Horror Movies: The Perfect Distraction

While most of us were watching election results trickle in last week, I distracted myself with a long-overdue horror movie marathon. My anxiety disorder already led to me nearly being hospitalized in November of 2016. I was NOT about to run that risk again. 

I voted. I did my part. It was out of my hands. 

First, I watched the 2020 continuation of the Grudge franchise. The first two were scary enough to make me sleep with my lights on for a while, and that bed sheet scene? Uh-uh. You can bet I slept without blankets. This one? It was better than I’d expected, but not great. There were callbacks to characters and scenarios we all know and love (such as a seriously adorable new ghost child); however, it was way too easy for me to think of a stronger story. The events are all spun off of the first nurse from The Grudge (the one Yoko replaced) going home to her family and spreading the curse to  America. 

First of all, The Grudge 2 told audiences that Arielle Kebbel’s character did that. Don’t erase Allison! I LIKED Allison! 

Second of all, this story reeks havoc on the mechanics of the established curse. The nurse, Fiona, has become a sort of new Kayako. In the preceding trilogy, those touched by the curse would become Kayako’s puppets; NOT brand new vengeful deities. The only way Fiona could have become the new Kayako would have been if her husband had murdered her and her daughter the way Kayako’s husband murdered Kayako and her son. That’s not what went down. Fiona, initially following the pattern set by past victims, went home and killed her husband and daughter. Tradition dictates that she should have been dispatched by Kayako afterward; never to be seen again.

If you’re going to change the rules of the game, don’t play. 

A better idea? Show us what drove Fiona away from the first cursed home; the one audiences recognize. Maybe the film would start with her taking the nursing job, and then odd things start happening a la the typical haunted house film. From there, neighbors could try and scare Fiona away. We could even see Kayako’s relatives and friends getting involved; giving us a deeper dive into Kayako’s life and the events leading up to her fatal affair. The Ring was effective in making us sympathize with Samara while still keeping her as a malevolent force. Why shouldn’t The Grudge take a similar route? 

No, instead we get pseudo-zombies and Lin Shaye giving way too much effort. We’re shown a family we KNOW won’t make it, and we slog through unnecessary shmultz when we just want to see Kayako and Toshio doling out post-mortem justice. 

Melinda is cute as a button, but she’s no Toshio. She’s simply too cute to be frightening. 

To put it simply, it’s a bad sign when the ending, which should be the scariest part, left me feeling nothing. 

I decided to move on to something older; something I never thought I’d be interested in watching: the 1976 classic The Omen, starring Gregory Peck. 

At first, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to sit through the whole movie. The beginning is a little creepy; with a priest pushing Peck to adopt a baby behind his wife’s back, since the shock of her miscarriage could be too much for her to bear. Remember, this was at a time when women were still seen as fragile, emotional creatures with weak constitutions who needed constant tending to. 

The family seems too perfect for the first ten minutes. Peck’s character Robert and his wife Katherine relish in their new lives as parents. Robert becomes US Ambassador to England, they move to an enormous house, and they take little Damien for pleasant strolls and saccharine family outings. It isn’t until Damien’s fifth birthday party that things take a turn for the demonic.

What makes The Omen so scary is how easily you’re tricked into believing Damien might be innocent. He’s so sweet and polite that I found myself wondering if everything wasn’t just a coincidence. How could he know what would happen around him? He was only five! He never swore, never disrespected his parents, and only threw one temper tantrum! Surely he was just a victim in all this, right? 

I actually had to pause the film once I realized what was happening. I was falling for the ruse the same way Robert does. Behind the angelic face and good manners, it’s obvious that Damien has more awareness than he lets on. There’s a twisted little smile he gets whenever chaos erupts; a look which one could easily dismiss as childish amusement if one didn’t know where the story was going. 

I DID know where the story was going. I knew the ending. I knew the truth. 

And it chilled me to the bone that I was STILL suckered into believing the little demon seed was innocent! 

That’s how The Omen succeeds for me while films like The Exorcist don’t always. The Exorcist is a little too on-the-nose in terms of allegory. Pazuzu is too vocal, too obviously evil, and he got into Reagan through a ouija board; the ONE THING audiences know never to touch! We feel for Reagan because she’s just a child, but we’re not seduced into siding with Pazuzu. The line between good and evil is clear. There’s no question of who is in control. Don’t get me wrong, The Exorcist is still incredibly scary for what it is; however, it’s fear factor has degraded with time. We’ve SEEN possession movies. We’ve SEEN ouija board stories where things got out of hand. There’s very little nuance involved. 

The Omen is ALL nuance. By not showing Damien doing anything outwardly malicious, the audience is lulled into a false sense of affection. I’ve dubbed this the “Just a Baby” effect: the feeling of wanting to defend someone or something because it looks completely harmless. NOBODY would jump into a river to rescue Pazuzu. Admit it, even though the demon is in Reagan’s body, you’d let it drown if you saw it struggling in a riptide. If you saw DAMIEN struggling? No question, you’re jumping in to save him!

And don’t play that “but I know he’s the antichrist” card! He’s an adorable little boy struggling to keep his head above water! Unless you have a backbone made of steel and a heart made of granite, you’re taking the risk! 

Opposite to how the 2020 Grudge left me feeling, it’s a really bad sign when the ending of this movie left me feeling just a little okay with  how things played out. 

I knew I should be horrified. 

But he’s just so darn angelic, I couldn’t help it!!

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