Friday, October 24, 2008

To Haunt or Not To Haunt

Horror fans love a good ghost story but the movies don't care for them much at all. Great ghost or haunting movies come out at a far lower rate than slasher, vampire or zombie movies and half the time they're not even real. What do I mean by that? Basically, there are the true haunted movies where the ghosts really exist (The Others, The Uninvited) and what I call the Scooby-Do genre where it's all just a ploy because someone wants someone dead, wants money or wants to scare everyone off their property and would have succeeded if only those meddling kids hadn't gotten involved (The Cat and Canary, The House on Haunted Hill). If the story is well told I can go either way, but in a pinch, I prefer when the ghosts are real.

I do find the Scooby-Do phenomenon odd at times though, I must admit. No other sub-genre of horror fools its audience into believing that Dracula really is a vampire, only to be revealed at the end that he really wasn't a vampire but a land developer trying to finagle a shady deal on Carfax Abbey until that meddling Jonathan Harker got involved. That just doesn't happen. Or a fake werewolf? Or a fake serial killer? Nope. But fake ghosts, yeah, they've got their own sub-genre.

They are also the only characters that truly reach across all literary boundaries. William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens never once wrote a play or story that contained a werewolf or a vampire. And no flying monsters or re-animated corpses. But ghosts? Shakespeare used them more than once and Dickens wrote one of the best ghost stories ever in A Christmas Carol. Ghosts are an accepted part of the culture and unlike horror monsters like vampires, many people really do believe in their existence, which makes a good haunting movie that much more effective, whether real or of the Scooby-Do variety.

The Uninvited is one of the best I have ever seen and I've mentioned it here before. It brilliantly combines humor with suspense and detective story with chilling tale of revenge beyond the grave. It is a favorite of mine and I've probably seen it three times, if memory serves, in the last two years alone. I also like The Changeling and The Others as far as more recent works go (well, if you consider the late seventies to the present to be recent - I do). Works from the sixties such as The Haunting and The Innocents are also favorites. And yes, The Cat and the Canary and The House on Haunted Hill as well. I don't care much for Poltergeist though I know it's a favorite of many. It's ending is too filled with special effects and big loud setpieces to work effectively for me. It feels more like a big-budget summer action movie than a ghost story. And despite today's banner I find The Amityville Horror rather forgettable.

And the reason I'm talking about ghost stories at all is because in the last month I viewed two others that are favorites of mine that I shall review here on Monday. Both hold up extremely well but my reaction to one, a revered classic, quite surprised me. I hadn't seen it in fifteen or twenty years and my reactions to it were completely different then I thought they would be. More on that Sunday and Monday. For now I leave you with the apologetic Christopher Lee and his quest for the truth behind ghosts: Are they real or not? Happy Hauntings.