me out, too! And I'm liquid nothingness!" Maybe I'm too seasoned of a viewer. Or perhaps I'm putting too much stake in a film's necessity of at least bringing fond memories of The Shining to mind for all the right, effective, successful reasons. It's not even a matter of a PG-13 rating, either. Initially, I cringe at that teeny-bopper-targeted rating for a horror flick, but when I sit back and think clear of prejudice, I realize that something as wonderful and simple as The Haunting, if released today, would very well earn a mere PG rating, no 13 required. Scares can be scored without gore or wanton violence; it's all about the execution.

Which brings me to a little rarely-seen-by-most United Kingdom TV movie from 1989, The Woman in Black. I forget which cable channel it was that I first saw this film on, back when I was barely out of grammar school. But boy, did it treat my mind like a cow's ass being branded.

IMDB'S plot synopsis: "When a friendless old widow dies in the seaside town of Crythin, a young solicitor is sent by his firm to settle the estate. The lawyer finds the townspeople reluctant to talk about or go near the woman's dreary home and no one will explain or even acknowledge the menacing woman in black he keeps seeing. Ignoring the towns-people's cryptic warnings, he goes to the house where he discovers its horrible history and becomes ensnared in its even more horrible legacy."

A couple years ago, I came across it for cheap on and immediately threw it into my DVD arsenal, and wouldn't you know it.....The Woman in Black still scares the piss out of me. I've long tried putting my finger on exactly why it frightens me on par with The Shining and those classics, maybe even more so in ways. There's no question that the Woman in Black herself carries the lion's share of the blame; speechless, motionless and with those piercingly-dead eyes, she's the epitome of "scary old lady." Pad her presence with the film's overall bleak Gothic tone (courtesy of director Herbert Wise), and you have a recipe for minimalist success that today's filmmakers wish they could pull off.

Two scenes in particular have done wonders for my insomnia over the years. The first is something of an infamous "Oh shit!" moment amongst horror heads in the know, deservedly so----the lawyer is shuffling about restless in bed, standard nocturnal practice. Like most of us do, he concedes defeat and sits up, but unlike all of us, he is met with the Woman in Black hovering over his bed. A shock moment if there ever was one. The second is the film's final moment, a denouement that bleeds with tragic macabre----not to entirely spoil it (though, chances are none of you will have the opportunity to see this flick unless it's on my watch, which is unfortunate), but it's the unhappiest of endings, taking place on a lake after the lawyer thinks he's escaped the Woman in Black's clutches forever. While on a little rowboat with his wife and infant child, he learns that the scary old bitch isn't done with him yet. I remember distinctly just how bruised and gut-punched this final scene left me the first time I watched. Just devastating.

watch the picture behind him at the 1:02 mark

Part of me thinks that I should just go home and re-watch The Woman in Black tonight, rather than drop coin on The Haunting in Connecticut. I'd surely fulfill my want-to-be-scared-this-evening quota. For free, too. That's not going to happen, of course, and I'll soon be exiting the 34th Street AMC theater with equals droplets of annoyance and frustrations.

Despite the fact that I neglected to bring an extra pair of clean underwear with me today, I'd totally pay an extra $10 for the Woman in Black to appear as a theater usher tonight. While the attention-deficit, manufactured-Hollywood-crap-garbling audience around me wouldn't even bat an eyelash, I'd be intensely shook.

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