“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…


19 thoughts on “Spookifying!”

  1. As far as spooky music goes, how about “Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry” by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds:

    And I came upon a little house

    A little house upon a hill and

    I entered through, the curtain hissed

    Into the house with its blood-red bowels

    where wet-lipped women with greasy fists

    Crawled the ceilings and the walls

    That part always creeps me out!

  2. Among the scariest films I’ve ever seen is the original “Alien.” I remember sitting in the theater, wondering why the hell I was there. I mean, I didn’t have to be. I’m sure there was some crummy comedy or something else I could have been watching, but no. A saliva-dripping creature on a space shit–oops, Freudian slip–ship that didn’t pay its electric bills.

    A woman with an 11-or-so-year old sat next to me. She looked over to me as though I could provide some moral support, and I thought to myself “Lady, I can barely deal with that godamn thing bursting out of rib cages myself; you ought to take your boy by the hand and RUN!”

  3. The scariest film I’ve ever seen in the theatre – Jacob’s Ladder. It was at the midnight showing, no less. Freeee-keeee!

  4. During the part of Blue Velvet when Kyle MacLachlan is forced on the joyride in the car by the psychotic Frank (Dennis Hopper), I was more scared than I’ve ever been by a movie. Total nightmare atmosphere, confused and murky and senseless, like a real dream, like a real abduction. God. My sister and I grabbed hands and looked at each other and said “Should we leave?” We were terrified. But hypnotized. We didn’t leave, of course.

  5. The scariest movie I’ve ever been in was “Blah Blah Blah” part 2. That one had my grandfather thinking I was in a satanic cult, while I was thinking “if you only knew..”

    The scariest film I ever saw in the theatre was Red Dawn with Patrick Swayze. A successful russian invasion of america! Boo!

  6. the scariest record I have heard to date reamins the Manic Street Preachers’ ‘The Holy Bible’ – truly harrowing listening. An album of desolation and bile, the horrors of history mixed with a despairing present in the form of supposed ‘pop’ music. The scariest aspect of this record is that it is truly ‘4 REAL’.

  7. Scariest music I ever heard: actual recording of an African American chain gang in Louisiana singing while they worked. One hears the chains and the sound of heavy hammers pounding against hard stone keeping rhythm with the tormented voices of convicts finding what redemption they can in the strains of a haunting traditional spiritual.

    Scariest cinematic experience: it’s a tie. Okay, I know this is silly, but THREE MEN AND A BABY when that urban legend was going around about the ghost of some little boy appearing in the film, and THE WIZARD OF OZ, after I heard the story about the extra who hung himself in the emerald forest, also caught on film in one of the scenes of them skipping along the yellow brick road. Real life scares me.

  8. I remember looking for the kid in Three Men and a Baby in high school and almost shitting my pants when we actually saw him. I’d love to see if a DVD replay of that scene reveals anything else. My DVD pauses with perfect picture and has a zoom function (keep your dirty comments to yourselves, porn freaks). I may go rent that dopey movie this week just to see if I can crack the case!

  9. Another teenage dream dashed. I remember watching that video so closely and freaking out when we saw “the kid.” The still image on Snopes is pretty clear and shows it’s not a ghost at all. Damn.

  10. I will have to say The Exorcist sucks…not scary or even good. Rosemarys Baby and the Omen though (except for the head getting sliced off)were scary

  11. Somebody back me up here. We all saw the kid in Three Men and a Baby and I would sware to you that the kid was wearing a red checkered shirt or something else of color not just black and white. Didn’t they pull the movie to reedit it.

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