A while back, we had a discussion on everything wrong with our attempts to make exorcism movies. Good ones, anyways. That done, I figured we might try to keep the ball rolling and talk today about how to repair our stories of ghosts and haunted houses.
Now as a disclaimer, I’m coming into all this with some bias. While I’ve never had anything particularly against these kinds of movies, ghost and haunting stories have always been my least favorite kind of horror. Heavily reliant on jump scares, rather than psychological horror, they’ve always struck me as being not all that much different than an amusement park ride. That’s all just to say that I’m not what you’d call an expert by any means, but I think we can all agree on some ground rules here.
Let’s get started.
Drop the Victorian Crap
It’s not every ghost story that’ll include junk from this period in time- just most of ’em. If you see the ghost, 9 times out of 10, it’s some woman in ragged-but-unmistakable Victorian garb. This is actually one of the arguments skeptics use to discredit most paranormal claims- we’ve had so many people die since the 1800s that the fact that most every “sighting” is of a specter in turn-of-the-century clothing just shows how deeply ingrained this trope is into our psyche.
Of course, that doesn’t stop the film industry from showing nothing but that.
Granted, in the movie’s defense it looks like it actually is set in the 1800s, so the whole Victorian schtick is at least explained- that still doesn’t make any of it less tiresome.
And it’s not just the ghosts- it’s everything. The settings, the props- old mirrors, dolls, mysterious antique boxes, little red balls that’ll inevitably roll down the stairs seemingly of their own accord. The moment the audience sees ’em there’s a collective internal groan of “here we go again”.
It’s a question of realism- who even has this kind of stuff anymore? 30 or so years ago, yeah, I could see someone inheriting some old turn-o’-the-century junk, but these days it just feels out of place. Horror can’t be horror unless the threat feels real, and the classic “you’ve inherited a haunted mansion” story is becoming harder and harder to buy.
Don’t get me wrong- I understand why people choose these settings. You can’t exactly do a convincing ghost story in a cramped apartment in the middle of the city, and as much as Japan tries to cash in on technology-horror (see One Missed Call or The Ring), it’s still a really tough sell.
There’s gotta be some other options, though. Haunted farm. Ghost town. Heck, even some new housing development could probably be scary if you added the right twist. I’ve even seen a submarine make for a pretty decent haunting-story. All in we have got to stop relying on these old crutches if we want to make something worth watching. Continue reading