Previews for the 2017 smash horror movie “IT” brought back childhood trauma – from the 1986 Stephen King novel, perched on my mother’s bookshelf, cover depicted a grisly alien like claw emerging from the sewers, to the 1990 made for TV movie that I watched behind one closed eye and with a pit of anxiety in my bowels.
As I left the theater in 2017 slightly disappointed, I immediately started reflecting on the differences between the two. The general malaise that accompanied the original was absent, replaced with in-your-face jump scares, loud noises that provided shock but faded fast, and effects that obviously topped the inferior production from 27 years ago but ultimately were soon forgotten. The advancements are a thing to marvel at but in the end, they were what crippled the overall aura of the story.
After watching the original, I was stricken with a feeling of uneasiness that stayed with me for hours, days, weeks, and years. When I left the 2017 movie, that was it (pun intended) – it was just another movie.
And it got me thinking.
Growing up in the ’90s gives me the advantage of both before and after the advent of incredible technology and movie enhancements. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t look at my phone a million times a day (it was out of commission for several hours just the other night and I thought the world was over) and I think a movie such as “Star Wars” is vastly improved by digitization and superior special effects. Just compare the lightsaber duel between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader in the original 1977 film as opposed to Rey and Kylo Ren in Episode VII.
But with horror movies, there’s more to it. They don’t succeed on lasers, and explosions, and giant droid armies. They have one simple mission. To scare you.
The new “IT” has a great opening sequence, but I still remember the original movie’s start, haunting melody of Beethoven’s ‘Fur Elise’ on a gloomy and soon to be unforgettable rainy day. Another impactful memory comes from the death of the character Belch. It was something that was simple and effective, and has stuck with me since 1990. If done the same way today, it would have been CGI explosions and sounds – and just not the same.
The horror genre blew up in the ’70s and ’80s, and the lack of quality film, good lighting, and generic sound effects make those movies so much creepier than their counterparts of today. The writers and directors had to work so much harder to convey the terror, and they did so without the benefit of special effects and the cheap crutch that it so often is.
“Friday the 13th” is predictable and weak in terms of a story, but the grainy video tape and gaudy effects make it far more sinister. Hi-definition is great for watching a movie. Non hi-def is what makes you believe you are actually being pursued by Jason. Even movies from the good old days like “The Dark Crystal,” or “The Neverending Story,” are spooky because of their limitations – and they aren’t even supposed to be.
“I think the older films, movies like “Psycho” and “Nightmare on Elm Street” are scarier because they make you think.” Said Movie Buff founder and CEO Mark Ziobro. “Their horror comes through not with onscreen gore, but through suspense, a creepy atmosphere, and camerawork that keeps you guessing. Modern horror is fixated on showing blood and guts as opposed to storytelling.”
Maybe it’s just a grownup pining for the days of his childhood. Maybe its just a case of yesterday always seeming to better than today. You’d have to judge that for yourself.
Its not to say great horror doesn’t exist in the present (see “The Conjuring,” “Paranormal Activity“) but the scares have to be done according to the setting at hand. Modernization has an impact on all walks of life – some better than others. Good horror is still alive and kicking, but there’s something that accompanies the older films that sadly is gone forever. Food for thought as the Halloween season quickly approaches.
by – Matt DeCristo