Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Scary Movies - Non-American Style

Is it me, or does anyone else ever feel like the ghost stories that come from countries other than the U.S. are scarier? I'm not sure exactly why, but I do know I've always felt that way, even from a very young age.

When I was a kid, I was forever looking for tales of hauntings in Ireland and the British Isles. At the ripe old age of nine, I had never seen a castle first-hand. I had never seen a fortress or a Medieval Cathedral or a proper British churchyard, but I'll tell you this: I was prepared to be terrified by all of them. And I have no idea where that tradition comes from. I just somehow knew that the scariest stories came from castles and old English graveyards and so I spent a great deal of my time hunting down stories from those countries. This lasted through my early adult years when one of the best Christmas presents that Jim ever gave me was a 15-book set devoted to true ghost stories of the British Isles. I had no idea exactly where Cornwall or the Lake District or East Anglia were, but boy howdy, I sure knew a good ghost story when I read one.

Fast forward some twenty or so years later, and I have begun to realize that Asia has some pretty fricking scary stuff. And I'm not even talking about the true stories. Anyone paying attention to paranormal movies over the past decade or so is well aware that some of the most frightening recent films have been re-makes of Japanese ghost/horror stories: The Ring and The Grudge come to mind. I have it on good authority that the original flicks are even scarier. I will take the word of my adviser - I'm much too chicken to watch the originals myself.

And then there have been the offerings from countries other than Japan (The Devil's Backbone, from Spain, and A Tale of Two Sisters, from Korea, come to mind) that are horrifying.

So what is it about these non-American movies that make them so effective? Part of it might be watching actors that I do not know. The Sixth Sense scared the bejesus out of me when I first saw it, but there was always a part of me that held tight to the realization that I was watching Bruce Willis, after all, so this was just a story. However, when I'm watching actors I don't know at all, there is no comforting recognition of the people involved in the story. That always makes it worse for me. Also, movies that do not come from Hollywood have a different feel to them, a completely different kind of atmosphere. I have yet to put my finger on it, but the finished product does not have that slick Hollywood sense, and that probably is also enough to nudge me a little bit more out of my comfort zone.

Lastly, the movies coming out of those other countries take on subjects that are mind-boggling. Watching a video that causes death within a certain period of time? Being stalked by the spirit of a vengeful wife? The storyline itself reduces the main character -and thus the audience- to hapless prey, and feeling paranoid and in fear of one's life is a great way to get someone unsettled from the get-go. There is nothing comfortable about watching these movies.

So there it is. There are Hollywood classics that I have been terrified while watching: the original version of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting (b/w with Julie Harris); The Changeling (George C. Scott), and of course The Exorcist, even though that is not a movie about ghosts. No, it's much worse than that, eh? But if I want to freak myself out to the point that I can't get up and use the bathroom in the middle of the night without turning on lights for every step of the way, or to the point that I'm afraid to close my eyes because of what might be lurking beside my bed -and equally afraid to open my eyes for the same reason - IF I want to get myself to that point? A foreign horror flick will do it every single time.