What makes a horror movie actually scary? Is it the villains who threaten the lives of the protagonists? Is it the knowledge that anyone could meet his/her demise at any second? Is it the gore and viscera that sprays across the screen? Or is it something else, something deeper?
For me, horror only affects me deeply when I can empathize with what I’m seeing. As an example, it’s the reason that Dr. Gordon’s racking sobs towards the end of Saw caused tears to spring in my own eyes. The fact that we know that his family is safe only amplifies the anguish of the climax. I was begging for him to find some way of finding out what had happened so that he could find some semblance of peace. When he finally grabs the saw, my horror is met in equal measure with a terrifying understanding. This man thinks his family is being killed, so how can I fault him for doing what he’s doing? I can’t blame him or mock his decision, like I can in so many other horror situations. His love for his family, the guilt that encompasses him, it all spills over in a flood of fear, terror, and desperation. To this day, I still find the 3rd act of Saw emotionally difficult to sit through.
So what does this have to do with The Conjuring 2? Well, everything! What director James Wan has done with both films is he’s created a world where we spend time with the characters in ways that build up who they are rather than the situation they’re in. By taking the time to make me care about the characters, I care about what actually happens to them. And no scene in The Conjuring 2 enforces that point more than when Ed spots a guitar and plays Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”
Here’s the scene I’m talking about:
I’m the kind of person who gets really uncomfortable with “cringe” videos and stories. If a comedy bases its humor on making fun of people rather than situations, I usually will hate it with every fiber of my being. I will pull my hood over my head and cover my eyes while putting my hands on my ears. I’ll do whatever I can to avoid the awkward uncomfortableness of the scene because it makes me feel like my entire body is crawling.
When Ed asks for the guitar, I originally thought, “Oh no, please don’t do this.” I was ready to curl up in the middle of the theater and suffer for the next few minutes. But what happened during that scene was quite possibly the most important part of the entire movie. After seeing the Hodgsons suffer without help and recognizing that each of them was basically at a breaking point, this interlude was a momentary, yet precious reprieve from seemingly unending fear. As an audience member, seeing those children smile and sing along with Ed Warren was, and still is, perhaps the best example of “heartwarming” I can think of.
But what’s more is what else is happening while Ed plays. It’s the sidelong glance he gives Lorraine that is full of love, a look reciprocated by her as we, the audience, see the love that these two have for each other only grow stronger. Because the film takes those few seconds to establish such a strong relationship, the later events are all the more dramatic. When Ed goes into the basement and the door locks behind him, the separation between him and Lorraine is heart-wrenching. Watching her pound on the door while crying his name between tears feels real because the story made it so.
It’s also seeing Peggy Hodgson as she sits behind her children, a huge smile on her face while she watches them sing along with Ed, brushing tears of happiness from her eyes occasionally. For all the struggles and horrors that they’ve endured, her love for her children has never waned and her want for them to have a wonderful, safe life is clearly apparent.
By building such strong relationships between the characters and, in turn, between the characters and the audience, any danger that they encounter feels all the more dramatic and threatening. Were I to not care about these characters, as I don’t in pretty much any Friday the 13th film or Amityville sequel*, then I would never be scared by the film. It’s because of my attachment to those on the screen that I feel terror.
To every aspiring filmmaker, I offer you my one piece of advice that I feel is the most important lesson of all: If you can make me care about your characters, you’ll make me care about your film.
*Not trying to bash these films. Just saying that they are definitely lacking when it comes to character development.
Exclusive: Talking Movie Theater Subscription Plans With Sinemia Founder Rifat Oguz
Have you heard of a monthly theatrical subscription service called MoviePass? More than likely by this point you have.
But what about Sinemia?
Via their official site, Sinemia is “a private movie club that provides discounted movie ticket subscription plans. Through a combination of easy to use technology and pre-paid debit cards, Sinemia has created an innovative solution for the movie-going experience.”
After announcing its U.S. launch, the high-end movie ticket subscription service was welcomed to the country with a lawsuit from competitor MoviePass.
Recently we had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Sinemia’s founder Rifat Oguz, and we talked about the services, the lawsuit, and our favorite movies in general.
Give the interview a look-see below and then let us know what you think!
Dread Central: First off, can you tell us a bit about how Sinemia works and what you offer?
Rifat Oguz: Sinemia offers different plans according to your movie watching frequency. The most popular one is 2 times in a month for $8.99. It’s free 2D or 3D tickets in any theater, for any movie, and includes features like reserved seating, the IMAX-4DX-XD-ScreenX-DBox experience, private screenings and more for one low monthly fee; support for advance ticket purchases and support for third-party ticket processors like Fandango.
DC: Where did the idea for Sinemia begin?
RO: I’ve always been passionate about movies. When I realized there were so many empty seats in movie theaters throughout the world, I decided to change that by developing an idea for a “movie ticket subscription” system.
DC: Sinemia is already leading the market in the United Kingdom, Canada, Turkey, and Australia. Can you talk a bit more about this?
RO: We don’t have any competitors, globally. Our only competitor is in the US. We are trying to create a global system for all the moviegoers on the planet.
DC: Why the move to the U.S.?
RO: Because the heart of the movie market is in the U.S.
DC: How does Sinemia differ from other services such as MoviePass?
RO: Firstly, we don’t track our subscribers or sell their personal data because we don’t need to earn money from data. We have a sustainable financial model. Our subscribers are our clients, not our product. As previously stated, Sinemia offers different plans according to your movie watching frequency.
DC: Speaking of MoviePass, the “rival” company recently filed a lawsuit Sinemia for “using its patented electronic payment technology without authorization.” Care to comment?
RO: MoviePass tries to block us because our sustainable and less restrictive model promises much more to customers and the overall movie market. The reason for their effort is to block serious, true competition.
DC: Where do you see Sinemia in 5 years?
RO: We believe that we’ll be giving service in all 5 continents to millions of movie lovers.
DC: I always end with this question: What’s your favorite scary movie?
RO: The Shining is a classic. But if you’re asking for a more recent movie, I think The Conjuring is my favorite.
Thanks for chatting with us today, Rifat!
For more info on Sinemia, visit the official site RIGHT HERE.
Brennan Went to Film School: These Aren’t Your Daddy’s Strangers
“Brennan Went to Film School” is a column that proves that horror has just as much to say about the world as your average Oscar nominee. Probably more, if we’re being honest.
WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT. READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.
If you’re a die hard horror fan, you were probably pleasantly surprised when you sat down to watch The Strangers: Prey at Night, the decade-later sequel to Bryan Bertino’s potent little 2008 shocker, and discovered that it was a full-barreled homage to John Carpenter and synth-drizzled 80’s cinema. But once you scratch past the surface, it makes perfect sense why digs up the horror tropes of yesteryear.
You see, the movie is inherently about the war between two generations that has been playing out in the media over the past couple years. You’re probably familiar with the cavalcade of articles about millennials killing everything from the napkin industry to the lottery to Applebee’s. It always happens this way: older generations are frightened by the shifting tastes and perspectives of new generations, and the way a world shaped by them is going to look. It happened with the introduction of video games, rock ‘n roll, and even novels way back in the day.
Now the Internet age has made things especially frightening and unrecognizable. Kids and teens now have access to the broadest spectrum of information in human history, and their attempts to carve out their own identities alongside this rapid increase in social and political awareness have received a lot of pushback from the parents and authority figures in their lives.
The Strangers: Prey at Night is essentially about transposing that generational battle onto a grand, bloody canvas. On the micro scale, there’s the literal reason our family foursome is facing the evil trio of murders: their young daughter Kinsey has “behavioral issues” that frighten her parents, who just don’t understand, so they are sending her off to a boarding school. The trailer park where they’re staying on the way to drop her off becomes the site of their own gruesome demise. “Out of sight, out of mind” is the idea, but what they end up with is “out of time,” as the Strangers rip and slash their way through their faux domestic tranquility.
Which brings us to the macro side of things: The Strangers, along with being a literal dredging up of the past (these particular villains haven’t been onscreen for ten years – time sure flies, doesn’t it?), bring a whole horde of classic horror tropes and stylistic elements with them, from Adrian Johnston’s glorious synthwave score to the neon-splashed coloring to the Texas Chainsaw infused finale. In fact, the lead Baghead villain finds it impossible to kill without an 80’s track blaring on his truck’s stereo. He’s basically Baby Driver’s evil twin. All these elements of older horror films are the exact things being used to torture and terrify the teens in this trailer park.
In two entirely different contexts, the older generation is seeking to hold these kids back and prevent them from being independent, especially Kinsey, who finds herself a particular target for their torment.
But just as past generations always eventually surrender and give way to the new, the siblings in Prey at Night triumph over their attackers. The senseless, random violence that claimed the lives of the victims in the original Strangers is no match for this duo of smarter, more capable protagonists. They are able to unmask, unsettle, and eventually destroy the Strangers without the help of any adult.
It’s no coincidence that Kinsey uses the very symbol of her teen rebellion (a cigarette lighter she uses as a performative way to show just how punk she is) to escape certain death, by igniting a puddle of gasoline under the lead Stranger. The knife-wielding antagonists eventually go the way of Applebee’s thanks to two kids who strove to be more than their now-dead parents and succeeded, though certainly not in a manner any of them could have ever predicted.
Also, if you think about it, The Strangers: Prey at Night is in and of itself a child. It was born from the original film, but it feels completely different from its predecessor. It sees the plot and tone of that film and strikes off in its own new direction. Thus, the generational war plays out on the biggest scale possible for this universe: the very existence of the movie itself.
This constant battle between old and new has an inevitable conclusion, and the people who made The Strangers know it. This is a film for a new generation about a new generation, and the infinitely more connected kids we’re seeing these days are capable of a previously unimaginable strength and solidarity. That’s reflected in the less downbeat ending here, which shows that the new generation has a chance in battling the senseless violence and grim patterns of their parents.
With more understanding and self-actualization, they’re going to create a brand new world that would be unrecognizable to previous generations, though hopefully one that hasn’t forgotten just how awesome Carpenterian synthwave music is.
Brennan Klein is a writer and podcaster who talks horror movies every chance he gets. And when you’re talking to him about something else, he’s probably thinking about horror movies. On his blog, Popcorn Culture, he is running through reviews of every slasher film of the 1980’s, and on his podcast, Scream 101, he and a non-horror nerd co-host tackle horror reviews with a new sub-genre every month!
World War Z Doesn’t Need a Sequel; It Needs a Series
Let me tell you a quick story: My father hates horror in all forms. Movies, TV shows, video games, comics… Whatever kind of medium horror comes in, he’s not having it. Now, this isn’t to say that he denies its validity and importance. It’s simply him admitting that he’s a “scaredy-cat,” in his own words. What my father DOES love, however, is reading. He’s voracious when it comes to books. Leave a novel close to him, and he’ll absolutely have to leaf through it to decide if he’s going to start from the beginning. Once he makes that decision, that book will be finished by the end of the day, if short, or the week, if long.
Knowing that my father can’t resist a good book but also knowing that he can’t stand horror, I decided to run a little experiment. What I did was take my copy of Max Brooks’ World War Z to my parents’ house, and then I left it on the couch where my dad likes to sit. I had tried earlier to convince him to give it a read, but he refused, so I sneakily chose to play to his instincts, a tactic that worked. Apparently my father couldn’t stop side-eyeing the book, his hand beginning to reach towards it before being snatched away, as though he felt like he was betraying himself by having the desire to flip through the pages.
Well, instinct won, and he took the book to read a passage here, a paragraph there. Next thing he knew, he was at the beginning and couldn’t put it down until it was over. I know all of this because the next time I came over, I went through the front door and he was standing there, World War Z in between his hands and a look of wonder on his face.
“This book was wonderful!” he practically gushed. Me/horror 1, dad 0.
We spoke at great length about the book that night, going over what made it such a brilliant read. We ended up agreeing that one of its biggest draws was Brooks’ ability to create a unique and distinct voice in each chapter, one that honors the local cultures and lifestyles while remaining authentic to each region. The foundation of the book — a UN Postwar Commission agent collecting accounts of people during a zombie plague — was wonderfully realized and made for an engaging read that took me and my father across the globe.
When the film came out, it was the first time that my father actively wanted to go see a horror movie in theaters, so I leapt at the opportunity. I couldn’t resist some father-son bonding over zombies. Unfortunately, we weren’t terribly impressed with the film, and it was mainly due to our love of how the book’s story played out.
Okay, so I said it was going to be a quick story and I got a little long-winded, for which I apologize. However, I feel like that story is necessary in explaining where I think Marc Forster’s 2013 film adaptation of World War Z went wrong and why a long-planned sequel isn’t the smartest idea.
As mentioned previously, Brooks’ novel follows a UN agent who travels the world to collect accounts of those who survived through a zombie plague that nearly wiped out humanity. However, more than just being a story about survival, each chapter adds to the ways that the near-apocalypse changed the world’s politics, the social and religious ramifications, and even how the environment of the world shifted to accommodate such a cataclysmic event. I honestly believe that this is why Brooks’ novel was so critically acclaimed. The zombies were not the focus of the story. Rather, they were a plot device to envision a new kind of world that must be rebuilt out of death, loss, pain, and, ultimately, hope.
Films have a tendency to squash the stories of novels. Hell, just look at any Stephen King adaptation! There will always be sacrifices when it comes to adapting a novel for the screen, be it big (theaters) or small (television). To give you an idea of why that happens, here’s a little bit of trivia: One page of a script is considered to amount to one minute of runtime. So if a script is 90 pages long, it’s aiming to be a 90-minute movie. World War Z is nearly 350 pages long, which means a true adaptation would run nearly six hours. Since they couldn’t do that, they opted to create a story that was similar enough to the book but strong enough to stand on its own. I can’t fault them because almost no one is willing to sit through a six-hour movie, Lord of the Rings marathons notwithstanding.
However, what we see that people are willing to take on are binging series that appear on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, or whatever your streaming service of choice might be. This is something I will openly plead guilty to as I plowed through the second season of “Stranger Things” in one sitting. The difference is that there are clearly defined breaks in the form of one episode ending and another beginning. I know where I can take a break and how to get a solid amount of story should I want to go do something else.
If someone wants to do World War Z true justice, the best approach, in my opinion, would be to turn it into a high-production series, one that takes viewers to new parts of the world each week and acts like a documentary. Use “interview” footage to open and close the episodes, much like how HBO’s “Band of Brothers” did, and then fill the middle with reenactments that take us into the heart of each story. The intensity of geopolitical strife between the Israelis and the Palestinians as they deal with having to work together during this crisis would make for an especially fascinating episode. Furthermore, the studies of how national governments attempt to survive and maintain control would be of great interest to anyone who finds political thrillers their thing.
With each country attempting to find their own way to survive not only the threat of zombies but also their own misinformation, lack of action, and potential extinction, the immediacy of a World War Z series cannot be denied. In fact, I believe it’s where the story could be at its most effective.
Horror on television has already proven to be a winning combination. “The Walking Dead” is in its 8th season with no signs of slowing down. “Hannibal,” while cancelled prematurely (again, my opinion), was a tour de force of beauty, phenomenal writing, and absolutely stunning visuals. “American Horror Story” is divisive, to put it mildly, but never fails to draw interest. The aforementioned “Stranger Things” is one of the most talked about shows in recent years. “Twin Peaks” made a phenomenal comeback that entranced viewers while never dumbing itself down. “Channel Zero” is shocking viewers with its astonishing visuals and clever writing, becoming one of the most appreciated shows on television, at least within the horror community.
If horror can be so smart, so engaging, and so well-produced on television, then perhaps World War Z needs to understand that by going from the big screen to the small one, it doesn’t have to sacrifice its epic capabilities. In fact, it might become even more of a sensation than ever before.
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