Enough politics for a while, let’s talk movies. And let’s talk ghost stories specifically, one of my favorite kinds of movies. I’ve noticed the scare genre is not doing as well at the box office this year as it did last. Last year, there were a couple of monster hits, so to speak, like The Conjuring and Mama — though 2012’s Sinister was the last one that really grabbed me. This year… Oculus… The Quiet Ones… Haven’t seen them so I’m not commenting, but they’re not doing great business.
However… to celebrate their release, Movie.com put out a list by Jacob S. Hall of the “Ten Scariest Ghost Movies.” The list leaves out my favorite, The Innocents, and misses The Ring, Paranormal Activity and Lake Mungo, all wonderful. But there are some definite good ones there: The Haunting, The Changeling, Poltergeist, The Devil’s Backbone — can’t argue with any of those. The Orphanage lost me on plot, but it had some fantastic scenes: that hide-and-seek game was spectacular. The Pulse and The Eye were good; The Innkeepers, I thought started too slow and then relied too much on boo-scares.
But the two that really need to be discussed are The Shining and The Others. Both of these are routinely listed as classics of the genre and both of them are beautifully made movies. But both of them have one big ghost story problem: they are not scary. I’m sorry. They’re just not. If you remember The Shining being scary, watch it again. I saw it last Christmas. It’s basically a three hour long Jack Nicholson sizzle reel. I mean, how good is that guy at looking nuts and angry? But frightening, no. And The Others? Again, brilliantly filmed and acted, but I don’t think there’s really one good scare in it. And I don’t mean scenes that make you jump, I mean ideas that really send a chill up your spine.
The highest test of a ghost story, in the end, is not its depth and drama, and not its jolts and shocks. It has got to scare you, really scare you — scare you so that, even when it’s over, maybe especially when it’s over, it makes you shudder just to think about it.