After reading Neil Gaiman’s novella Coraline, I am now eagerly awaiting the film version. Although I am not exactly a fan of 3D animation (I really hated Gumby as a child), I am keeping an open mind in the case of the film adaptation of Coraline. I loved the novella that much.
I am a fan of horror movies. But I have been a fan of horror stories for far longer. When my 16-year-old daughter, Sam, started to show the same inclination, I wondered if she would ever outgrow the notion that horror is synonymous with gore. She grew up in a generation where cinematic standards have practically blurred the distinction between the two and I think that’s really sad.
While blood and gore are horrific, I prefer stories that combine mood with imagination to scare the pants off the reader or viewer. I like stories that tease the mind rather than numb the senses with one gory scene after another. Examples?
The 1944 adaptation of Dorothy Macardle’s The Uninvited was a film my mother often mentioned. After I scared myself silly reading her paperback copy of William Blatty’s The Exorcist, she said that was nothing compared to The Uninvited. I finally found a copy of Macardle’s book in the Circulation section of the U.P. Main Library and checked it out.
It is the story of a brother and sister who move to a country house called Cliff End that is haunted by an apparition, preceded by a deathly cold, that appears on top of the stairs, and a moaning, accompanied by the smell of the mimosa flower, in a room that used to be the nursery. Stella Meredith who used to live in the house talks about her mother who, she was told, fell off the cliff probably pushed by a Spanish girl, Carmel, who used to model for her artist father.
The twists and turns in the story, and the final confrontation, makes the novel a worthy thriller. But it is the description of the unearthly presence in the house that makes it a real horror story. For weeks after reading the book, I refused to go up or down the stairs of our house without turning on the lights. The horror played on my imagination so well. I saw the film years after I read the book (my father loved renting Betamax tapes of old films) but it wasn’t half as scary as reading Macardle’s words.
The Innocents is a 1961 film based on Henry James’ novella, The Turn of the Screw (there are claims that most of the film’s script was written by Truman Capote). It is a story of a governess caring for a brother and sister in a country mansion. The children are possessed by the spirits of ill-crossed lovers (a former governess and valet) but the real horror in the film was created through a combination of a good setting (a Gothic mansion in England), minimal lighting and music.
The Others, partly based on James’ novella, utilized similar techniques. A large isolated house surrounded by fog, soft underlighting and a pace that starts slow so that the horror creeps on you rather than shocks you.
The Others tells the story of a mother and her two children living a life of rigid rules. Curtains must be drawn when the children enter a room because sunlight could supposedly kill them as they suffer from some mysterious disease. The mother punishes the daughter for telling lies when she speaks of a boy that no one else saw. In the end, it turns out that the boy is a real boy and it is the mother and her children who are the spirits bound to the house.
The Shining which starred Jack Nicholson was based on Stephen King’s novel of the same title. I was in college when I saw the film and the experience left my knees weak. Jack is a writer and a recovering alcoholic. He takes on a job as winter caretaker of a hotel where he brings his wife and son. As the snow grows deeper, they become isolated. Meanwhile, Jack slowly goes seemingly insane and tries to murder his wife and son. The film script was not faithful to the novel where the horror goes to farther lengths. Still, the film adaptation managed to achieve such vividly horrific imagery that it was able to stand on its own.
And now there’s Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. A girl and his parents move into an old house that had been divided into flats (apartments). Bored, the girl, Coraline, unlocks a door that supposedly held nothing but a brick wall beyond it and discovers a house—and family—like her own. The Other Mother and the Other Father are more attentive than her own and they want her to stay. But there is something eerie about them with their sewed on black button eyes. Coraline returns to her real house to find her parents gone and she knows they had been taken by The Other Mother and The Other Father. She returns to The Other House to set her parents free. Will the film be as scary and as unsettling as the book? I sure hope so.
I can cite a dozen more examples but you probably get the drift at this point. I am not a fan of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre nor Saw nor Hostel. The only cinematic portrayals that make sense of all the blood and gore is Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and the three Hannibal Lecter movies.