“What Is Sexy?” Victoria’s Secret asks us, as Oasis’ raunchy “Hung In A Bad Place” crunches in the background. But the question in rhetorical. Reality and Wal-Mart models don’t sell pricey underthings. Victoria’s Secret answers its own question, representing ‘sexy’ as a woman lounging in a strobe-lit airplane hangar, wearing little more than her bare essentials and a pair of stiletto heels. The ad might as well pry your eyes open with toothpicks and punch you in the face with boobs and butts. Much like the Gallagher brothers, subtlety isn’t one of Victoria’s strongest character traits.
But today is Halloween, not Valentine’s Day. Which makes us wonder: what is scary?
1980s slasher films are not scary. Even before they became fodder for Scream-era gagfests, the films had outlasted their ability to freak, as their bags of camera tricks and creature cam POV shots quickly became blasé.
What about “Ghost Ship”? Ahem. Let’s move on.
There’s no question that some of the scariest films have been so at least in part because of their soundtracks. On the surface, Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” is a politely cheezy new age concept album. But add some green vomit, speaking in tongues, and Max Von Sydow, and all of a sudden we’re shitting our pants.
That same feeling of dread that “The Exorcist” gives us also weaves its way through America’s folk and blues tradition. To hear Bozie Sturdivant sing it in a 1942 Library of Congress field recording, you believe that no grave will ever hold his body down – that he will rise again to avenge his own death. The murder ballads included in volume one of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music describe jilted lovers, star-crossed children, beheadings, and stone-cold death. Leadbelly’s “In The Pines” is perhaps the best example of a traditional song that broadcasts a palpable dread. You can hear the wind whisper in the dark, understand exactly what’s happening in that dark forest clearing. The song was just as affecting when performed by Nirvana on “Unplugged.” Cobain understood the fear inherent inside the piece; he may have understood it a little too much.
Is it in the lyric sheet? The delivery? Not sure. Just like movies, some songs are simply scary, while some aren’t. While it features creepy cinematography, “The Ring” ends up rehashing the same old scares. Evidently in modern moviemaking, Officially Scary Things include analog technology like VCRs and telephones, creepy children and their drawings, and anything to do with mental hospitals. And don’t forget that horses and dogs can always detect ghosts, gouls, and goblins AT LEAST five minutes before humans can. Sure, they have no thumbs and can’t open doorknobs. But when it comes to the sixth sense, watch the fuck out. The makers of “The Ring” had a chance to make a truly scary film. But just like Victoria’s Secret, they weren’t subtle. And that was their failing. Despite Regan’s spinning head, “The Exorcist” is essentially a subtle film. It allows us to scare ourselves by imagining the film’s central themes – life, death, possession, and the duality of light and dark forces – in our own reality.
Come play with us, Danny. For ever and ever and ever…