How many of us remember sitting in our rooms on a fall evening, wrapped in copious amounts of blankets, and popping in a crusty VHS of Friday the 13th we rented from the video store. The taboo of the slasher movie was in full force, and watching one was a right of passage for all kids who hoped to obtain bragging rights without soiling their trousers. When Jason Voorhees jumped out of the lake at the end, an infamous jump scare that's lured more innocent victims than Bernie Madoff, the adrenaline pumped through our hearts. All hope of sleep was dashed, but that was fine by us.
Now, sadly, the mystique of the slasher flick has gone the way of The Macarena. Kids have access to an internet filled with every depraved fragment of the twisted imagination without having to save up your shekels and squirrel the VHS into your room, finding the person volume combination between total incomprehension and certain doom. All the classic horror movies can be seen on YouTube, their shocking violence now reduced to timid pixels, seen between glimpses of a phone screen. Technology may have made it easier to find the material, but it has also destroyed the innocent drama that those movies created.
Even people in my age range have become desensitized to the terror of these treatises. I was at a Halloween party a few years ago and a few of us were chosen to sift through our collections and bring in our favorite horror movie. I, without hesitation, chose Friday the 13th. It's the first movie of the kind that I connected with and, to this day, it fills me with a kind of gruesome giddiness. Not only does the killer truly leave no clues behind, leaving the audience clueless as to who is killing all these people, but the fact that it turns out to be Jason's middle-aged mother Pamela is the greatest turnaround in all of cinema history, in my humble opinion. I popped the DVD in at the party and the host, who is in fact about two years older than I, started deriding the movie because of its lack of dark, brooding, modern horror. She laughed at the crudeness of the death scenes and seemed unphased when the killer herself was beheaded. My choice, sadly, was dubbed a dud.
An analysis of that night has been gestating in my brain for years, trying to wrap my mind as to why she was so offended by my choice. The other movies chosen, first of all, were Sinister and Texas Chainsaw: The Beginning, both m0vies made in the last five years. Those movies are slick, clean, and frightening, but modern and a bit soulless. Yes, they were truly scary, but nothing was left to the imagination. Christopher Lee, one of the most famous actors of all time and a first-rate Dracula, once said in an interview on the BBC's Desert Island Discs that "I was once asked what I thought was the most disquieting thing you could see on the screen and I said, 'An open door'." The door represents the unknown and it is left to the imagination to fill in the blanks.
Modern horror movies, sadly, leave no blanks to fill in, like a tax form completed by your accountant that you're happy is completed but missing the drama of doing it yourself. The reasons the first-class horror movies of the 1930s through the 1980s were rites of passage were because they didn't throw the blood in your face. We were scared simply by a moving branch or a bird crying. I'll never forget the moment in a relatively new horror movie, fashioned with the best tropes of the past, Jeepers Creepers. At one point The Creeper is throwing a body wrapped in a sheet down a pipe to his underground lair. The heroes drive past this site and see the creature doing this, and his eyes follow them in an unceasing vision of pure malevolence:
I realize that life has to evolve, but what was such a simple joy of our childhood is now passe. We've become so focused on special effects, big budgets, and thin plots (in every aspect of our lives) and forgot that the true joy of terror is in its simplicity. I'm so thankful to have grown up in the time I did because I was able to be one of the last generation of kids to treasure innocence.
Give me an Iguana on a cardboard diorama set, call it a monster, and I'll be a happy camper.