Horror List

A little while ago I asked in various gamer haunts for a list of horror films. I was interested to see what was foremost in peoples’ mind when thinking about horror. Obviously in my mind was Fright Night, and what kind of game would appeal based on film trends. In rough order of popularity:

The Thing, Ringu, Blair Witch Project, Dark Water, Event Horizon, Alien, Aliens, Nightmare on Elm St, Silent Hill, The Exorcist, The Mist, [Rec], Candyman, Cat People, Dog Soldiers, Frailty, The Descent, The Ghost and the Darkness, Haloween (remake), The Hitcher, House on Haunted Hill (remake), Let the Right One In, Near Dark, The Omen, One Missed Call, The Others, Paranormal Activity, Poltergeist, Scream 2, The Shining, Triangle, Whistle & I’ll Come To You, 28 Days Later

I’ve not seen all of these movies previously. Since collating the list I’ve been perusing TradeMe and picking up those that appear.

I don’t want to read too much into this list, but I think it is interesting. Slashers and monsters seem fairly represented; Vampires and Zombies however, get one film each. “Miscellaneous spirit” however seems to me to dominate this list – a genre that isn’t much treated in roleplaying games at all.

Vampires must surely be omitted because of their recent invasion of the cinema and televisual mainstreams. Anita Blake and Buffy have figuratively slain Vampires as a legitimate form of horror, giving rise to the “urban fantasy” genre of Meyer and Harris.

Zombies though, strike me as oddly absent given their enduring popularity and their strong presence in the last decade. I suppose that there are two factors which make them less appealing as a source of horror. The first is that they are completely predictable. They have a very limited range of activities: a careful and well-prepared group should survive indefinitely, eventually falling prey to accidents and treachery as much as the official menace. The second reason is that they are undeniably nihilistic. 28 Days Later breaks both of these zombie codes: the fast and vicious zombies are scary in and of themselves in a way that Romero’s are not. And the film ends on a note of hope, compared to the usual grim scenario of a total and actual apocalypse.

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17 Responses to Horror List

  1. Anonymous says:

    Although I’d note that ’30 Days of Night’ did a good job of bringing the splatter back to vampires.

    What I’d also be interested in is what people’s top 3 or 5 horror roleplaying games are. I’ve picked up Dread, what else do I need to read to feel like I’m across the best of the genre?

    • mashugenah says:

      I appreciated the intent of 30 Days of Night, but I actually just found myself getting bored during it, and I found the climactic scenes almost silly. There were a couple of effective moments for me… like that woman walking down the street crying out for help… meh.

      Are you thinking in terms of systems, settings, adventures, or a miscellany that just picks up some kind of “quality”?

      • Anonymous says:

        Yeah, I’m not saying it was a great film – just that the vampires didn’t *sparkle*, and I guess to that list add ‘Perfect Creature’ and others of that ilk.

        On game stuff – I’d use the same non-criteria as you did for films. Trying to guess the reasons why people rate stuff is half the fun.

      • mashugenah says:

        I hate how “not sparkling” is now the criteria for good vampire stuff. And I hate how “urban fantasy” has to be qualified to exclude those books.

        In terms of horror gaming products…

        Dread definitely tops my list. It’s not universally applicable, but for my money it’s one of the few horror products that out-and-out talks about what makes people afraid on a practical level rather than some waffly bullshit.

        The adventure “Last Dance” from Dungeon vol 64. I guess I might find it a bit awkward in places these days, but it hits all the horror highs: obsession, madness, danger and a profoundly grotesque and disturbing central premise.

        And, maybe it’s a cop-out, but I have really loved all of the All Flesh Must Be Eaten splat books. They are so powerfully evocative: anything can be horror if you follow their guidance. If I’ve got to single out one of the books, it’d probably be Pulp Zombies – the least appealing title, but a great way of reinventing pulp as horror. Pity that the system itself is rubbish, and the splat books only evoke, they don’t do more.

        (Other stuff might be “better”, even by my own criteria, but I always go with my first instincts in these situations. πŸ™‚ )

  2. jenni_talula says:

    obviously I can only answer for myself, but I actually find zombies to be *too scary* to think of the zombie films I’ve seen as “good.”

    Like, 28 Days Later was really scary and pretty enjoyable, but I felt that there was a moment in the film where the characters jumped the shark and it took me out of the story. Therefore I think of it as a bad film, despite most of the other people on the planet really liking it.

    I’ve avoided other zombie horror films because they’re too scary. I can watch comedy zombie stuff like Dead Snow, Zombieland and Sean of the Dead (except there is a point where this movie flips to straight horror and I have to fast forward to the epilogue.)

    By contrast ghost movies are fascinating to me and I am more likely to buy in, watch them and be freaked out.

    • mashugenah says:

      Can you clarify? 28 Days was scary, but you didn’t like it because there was a suspension-breaking moment? But more generally, you find zombies too scary?

      What moment did it for you? (Just curious: there are a couple of candidates in my mind. πŸ™‚ )

      I thought 28 Days Later was very interesting, but I haven’t bothered to buy it on DVD and don’t think I need to re-watch it.

      • jenni_talula says:

        Yep, that’s right. Zombies too scary, and although I might have rated 28 Days Later it broke my suspension and then I didn’t like it. It’s actually been ages since I saw it…but the whole ‘women only for breeding’ thing was pretty obvious and tacked on, I didn’t buy it when the problem had only been happening that long.

        But the biggest problem moment for me was Cillian Murphy’s character going bug shit crazy and killing remorselessly. It didn’t fit with who he’d been. Maybe that was the whole point, like becoming a monster to survive or whatever but it pissed me off.

      • mashugenah says:

        Those seem fair comments. πŸ™‚ I think that you can argue for the plausibility of both problems, but I basically agree that they don’t really work as well as the first part of the film.

        In some ways, I think that the reason those elements don’t work is because Boyle pulled his punches when it came to depicting the human brutality.

      • jenni_talula says:

        I think you’re right about the human brutality, the same things don’t bother me so much in The Walking Dead, but that’s brutal all the way through.

    • mashugenah says:

      Re-focusing: my main question is what you find particularly terrifying about the zombie narrative? Why are those films too scary for you to watch?

      • jenni_talula says:

        inevitability and hopelessness, essentially. I could read and enjoy World War Z because it’s set after the event, and the very fact that the oral history is being recorded means you know that humanity survives. Movies are all about the downfall and the hopelessness.

        Zombie themed nightmares I’ve had are all based around the certainty that I can’t survive this much longer. The zombies will always keep coming and overwhelm me.

  3. I would zombie movies to be shocking and tense but rarely scary in the traditional sense of the word.

    For scary movies, ghosts are generally the best device IMO as they are grounded in reality break all the rules, keeping them unpredictable yet knowable.

    FWIW this is one reason why RPGs and ghosts rarely mix. I think something like Dread which doesn’t model the ghost at all would be fine but most RPGs are built around a set of predictable results. If you move to unpredictability many roleplayers will just buy out on the basis that they are solely at the GMs whim, often resorting more to a disconnected audience member.

  4. The Thing, Ringu, Blair Witch Project, Dark Water, Event Horizon, Alien, Aliens, Silent Hill, 28 Days Later

    FWIW I have these on DVD

    • mashugenah says:

      I’ve now got most of those too. πŸ™‚ Probably can’t be bothered with Silent Hill or 28 Days Later though.

      Silent Hill had the most awesome premise, but I just found the actual narrative too unfocused and lethargic. It also relied a few too many times on “LOUD BANG” or equivalent for its scares.

      Event Horizon was one of my best ever cinema experiences. We had to resort to chicanery to get tickets as we were under aged. I remember being absolutely taken by surprise when they reveal who the real bad guy was. Great movie! Looking forward to my post-essay re-watch. πŸ˜€

      • Silent Hill is great for atmosphere and visuals, but I agree that it wanders. Not sure about relying on scares though. I find the imagery of Silent Hill to be the effective tool as it is nightmarishly disturbing.

  5. mr_orgue says:

    I would’ve included Day of the Dead on my list if I’d, um, remembered it. Far from a perfect film, but the dirty claustrophobia really got to me. I think I like the first two Romero flicks a lot more as films, but Day of the Dead is the only one that creeped me the f!ck out.

    • mashugenah says:

      Yet, ironically, the characters in Day of the Dead are subject to the least external danger of any zombie film I can think of. πŸ™‚ In other words, more than in any other zombie film, the humans doom themselves.

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