Thursday, October 26, 2017

Is The Exorcist Still the Scariest Movie Ever Made?

There are two answers to that question.

The first is: It depends on how you define "scary".

And the second is: Yes. It is. It absolutely is.

How do you define scary?

I have a rule by which I evaluate all horror movies. It can really be boiled down to one question. How soon do they let you see the monster? In my book, the longer you have to wait to see the monster, the scarier the movie. 

Take the Halloween franchise. While The Texas Chainsaw Massacre takes the official title of the first slasher movie, Halloween, coming out in 1978, was really the one that ushered in the slasher movie obsession that was to come. I was a kid in the 80s, so I remember slasher movies well, and the format of all of those that came after borrowed heavily from Halloween. 

Here's the thing: Yes, in Halloween we do see the monster in the very first scene, but the monster is just a man. Actually, when we first see him, he's a six year old boy. Nothing menacing about that, except that he just brutally murdered his sister with a knife. Then he goes away for a time and no one else gets killed for...well...a good chunk of the movie. For me, it's the fact that the audience has to wait so dang long for the next person to die that makes Halloween scary. Because you're almost lulled into believing that it's not going to happen. That Michael Myers is just misunderstood. But you know it's a slasher movie, and you can't have a slasher movie without some good slashing, so you're expecting someone to die any minute. The tension builds to unbearable proportions. Every time someone goes off alone you're sure this is the moment. Only it's not. So the suspense grows a little more. And a little more. Until by the end you're absolutely terrified for the poor hapless teenagers in this film. 

One thing to note about Halloween: Once Michael begins his killing spree, he only murders three people. And he murders them by either stabbing or strangling them. Remember that fact because it will be important later.

Then comes Halloween II. Ah, Halloween II. What can I say about the movie that confirmed for me my theory that all sequels are crap and filmmakers just shouldn't try? Well, first of all there is no gradual build-up of tension this time. Michael Myers begins killing right away. By the end he's killed something like eleven people (yes, I counted). And he kills them in over-the-top, ridiculous ways. Burning in a hot tub. Exsanguination via an IV tube. The list goes on. And it's not scary. Not at all. Why? Because it's not gore that makes a movie scary. It's not the shock value. It's the story. It's characters that you've come to care about, so when their lives are in danger you feel afraid right there with them. 

So, back to The Exorcist. There is very little gore in this movie. And while there is some shock value (if modern audiences aren't shocked by a twelve year old girl masturbating with a crucifix, then I worry about society), the purpose of the movie is not to shock. It's to scare. And how does it scare? With story. With a plot that develops slowly enough that by the end you're so invested in the characters that the fact that they may all be killed by the devil absolutely terrifies you. I don't know what people mean when they say this isn't scary by modern standards. That the movie earned its reputation from the fact that 1973 audiences had never seen that type of thing on the screen before, but today's viewers would find it quite mild. I don't know what standards other people use to evaluate the fright value of a horror movie, but The Exorcist lives up to all of mine, and then some.

The Only Movie That Consistently Scares Me

Horror buff that I am, I've seen a lot of scary movies. And most of them scare me the first time around. But then I can go back and watch them and be relatively unfazed. Not so with The Exorcist. That movie scares the pants off of me every dadgum time I see it, and it never gets easier to watch. And I know I've seen it at least five times, probably more (I saw it first when I was eight, and honestly don't remember how many times I watched it during my childhood). 

Why is it so scary? Well, there's all the criteria I mentioned above. There's also the fact that it's a child who gets possessed by the devil, and there are few things a movie can throw at me that are more terrifying than an evil child. I also find the whole medical investigation into Regan's issues pretty frightening. I mean, think about it, here are these people who are convinced there's a rational explanation for what's going on, so they happily spend time with this little girl who also happens to be the devil and are all the while totally oblivious to the danger they've put themselves in. No, none of the doctors die, but that only makes it scarier. That gradual build-up of tension, remember? That's important. A horror movie can't horrify without tension. 
Also, for those of us who come from a Judeo-Christian background, the fact that this story is told from a Catholic point of view adds volumes to the creep factor. Why? Because what the movie shows us is a picture of the devil that looks a whole lot like the one we've all been taught to believe in. And for me personally, because I've hung on to my religious beliefs as an adult, there's just something about The Exorcist, some element of truth to the evil being depicted there, that kicks my body right on into fight or flight mode. Basically, the conclusion I've drawn is that, if the devil is real, he looks a heck of a lot like the thing that possesses Regan MacNeil in The Exorcist.

So what are your thoughts? Do you think The Exorcist is still the scariest movie ever made? Or are you in the camp that says it doesn't terrify by today's standards? I'd love to hear the criteria you use to evaluate a horror movie, so please pop in and leave a comment. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Remember When I Said I Made a Movie?

I've lamented about my misadventures with cameras in a couple of posts recently. Last week I discussed my latest experience trying to upload a movie I made to my blog. Well, today I actually succeeded in uploading it and I'm very excited, as well as a little terrified, to share it with you.

Some disclaimers before you watch it:

1. I've learned a heck of a lot about lighting and camera settings since I made this movie. Basically all I knew how to do on the camera at the time was change the f-stop. I'm much more knowledgeable now, so if I ever try again (and I hope to eventually, if I ever get a new video camera), the cinematography will be much better.

2. I'm aware that the plot is clichéd at best and nonexistent at worst. I wasn't writing to win an Academy Award. I was writing to create a script which could be easily made into a movie with only two actors who also happened to double as the director and the sound guy.

3. Yes, I'm faking an accent in this movie. I like learning how to do accents, and this particular one was a recently acquired skill that I was dying to try out. I'm open to critiques as long as they are limited to tips on how to improve my pronunciation, but if you make fun of me on my own website, I will be deleting the comment. What can I say? I'm sensitive about these things. We all have our limits, right?

Okay, here's the movie. It's a horror movie, so I figured a couple of weeks before Halloween would be an appropriate time to share.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Remember When I Said Cameras Hate Me?

Rather than recount all the many, many details of this journey, I will refer you to my previous post, entitled Why Do Cameras Hate Me? if you are interested in learning the rest of this story. Today I only want to talk (complain?) about my adventures with computer software.

The World's Worst Computer Virus

Yeah, I left this little detail out of that earlier post. After I made that movie, the one I called "my first real movie", I lost all the digital files I had saved on my computer to Cryptowall. If you've not heard of Cryptowall, it's the granddaddy of computer viruses. Basically it infects your computer and encrypts all of your files so that even the most sophisticated decryption software would not be able to open them. Then you receive a message that you have a certain amount of time to pay money to the creators of the virus so that they can give you the code to unlock your files. Well, I didn't pay the money, so I lost all my files. The good news is, it was a new computer, so I hadn't saved much on it yet. But I did lose my movie.

Well, lose my movie is a bit of an exaggeration.  I lost the files on my computer, but I had, thankfully, burned it onto a dvd. Unfortunately, that was all I had done with it. I never backed up the file on a flash drive or on another computer.

The Problem With Dvds

So I have the movie on dvd, which is great because that means I can watch it whenever I want (I don't watch it very often), but if I want to put it back onto my computer, that means I need dvd-ripping software. No worries. Handbrake is a free and trustworthy dvd-ripper. So I downloaded Handbrake. Problem solved, right? Not so fast, mister.

I had decided that I was...finally...ready to share my little movie with the world, so I made plans to embed it in a post right here on this blog. I loaded the dvd into my computer, opened the file in Handbrake, and started ripping. Success! My movie was saved on my hard drive. Now I could upload it to my blog, right? Again I say, not so fast, mister.

The Problem With Video Files

I tried uploading it and Blogger told me the file was too big. Well, I'm nothing if not tenacious, so I looked up how to shrink a video file in Handbrake. And what did I find? A webpage telling me how to do it. So I followed the directions, saved the movie on my hard drive a second time, and tried uploading it to Blogger again. Again, the file was too big. So I looked up more information on video compression. I found another, more detailed, page explaining a slightly longer process with quite a few more steps. Surely this was it. I was on the cusp! I was going to share my movie with the world. So I followed the directions and began the ripping process and for some reason, my computer shut down in the middle of it. Thinking it was a fluke, I rebooted my computer and tried again. Again, the stupid computer shut down before it finished compressing my video. Why? Not being a computer expert, I have no idea. But it resulted in me not having any file of my movie that I can share on Blogger.

Maybe God is trying to tell me that my filmmaking skills are not ready for public consumption? Or that I'm just not supposed to be a filmmaker? Or maybe these obstacles are there to test my resolve so if I ever succeed at this I'll know I did it because I really wanted it. Who knows? At the moment it's darn frustrating. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Indie Book of the Month: October 2017

Forbidden by F. Stone

I put off reviewing this book for a long time because I knew Islam played a large part in the story and I was worried about promoting a book that could potentially have controversial content. I finally was able to put aside my fears in that regard when I read some of the reviews and discovered that this book deals with the religion in a very fair manner, so I decided to take the plunge.

The story is engaging and the pace is well-balanced. Fast enough to hold the reader's interest but slow enough to give you time to get to know the characters. The romance is believable and the suspense is palpable. I applaud the author for pulling off both of these things.

However, this book will unfortunately be another four star read for me. The main issue is the typos. I've said in the past that I can often look past these, but when there are so many that they start to distract from the story, I can't ignore them. This book had at least a couple of typos per chapter, and I can't write an honest review without mentioning them. 

I was also left hungry for a little more detail. Considering that this book takes place in a part of the world I have never visited, within a culture I know very little about, I was hoping to be taken on a beautiful journey into another world. I wanted more vivid descriptions, more explanations of Muslim teachings, more history of the area. I wanted to feel like I was right there with the characters, and I didn't feel that reading this book. 

That being said, I did enjoy it and would certainly recommend it to anyone looking for an exciting, suspenseful read. Check it out on Amazon.