Saturday, August 22, 2009

pay offs

I have been thinking about what works and what doesn't work in horror films. I'm no fan of overt gore, for instance, but I don't shy away from it either. I think the thing that is most important to me in horror is the setup. If someone pops out from behind a bush and you're distracted, then that's just another distraction. A dangerous one, but still a distraction. On the other hand, if you stand on the sidewalk and stare toward the shrubs, wondering if that shadow is just a shadow or something else, then you have the beginning of something. With your heart beginning to beat faster, you start forward, slowly, waiting...waiting...waiting.... The greatest example of setup, for me anyway, is The Blair Witch Project. Allow me to direct you to the last scene in the film. It stays with me. As I type this, I think about it and fight to urge to look over the shoulder. In case you don't remember (and I'm not talking about the film's general merits), the heroine goes through a deserted house in the woods in search of one of her friends who has gone missing. As the tension builds and the shadows twist, she finds him in the basement, standing with his face to the corner. That's it. That scene. No blood. No resolution. But with the setup and the final image which is suggestive and understated, there is a moment of true dread. By not answering the questions that the scene delivers, the audience is unfortunately left the fill in the blanks. If you're interested...here is a link to the last scene. or if that's not your cup o tea...here is a reinterpretation of the ending...

5 comments:

SQT said...

Hmmm, I never saw the pay off in Blair Witch. I felt like I spend over an hour on nothing but set-up and then...nothing.

GoogleHater said...

I'd hate to sound like a smart [expletive] and a know-it-all, but we have a word for all of that: "Suspense."
Part of the deal with the ending scene of the Blair Witch project, as you've described it, is that the audience is left asking the question, "WTF?" The fact that there's no resolution LEAVES the audience scared... and that's part of the thrill of the movie.

SQT said...

@GoogleHater

I totally disagree. Suspense is totally different than a pay off. And Blair Witch has some suspense, but no pay off IMO.

Vickie said...

The movie made me nauseous only because of the jiggly camera. That ending tied it all up and scared the bejeezus out of me. I had nightmares for a few nights after that. I won't watch it again.....

Audrey M. Brown said...

Have you ever seen the original, "The Haunting"? It's in my top 10 films of all time and it sounds like it might be right up your alley. But you have to watch it at night with all the lights off!