Which is scarier: reason, or obsession?

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"Why don't they teach logic in these schools?"
The title doesn't do this discussion justice, so don't put too much stock in it.

I was reading a review of Peter's (OG-, to most of you) on his fine site, Horror's Not Dead, wherein he mentioned that "of any fantasy terror, aliens have it easiest when it comes to making my skin crawl." I replied that my friend had the same tendency, and that it was something I couldn't at all relate to, which sparked a short back-and-forth about why we do (or don't) find the idea of aliens especially frightening compared to something like, say, ghosts. Peter mentioned that it was certain alien features that particularly freaked him out, but it got me thinking about why I don't find them as scary in general as other typical horror film subjects.

After clarifying my own thoughts a bit, I concluded that I didn't find aliens particularly scary because they're usually portrayed as intelligent, and usually posess some degree of reason. Ghosts and other supernatural beings, however, are usually obsessive and single-minded. For whatever reason, I find this a great deal more frightening.

Great example of why the irrationality is so scary to me: I never saw The Grudge (American version), but I had someone describe a scene to me where a man (allegedly) asks to be let into an apartment building, so the woman buzzes him in, and the doorbell to her apartment rings a split-second later.

Now, to me, even hearing about that is terrifying. It's so creepy to think that this being/ghost/whatever is smart enough to try to fool the woman, but not smart enough to realize what is and is not believable (IE: someone being upstairs a mere second after being let in the door). It has all this power, but only a rudimentary understanding of things. It's like a kid playing with his dad's gun, except the kid hates you, is invincible, and never sleeps or eats. It just. Keeps. Coming.

This ties into another distinction between the two: with aliens, we still know the ground rules. You can probably cut their head off, blow them up, whatever. And you can probably appeal to their sense of self-interest and self-preservation somehow.

Films about ghosts are different, though. Part of the fright with a ghost in any film is that, for the characters, they don't know all the rules: they don't know how to kill a ghost, and they don't know how to make it go away. They have to play a game they've had no preparation for. In some instances, they can't kill it; they can only appease it somehow, which is scarier still.

I have more thoughts, but this post is getting too long as it is. So, the question is: which is generally scarier to you in cinema, and why: intelligent threats like aliens, or the unknown, like ghosts?
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Hmmm. To the extent that I think you can rationally explain fear (isn't fear commonly thought to have some element of irrationality behind it, quite appart from the rationality or irrationality of the object or force that it attaches to?) the overall situation is more important than the particular monster. I think I agree with what your saying, that the less you know (or the more aware of your not knowing) about the monster, the scarier it is. It's also important that you make a distinction between rationality and logic (which you may or may not already agree with, I can't tell from your post), because a lot of scary movies (think The Cube) are based around situations that have clear logical rules but obey a rationale that isn't (or can't be) understood by the victims/audience.

Have you read Alice/Through the Looking Glass? Those books are completely obsessed with logic but scared me quite a bit when I was a kid.

That said, as an adult the only movie that scares me is the Blaire Witch. Can't give you an ironclad axiom that would explain why though.



For me, it's the little things that are creepiest. Like in Poltergeist, when the mom turns around and the chairs are stacked, for me that was the scariest part of the movie. Monsters, chainsaws, hockey masks, aliens and mutants aren't scary to me. I like "survival horror" movies for the thrill, imagining what I'd do in a situation like that, how to overcome the odds and get the drop on some psycho, etc. But yeah, the doorbell scene in The Grudge freaked me out, too. The very beginning of the sequel gave me some chills in the theater also.

I watched the Three Men and a Baby "ghost" scene on Youtube the other day. I remember hearing about it in high school. I thought it was an urban myth and never really checked into it. And you know what? Even when you know it's fake, it's still scary as hell to me. I got goosebumps when they walked past the window, even though I knew it was a cardboard standup!



OG-
In Soviet America, you sue MPAA!
This ties into another distinction between the two: with aliens, we still know the ground rules. You can probably cut their head off, blow them up, whatever. And you can probably appeal to their sense of self-interest and self-preservation somehow.
I disagree. Can you - and this is not accusatory, merely a challenge - name a movie, whose intention is to scare or thrill, where someone appealed, successfully, to an alien? I can't. However, I can name multiple stories in which a ghost was sympathetic to people other than their intended victim. For example, Stir of Echoes, Ghost, The Eye, The Sixth Sense.

My own personal phobias aside, aliens have the potential to be the scariest things on film because of this principle alone. An alien can look as scary as any demon, ghost or monster; but an alien has only one, entirely self-motivated goal: probe/mutilate or, if you're lucky, impregnate. A person can physically prevent an alien via bodily harm, but if you get in the way, you're just as likely to get something shoved inside you. Not to mention, they are reactionary, whereas ghosts wait eternally for some poor sap's soul to wander into their web.

Oddly enough, ghost stories these days are taking on more alien logic; The Grudge being a perfect example. The ghost in question still waits in its web, but anyone who crosses the threshold falls victim to it.

Aliens are both obsessed and intelligent. You just can't beat that. Not that they are always scary on film, but they have the inherent potential to be the scarier of the two.
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One of the scariest films I've ever seen was The Exorcism of Emily Rose. The supernatural scares me much more than creatures to whom the laws of physics apply...



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Originally Posted by Yoda
After clarifying my own thoughts a bit, I concluded that I didn't find aliens particularly scary because they're usually portrayed as intelligent, and usually posess some degree of reason.
I agree and disagree with that statement...yes, most of the time aliens in movies are portrayed as intelligent beings w/ reason...however, most of the time aliens, in horror movies, they are portrayed as intelligent...dangerous violent killers with little reason

Originally Posted by Yoda
Ghosts and other supernatural beings, however, are usually obsessive and single-minded. For whatever reason, I find this a great deal more frightening.
I also agree and disagree with this statement...yes, ghosts are usually obsessive and single-minded, but I think this is why they are are less frightening...so a ghost has an issue with a house, move or just get out...most of the time they do things for a reason, try doing some research to find out what they want, by visiting your town's hall of records, or library (like most of our heros or heroins do)...they rarely have a specific grudge with a specific person, which makes avoidance easier...
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I don't find the recent crops of US-remake of Asian ghost movies scary because there are NO rules. For some reason, it frustrates me that since there are no rules, they can do whatever they want at whatever moment. Loud noises, big puddles of water, slow motion, creepy children appearing and then disappearing. It creates an eerie mood but since it goes on for the full hour and a half, it becomes frustrating.

I heard "The Grudge 2" had no rules of people going into the house. They just started grudging anyone anywhere they felt like it.



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I thought about this a lot and decided that I would relate it to "real" life. If I were confronted by a ghost or an alien (lets say both were violent and cruel and evil to make it even) I would be more horrified by a ghost. Why? Because, to me, aliens are a more realistic possibility. Ghosts are more "unexplainable" to me. With the universe as vast as it is I tend to lend more credence to an alien existing than a ghost. After saying that though I do believe that both probably do exist, just ask Yoda:

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OG-
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Originally Posted by JBriscoe View Post
I agree and disagree with that statement...yes, most of the time aliens in movies are portrayed as intelligent beings w/ reason...however, most of the time aliens, in horror movies, they are portrayed as intelligent...dangerous violent killers with little reason
I think by reason Yoda meant logic and the forethought of planning, not necessarily a back story or motivation.



I don't particularly like horror movies that deal with ghosts. There's something comical about ghost movies to me. The Poltergeist films have that obnoxious old Amish guy, or whatever he was, always coming around trying to bug little Carol Anne. Then Carol Anne has to deal with that short, round psychic lady with the funny voice, always trying to use her to stop the ghostly nonsense.

The Grudge has a little boy who meows like a cat. The female ghost from those movies can't even walk right. The girl from The Ring needs a haircut - and speaking of hair, Grudge Ghost Girl has some kind of weird hair fetish with killing her victims too.

My favorite ghost movie is probably Beetlejuice. It's fun, it's ridiculous, it's purpose is to make you laugh at ghosts. I think if a ghost does little tricks that are meant to surprise you or creep you out, I find that clever and maybe hilarious. I wanna give clever ghosts a gold star. They're DEAD. They're supposed to have fun. And if they kill you in the process, maybe you could have fun too as a ghost.

Some exceptions may be the more violent killers... Candyman and Freddy Krueger are both ghosts, if you think about it. But look at Freddy - he turned into a joke.

Aliens in horror films are far scarier, especially since most of them just wanna eat people! Not to mention cats, dogs and other animals. They seem to find us pretty tasty... which could be a nice compliment to the human race, but who wants to lose their whole life to become a sandwich? We by our instincts are programmed to fight and fear predators. In reality, the human race hasn't had to deal with things like little Japanese boys that stick their heads through walls and meow at you like a cat on a frequent basis. I don't know if there are any cave or Egyptian pyramid drawings that feature round, short people like psychic Tangina following little girls around just in case a poltergeist may pop up and take her away to the other side. But there were drawings of things like lions and tigers and bears that people from our past have had to defend themselves against. Things with teeth. Sharp teeth.




I can't sit on either one or the other-

Aliens like in Independence Day aren't particularly frightening when they posses the sheer technological power to destroy us, it becomes more machine as the enemy opposed the alien.

Ghosts are restrticted to the form of humans whereas aliens take any form- far more frightening, because the ghost is in the form human i find them more relatable than something 'alien'. However that can be more frightening example: Twin Peaks and Bob- some of it made me fill my pants, which leads to...

...the fact that ghosts are in our world as opposed to outer space gives them that closer to home fear, most ghost films provide the fear of the familiar and perversion of places we find secure whereas how many people have been on a space ship? Trying to think of aliens at home- example: Evil Aliens and Bad Taste, a lot of the voilence is for humour, not that frightening.

Alien from Alien, a genetic and pure killer is pretty terrifying but it's not got the same conscious motivation that drives a ghost to kill you. Signs is the second scary alien that springs to mind, though they almost fall to the conventions of ghosts, lurking, the odd bumps etc.

I think psychologically ghosts are an easier form to frighten more active viewers but aliens, visually and their physical form, enabling them to voilate the body, make them fearful in a more passive viewer.

When i started this post i was unsure, but i think now i'd go with ghosts.


Re OG: Alien Vs Predator, bad as it is, think there was a successful appeal to the Predator in it
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OG-
In Soviet America, you sue MPAA!
Originally Posted by Pyro Tramp View Post
Re OG: Alien Vs Predator, bad as it is, think there was a successful appeal to the Predator in it
I think I need to go put a bullet in my mouth. You're right and its for the absolute worst reason. I hate you.



Like tears in rain...
For me, I guess none of that stuff really scares me that much, but, then again, my definition of fear has been altered recently, as life can get pretty damn scary. Alas, I think The Descent was really scary to me because of the isolation and claustrophobia, coupled with knowing something was out there, but not knowing what it was. So, the unknown, along with being trapped in that cave.... that would scare the hell out of me, and I would just huddle and shake and cry and stuff.
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I'd say their both pretty scary. Maybe the most ultimate scary frightening horrific terrifying thing could be someone that's able to give a reason to their obsession. I guess that's why I think horror movies with a mortal serial killer are the most... blood chilling. Someone who thinks their doing something right, like the monster in Frankenstein, he thinks he's just being a normal person but he's throwing little girls into cold lakes that probably have eels in them. Slimy eels. Like semi buoyant water born hot dogs that have circular teeth to help hold on while they suck your blood. But, something without any reason at all is pretty scary too. I guess it's one of those things that sit on the complete polar opposites of a topic and manage to mean the same thing. Is there a term for that? If not, I'm naming it. "The Shiz Complex" So, in summary, something that able to justify, in their head, their craziness, or something that doesn't even give a second thought to their actions.

I name the recent shooter at the Virginia Tech as the one that's able to convince their self that their crazy isn't all that crazy and I name Earley (B. Pitt), from Kalifornia, as the one that doesn't even think about what they do.
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Agreed with "The Descent" -- that whole premise was creepy!



I've never seen--and therefore don't believe in--ghosts, zombies, werewolves, vampires, or aliens, so they don't scare me. On the other hand, I've seen a few really cold killers up close and they scare me because they do exist. My outlook is sort of summed up in the horror movie Dusk to Dawn (I think that's the name) a few years back. Starts off with one psycho brother breaking his killer sibling out of a courthouse, resulting in the later rape and murder of a hostage, proceeds with an unnecessary shootout in a station convenience store in which a cop, the store operator and innocent bystanders are killed, and culminates in the abduction of a man and his teenage children to get the pair over the Mexican border in their RV. Once in Mexico, the group then ends up at a supposed “truck stop” that is filled with vampires and their intended victims. Well, after all the blood splattered over the sets in the “real world” shootouts, the special effects vampires are just comic relief! The psychotic killers in the first part of the movie are the real monsters.

That said, the scariest film I’ve ever seen is the original version of The Haunting. In that film, you see doors bulge as though something huge is trying to push through them, you hear the laughter or crying of unseen children, one woman thinks she’s holding the hands of her bedroom companion in the dark as a child seems to cry in the darken room. Then the other woman turns on the light from across the room, causing the first woman to ask, “Whose hands was I holding???” You see lights and shadows, but you never ever see a ghost or monster, because that’s all left to your imagination.

The slimy, toothy alien in Alien was kind of spooky in the first film, but by the third movie it was a familiar figure. Besides, it’s hard to take even that alien seriously when people on the space ship have been warned of the danger but still the disposable cast member goes down a dark tunnel to rescue a cat.

As for the geeky little grays from Close Encounters of the Worst Kind, puhleeez! They are about as frightening as that red-haired monster in tennis shoes with the heart-shaped head that used to show up in Bugs Bunny cartoons! The only scary element in Close Encounters was that so many people couldn’t recognize the Devil’s Tower that Richard Dreyfus was compelled to replicate in mud and brick in the middle of his living room.



Originally Posted by PimpDaShizzle V2.0 View Post
Which one? The new or old?
Like I said, the original version. The TV ads for the remake showing all of the computerized graphics put me off from seeing that. However, I did show the original The Haunting to my oldest grandson who is a horror film buff, and my daughter sez she later heard him telling his buddies it was a lot scarier than the remake.