This week, I don't want to talk about anything new. I don't want to discuss the good news about studios and European exhibitors finally agreeing on a virtual print fee. I don't want to comment on Nielsen's research showing the strong consumer appetite for 3-D films (I'll be talking enough about 3-D next week in anticipation of Journey to the Center of the Earth). I don't want to even get people's hopes up about Microsoft's supposed "manners device" that silences cell phones instead of blocking them (signal blocking was recently found to be illegal in the U.S.). I really don't want to comment on Mark Gill's "The Sky is Falling" speech from the L.A. Film Festival loosely concerning the state of art house cinema (the speech is more related to film making and financing, plus I already played Chicken Little last week).
And I don't want to compare/contrast this "Day in the Life" piece about an Ohio cinema manager to what my average day was like when I held the same job, nor do I want to address the latest updates on increased in-theater advertising. Finally, as much as I want to wish drive-in movie theaters a happy birthday, I don't want to attempt to write about them (for one, I only barely recall seeing The Fox and the Hound at a drive-in 27 years ago; for two, Green Cine did a sufficient job on its drive-in primer, to celebrate the format's 75th anniversary).
Instead of the news, I want to talk about the olds, as in the old-fashioned movie-going experience I had this past week. It wasn't with a movie that I had to review or a movie that I felt I should see simply because of its relevance to this column (again, stay tuned next Sunday for my thoughts on Journey to the Center of the Earth), which is what most of my recent movie-going experiences consist of. Yet it wasn't with a movie that I actually wanted to see, either. It was with the month-old, familiar-looking horror film The Strangers.
I don't particularly care for horror films -- they tend to bore me with their clichés and unoriginal scare tactics -- but I'm willing to see them every once in awhile with friends if I haven't anything better to do. Occasionally they're entertaining, especially when I've had a few drinks beforehand, despite their usual inability to surprise, frighten or thrill me. For decades I've stood by my belief that I'll never see a horror movie that scares me as much as Poltergeist did when I was five, or a horror movie as brilliantly directed as Kubrick's The Shining, or a horror movie as shocking to me as The Exorcist.
So it's hard for me to get excited about the genre. Sure, there have been some horror movies I've liked in the last 25 years, including the first two Final Destination installments, 28 Days Later and Shaun of the Dead (I do enjoy a good zombie flick), but they all please me in ways separate from how horror films are meant to be pleasing (ironically, they're meant to be please us by way of scaring the crap out of us).
So what made me go see The Strangers, a movie that received mostly bad reviews and which looked to me like yet another more-sad-than-scary film about people being terrorized in their home (I've seen Straw Dogs and Haneke's original Funny Games, which are plenty, thank you very much)? Well, first there was my brother, who is nearly as cynical about horror films as I am, who told me it's the scariest movie he's seen since Poltergeist. He also claimed one of his companions had to leave, because she was so scared. Then, one of my best friends who rarely recommends films to me -- and when he does, it's for really great, non-mainstream pics (he introduced me to the films of Lukas Moodysson, for example) -- said I must check it out, adding that Liv Tyler is really good in it (my brother had also highlighted Tyler's performance).
So, old-school style, I went to see a movie because of word-of-mouth. Additionally, it felt like an old movie-going experience due to the fact that I actually waited in line rather than buy my tickets from the credit card machine, as I normally do (I had a gift certificate to redeem). From there, it only got more comfortable. Throughout the movie, my fellow audience members, including the two buddies I went with, screamed and jumped. One woman in the back even yelled out amusing yet cliché commentary, such as the obligatory "don't go in there!" And though I was mostly bored or frustrated from first scene to last, I still found great satisfaction in the familiar and highly stereotypical experience.
It's possible that the comfort I find in the common, familiar moviegoing experience ruins my chance of ever actually being scared at the movies. Or maybe it's the dependable commentators, with their loud remarks and responses, which always get a laugh out of the audience and so aren't deemed a nuisance, who lighten up the atmosphere enough to keep me from getting chills (but then why is everyone else screaming and jumping?). Maybe it's even a bigger issue, that I'm more scared of real life, of getting sick or injured when I'm without health insurance or of being crushed by falling debris from an unsafe Midtown construction site.
Because I'm not a fan of horror films, I forget that it doesn't really matter if they're good or bad or scary (to me, anyway), because the reactions from the rest of the crowd are almost always worth the price of admission (for me, anyway). It's similar to the reason I'd go see any of the lame-looking comedies out right now just to experience a room filled with laughter (which, unlike fright, is contagious and would more than likely have me participating in the laughter).
Awhile back, someone commented on this column that horror films are always scarier when watched at home, alone. Maybe that's true for most people, but I also have a lot of things distracting me at home, and I doubt that I'd be any more frightened there than at the cinema. As always, I'd rather have the theatrical experience, with those other audience members showing me that a movie is scary even if I'm not scared or making me laugh when a scary movie is so cliché that I'm not the only one who thinks so. Thanks to this comfort of strangers, I think I might be more inclined now to see more horror films in the future.