There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it. – Alfred Hitchcock.
Horror. A word that leaves my mouth once everyday, it’s very rare I don’t discuss one aspect of horror daily. It’s been good to me, well most of it. Like everything however it has a dark side. By dark side I don’t mean that fantastically, sickening blood pouring out of the overlook hotel’s elevator, I am talking about something which has been titled ‘cattle-prod horror’.
Cattle-prod horror is, to my mind not horror at all. Allow me to put it into context.
As she was walking down the road she came across a house, knocking on the door she realized the door was open. Looking through she decided to walk in. “Bobby” she shouted, her voice echoing through, what seemed to be abandoned house. Looking out over the garden she has difficulty due to the window being dusty, sliding her hand across the window she starts to clear it, wiping away a bit at a time *BANG*! A bird hits the window and leaves the cinema looking a little like this.
Now I have to make it very clear, I have spent many MANY pounds paying for cinema tickets expecting to watch a horror, but in return I get this messed up freak show, sensory attacking, shaky cam film. I find it hard to believe that when viewers return home, when they are lying in their beds, are they really scared? Do they really fear that bird hitting the window?
I find it hard to believe myself, none the less it doesn’t mean this type of film isn’t popular, for example, Paranormal Activity managed to gather $107,918,810 in the box offices alone, but a question is still apparent is this horror?
A great discussion for this can be found here.
The reasoning behind this blog in fact was not about ‘is this horror’ I apologies but in true Kermode ramblings I got caught up in the moment. My actual question is how does it achieve these scares and is their anything to learn from this?
To my mind sound is the fundamental tool when attempting cattle prod cinema. The use of silence and extreme loud pulls the audience into a false sense of security. It allows for the extreme to seem ridiculously extreme. This (it can be argued) was first seen in the 1942 film Cat People (Cat People, 1942)
As we can see the sound builds, but it builds from silence, next to silence almost. Then at the last-minute it is amplified with a loud sound of the bus. Now this can be seen as a little different from others, I guess you could say a little more cleverly used as the bus sounds reminiscent of a cat. However this common trend of using silence and sound has seemed to spark an entirety of typical Hollywood template films.
Although sound can be used as ‘bad’, can it not be used for good also? Can it not scare without having to rely on jump tactics?
I feel that the possibility is there. Silence is just as terrifying as sound, when you are present in silence (true silence, no cars, city life) small sounds can seem big, close and ultimately scary. A film that manages to achieve this is the 1961 film The Innocents (The Innocents, 1961)
For me this is a perfect match of audio and visual, in today’s world, the man at the window would have had to step through with major sounds making you jump. However with the slow walk forward in silence he is introduced without sound, only the slight breathing. This creates an eerie moment between the two that is uncomfortable for all.
I feel more research is needed, silence and sound can be used in interesting ways, it would be a shame to do the norm. In researching films like The Innocents, perhaps I can capture what we have already seemed to lose. True Fear.
Cat People. (1942). [film] USA: Jacques Tourneur.
KermodeandMayo, (2013). Kermode Uncut: Cattle Prod Cinema. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ab8oi4ThVS0 [Accessed 13 May. 2014].
The Innocents. (1961). [film] United Kingdom: Jack Clayton.
Alien. (1979). [film] USA: Ridley Scott.