Let me begin with a confession: I am the most chicken-hearted, lily-livered scaredy-cat I know. I am afraid of everything and anything: dark rooms, being alone in a house, imaginary noises, barking street dogs, cows who stare at me without reason. Let’s just say, if I was at Hogwarts, I wouldn’t find a spot in Gryffindor. Yet, bizarrely, I am a horror-movie aficionado. I’ve spent years watching assorted ghosts wreak havoc in assorted places.
But here’s the question: if you watch a marathon of horror flicks, do you reach a point when you stop being scared and feel a sense of ‘been there, seen that’? Armed with this theory, I decided to watch five horror movies back-to-back.
The Woman in Black
Not having mustered enough courage to watch it alone, I ask my sister for company (and an arm to cling to!). A young lawyer arrives at the isolated Eel Marsh manor, where other villagers fear to tread. On his first visit, he spots a woman in head-to-toe black. “She looks like Snape,” says my sister and we giggle. But soon, we are on tenterhooks. A hand appears at the window on screen and I shriek. The middle is scarier than the end, but ghosts have no ethics, I discover. Try to help them, and they kill you anyway. Feeling a bit cheated, I move on to movie two.
I decide to watch the scary Thai original instead of the pale Hollywood remake. Tun, a photographer, and his girlfriend Jane accidentally run over a girl and trouble begins. The girl’s ghost starts appearing mysteriously in all their photographs. The next half-hour is a blur of chilling scenes. Scared stiff, I have to duck behind a pillow. As the story unfolds, I am on the ghost’s side who is only avenging her brutal death. The last image is so haunting, I get rattled and need a break. Fortified by food and scenes from a rom-com, I return to my experiment.
The Grudge starts promisingly enough. There’s a haunted house, two people die in the first 15 minutes and there is a mysterious little boy. There are two ghosts, so it should be twice the frights. Instead, when the ghosts appear, I find myself saying, "Really?" Pleased at my newly-discovered bravado, I continue to ‘meh’ and ‘blah’ through the rest of the movie. Perhaps it is true, after a while, you stop being scared and become numb to the theatrics. Or perhaps it’s because the Grudge bhoots are so B-grade and lame and have terrible make-up.
It’s dusk outside, the house is quiet and the curtains are closed. I am, however, feeling mighty plucky. The film begins. It’s based on a true story, the opening credits inform me. I snort in derision. Halfway through, things are pretty ho-hum. Just as I am feeling smugly unafraid, the movie picks up pace. When the protagonist is dragged out of her bed by an apparition, I am scared out of my wits. All my bluster disappears… like a ghost.
Thoroughly spooked, I soldier on to my last movie. I do a mental count of all the horrors I just witnessed and figure there’s not much left in any coffin. At the centre of the story is a strange box, a possessed girl and lots of insects. I can’t shake off the feeling of ‘same old, same old’. After the fright from the last movie, I have become immune to lesser thrills and chills. Even the high-decibel exorcism leaves me underwhelmed.
Horror movies use the standard bag of tricks, but it’s your over-active imagination that actually scares you. The trick is to remind yourself that the blood is just ketchup. And the ghost is really a rather cute Japanese kid.
From HT Brunch, October 21
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