Movies 25 Oct 2009 12:48 pm
I’m having an ongoing debate with my Film Studies class this semester about the merits of suspenseful horror over more visceral, in-your-face, blood-n-guts special effects. So far, I’m losing. I’ve shown films like Cat People (the original, not the remake) and Psycho in an attempt to convince them that what you don’t see is more frightening than what you do. But most of the class seems to prefer fare such as Saw, which we won’t be screening in class.
I’m not a horror prude. I know there is a place for the well-timed spray of blood or gross-out effect. But I still believe that real terror comes from more suspenseful build-ups and cut-aways before the violence, that the mind conjures up more graphic images than any director and special-effects artist.
Midnight Movie proves my point. The film has an original premise: The serial killer in a ’70s movie comes to life inside a theater and stalks the audience. Visually, the killer is arresting, a hybrid of Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Michael Myers, and Freddy Krueger. Even his instrument of choice, a curly-cue corkscrew, is memorable.
Unfortunately, director Jack Messitt decides to take the visceral, unflinching-camera approach, so the various killings are shown on-screen in all their bloody gory. They’re not effective, and most are unintentionally laughable. It doesn’t help that most of the characters being stalked are the typical Hollywood cliches: The biker dude and his girl, the geeky horror-movie fan (who dies in the theater bathroom), the dutiful boyfriend, the shithead boyfriend, and of course the Polly Pureheart heroine who is giving up her dreams of college to look after her younger brother, the victim of an abusive father.
With more imagination in character development to match the premise and more suspenseful film making to take the place of over-the-top gore, this might have been an effective little thriller. I can’t be too hard on it — the making-of featurette included on the DVD explains how filming shut down for a while and how a microscopic budget influenced the end result — but I can wish that the movie matched the effort that went into marketing it. (It has a great website.)