Saturday’s Six: A (not so) fond farewell to horror movie gimmicks

collageI’m a lover of schlocky old horror films; they’re so charming in their attempts at creeping us out with their lame devices of dread. Normally a mere fan of horror, during the month of October it’s nearly all I watch. This saturation of slasher has me noticing a serious trend in the attempts at ambiance and mood in horror movies made between the ’70s and mid ’90s. This list is about  mainstays that were once so prevalent in many of those decades’ films but have slowed to a trickle, only to make way for our generation’s new chill contrivances. Here I want to bid what I hope is a permanent farewell to some ideas  that I just can’t imagine anyone but the chemically enhanced finding terrifying.

Let’s all bid adieu to:

6. Old People

They’re wrinkly and a bit creaky when they move, but the most menacing thing they will do is yell at you as if you’ve lost your dumb whippersnapper mind or present you with something quaint and handmade. I dare you to find one old person that cackles and howls with the sort of maniacal glee that many horror movies would have you believe is as common an occurrence as them asking you to pass the Bengay.  And speaking of Bengay…the “scary old people” thing suffers in that the elderly have severely diminished sensory organs and move at about the speed of smell.  If you were to really run across an evil old person then, unless you’re in possession of atrophied muscles or rendered motionless through a fear of geriatric spittle, one good shove ought to send your foe flying onto his/her back like a turtle.

angry old person
“You yellow bastard! Come here and take what’s coming to you. I’ll gum your legs off!”

5. Black Cats

They hiss, they growl, they’re familiars for some witch or other spooky thing, they…ominously walk across the screen and stare. Maybe horror movies are hoping to capitalize on that untapped demographic of early-American colonists, or the trickier group of ailurophobes with a side fear of achromatic objects; for the rest of us it just doesn’t cut the terror cake. It’s a cat. It’s black. BOO! Oh I almost gave myself a heart attack there. No thank you, horror movies. I myself have a black cat and I can attest that she’s about as evil as a block of tofu; that is, unless you categorize pretending that she likes me a whole lot more than she usually does when she wants me to feed her as “evil”.

black cat
Tremble in fear.

4. Crows/Ravens

Much along the same lines as black cats, crows and ravens have always been seen as bad omens and familiars of evil beings. At least, that’s what our relatives thought a few hundred years ago when  it seemed that the constant threats of disease and starvation weren’t enough to keep one’s mind occupied. Oh no, our ancestors had to assign an evil nature to anyone or anything that was even remotely annoying or gave them the stink-eye. It’s possible that piling ridiculous fears on top of the real issues at hand was their way of coping. Regardless, birds haven’t been threatening outside of an Alfred Hitchcock film and even then it was a stretch.

He has a taste for human flesh.

3. Children’s Toys

Horror movies seem convinced that merely panning around a child’s darkened bedroom while showcasing building blocks, globes, and little remote control cars should be enough to send chills running down our jellied spines. Even if brought to life through some sort of demonic possession, the baubles found in most kids’ rooms at worst serve as a source of frustration and something to make a nice crunchy sound when I trample it underfoot. Forgive me for being unimpressed. Oh no, a toy train. It’s going to repeatedly-run-into-my-shoe me to death. As a child, possessed dolls were my terror du jour. Today at the ripe old age of nearly 26 years old I can say that I have attained all the wisdom and bravery necessary to ascertain that anything which dons frilly lace and is frequently used to simulate having high tea is not, in the least, terrifying. Not even the hissing ones.

clown toy
Okay, I take it back! Make it stop, make it stop! Aaauuurrrgghh!!

2. Scarecrows

I have a really hard time working up the reaction to completely harmless and inanimate objects that Hollywood would like for me to have. I’m not going to deny that these things which are supposed to resemble human beings but are in fact effigies nailed to a block of wood are slightly creepy. I’m sure it’s terrifying if you happen to be stalking around someone’s farm and suddenly bump into one through the tangle of crops and momentarily mistake it for a live psychopath with a love for blood and the sweet smell of corn. Otherwise there is nothing that makes a bundle of rags and a hat a suitable object of fear and derision other than butt-ugliness.

I mean, the guy has straw and a piece of paper in lieu of a brain.

1. Churches

Unless we’re talking about churches of Satan or some other evil, I really can’t understand the sense of foreboding that horror movies intend for me to feel upon looking at a house of prayer. I don’t care what religion one is, in my mind there are only three reactions that an unblemished psyche could have to seeing churches or temples or what have you: A: A sense of peace and calm from followers of the religion in question; B: Disdain/ridicule aimed at the organized religion in question; C: Indifference toward the religion in question.

Oogedy boogedy.

More so than any on this list, churches are still used as a stale means of creating an eerie atmosphere and I, for one, give a hearty yawn in the face of these tired fallbacks. I’m not asking for another genre-defining film, necessarily (though it couldn’t hurt); all I want is for horror movies to stop assuming that we’re all 8-year old Pilgrims. I wouldn’t  be surprised if the next step were for Hollywood to start trying to convince us that M&Ms are the things of nightmares.

Though I can totally see Stephen King going that route.

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  1. I liked your review! I agree that these devices have been so over used. When someone takes an honest look at them, they lack any sense of menace…with the exception of #1 – Churches.

    It isn’t that churches should be a place of menace but you are dealing with things of an ethereal nature. When you can’t necessarily see or manipulate something, it’s bound to be creepy.

    Just look to almost every biblical event of a person encountering an Angel. Their reactions rarely seem to be one of calm and serenity.

    P.S. I’m sure some of those cavernous buildings are awfully terrifying to anyone with Agoraphobia

  2. Nice article. The whole “cat jumping out at you” schtick is getting a bit old. I have been to some churches that weirded me out a bit, but nothing all that benevolent. Nice article all across the board.

    England prevails

  3. Thanks for the feedback, everyone. I had a lot of fun making the list and I think we all can agree, though some churches do seem creepy, that these cheap scares just need to go!

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