Paranormal Activity 3 racked up big box-office numbers this past weekend, and what bodes even better for the threequel is that–for the first time in six years–there’s no pesky Saw film coming out this Halloween to cut into (har har) the Paranormal ticket sales.
But for several years the annual Halloween box-office face-off (no pun intended) between the Saw and Paranormal Activity franchises provided nifty examples of two sides of the horror-movie coin: The Gory (Saw) versus the Creepy (Paranormal Activity).
The Saw films became infamous for their increasingly baroque and inventive ways of taking apart the human body, helping (along with Eli Roth’s Hostel films) to popularize the “torture-porn” subgenre of horror.
Conversely, the Paranormal Activity films are almost entirely free of gore, and usually only feature a single act of bloodless violence in their climaxes. (They are R-rated only for language and the intensity of what the MPAA tends to refer to as “pervasive scariness.”)
Earlier this year the creators of the original Saw film, writer Leigh Whannell and director James Wan, released Insidious–a PG-13 blood-free horror film in which they deliberately set out to forgo gore in favor of creepy, moody scares (and more than a few screeching jump scares.) (Insidious was produced by the Paranormal Activity team of Jason Blum, Oren Peli and Steven Schneider.)
In an interview last spring Wan told me, “After Saw I wanted to show that Leigh and I can make a movie that doesn’t require a single drop of blood or gore to scare an audience. I think you do that by using suspense and creating really chilling, atmospheric eeriness… I’ve always said it’s easy to shock with blood and gore, it’s harder to do scary, and it’s even harder to do creepy.”
But 2011 also saw the return of Wes Craven’s Scream franchise. Scream 4 hearkens back to pure, old-school slasher horror, with the blood flowing freely and copiously from a smorgasbord of teenage victims.
The argument for the scariness of gory horror movies is they graphically reveal the frailty of our human bodies–how easily we come apart, and how much blood there is inside us. They also work to push our boundaries of shock and disgust with ever-more extreme depictions of violence, and watching them can act as a feat of daring, proof of your fortitude… or goretitude.
Creepy scares, on the other hand, use sounds and subtler suggestions to work more off the viewers’ imaginations. We never see the Blair Witch or the Paranormal Activity demon, so what we picture in our minds’ eyes is always much scarier than anything on the screen.
Gory tends to suggest a fear of an overt threat from without–a monster, a killer, a chap with a chainsaw. Creepy often leans toward a threat from within, something sneaky and subversive, even seductive or corrupting.
Of course both types of horror movies liberally employ the third kind of scare: the simple jump scare. A loud noise, a scream, a shrieking bit of music, and something horrible leaps into the screen. Those kinds of shocks may “get” me when I’m watching, but they’re the sugar-rush of horror–a quick jolt that just as quickly fades away.
Personally, I tend to view gory horror films as over-the-top carnival entertainment. I get a kick out of them because of their silly excesses, but (with a few exceptions) I’m rarely scared by them. For true horrors, I prefer the creepy side of things–fleeting ghostly images and mysterious sounds tend to haunt me much longer after the film’s ended.
But what say you all? What’s your favorite kind of horror-movie scares?
We’ve got two polls for you below–vote in them both, then come on down to the comments section below to explain and argue over your choices!
Special Bonus Halloween Poll
Last Halloween I published three lists of my favorite scary movies, broken down into the following categories (click on them to see my full all-time lists):
- “Spooky Spirits” (supernatural entities, including haunted houses, ghosts, demons, exorcisms, witches, and curses)
- “Monsters, Zombies & Critters” (aliens, mutants, animals, critters, werewolves, vampires, and zombies)
- “Psycho Killers” (mostly human folks handy with weapons, including serial killers, supernatural killers, and torturers)
So which of those three types of horror films is your personal favorite?
More gory scares from redbox:
- I Spit on Your Grave (2011)
- Scream 4 on DVD and Blu-ray
- My Soul to Take
- Nightmare on Elm Street 2010 on DVD and Blu-ray
- A Horrible Way to Die
- Blood Night: The Legend of Mary Hatchet
- Saw: The Final Chapter on DVD and Blu-ray
- I Spit on Your Grave
- Friday the 13th (original, 1980)
- Chain Letter