16 May 2010


I'll be honest, I almost don't want to include this on the list. I just couldn't force myself to pay attention to this movie, and I almost hadn't noticed it was over when the credits started rolling. I wasn't asleep or anything, I just sort of... zoned out. I understand the difficulty of working with an animal, and the limitations of making it actually appear savage and vicious and bloodthirsty. But there's just something extremely sedate and, well, mopey about Cujo's demeanor that no amount of asynchronous looped-in dog growl noises can make up for. I never once find the dog scary. Just gooped up and gross. St. Bernards just aren't all that terrifying. Unless you hate slobber.

The editing seems smartly done, working up as much tension as possible during the dog attack scenes. The sound design is leaned on heavily here (not exactly unique among horror films) but the main name of the game for how-to-scare-you here is chaos. It's like a savage energy, but instead it's just kind of... chaotic. Plus, I'm not sure I get it... he's just a big rabid dog, right? He seems kind of smart for a dog, especially one with "rabies," but not exactly reasoning-smart... I don't get how he manages to kill everyone so easily.

I didn't hate the movie or anything. It felt very Jaws-y to me. It's just a victim of that 80s-era flat photography, goofy acting, and shallow storytelling -- and it's got a nonscary monster/dog. It gave me a little to think about in terms of how menacing a menace needs to be to work, and how a cognitive dissonance between intention and image (or sound and image, even) can really bring you out of the picture, and with any experience you want to be visceral, once you're brought out it's almost impossible to unburst that bubble. You can't go back in, and if you're not inside the picture you won't be scared, or moved, or anything.

I'm finding myself to be one hell of a harsh critic of this genre, but I'll also admit that despite tearing these things apart, some of the films are staying with me more than others. The Mist is sticking with me a lot more than I'd have predicted, but The Others left so little impression I can barely remember the plot. I wonder if I'm too harsh on horror films, but I think I'm just a discerning dramatist who wants themes and character to go along with his plot, and for the most part horror films want to be popcorn movies. But I think know any film can be more than that, can even in fact be a popcorn movie and a thoughtful piece of challenging film. Sure, it's rare, but it's the goal. You make art, you want to make good art. Probably even Bret Ratner wants to... no, I better not finish that sentence. I don't believe it myself.

Anyway, I'm not lowering my standards for horror films, but I'm learning even from the ones I don't like, so there you go.

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