Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Fright Flicks Quenching Demand of Terror-Thirsty Fans Millennium's Fare Imaginative Horror

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Fright Flicks Quenching Demand of Terror-Thirsty Fans Millennium's Fare Imaginative Horror

Article excerpt

Flash back to a hot summer in the early '60s. A line of cars snakes by the ticket window of a drive-in theater for a double feature: Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and Carnival of Souls. The scratchy audio and mosquitoes don't matter to this audience. Their only expectation: to be scared out of their wits.

Drive-ins are harder to find now, but filmgoers haven't quenched their thirst for fright. The Haunting and The Blair Witch Project are the first in a ghastly gallery of films scheduled for this year.

These new movies signal a return to classic horror cinema. In the current class of gruesome slasher dramas and special-effects monsters, these films rely on otherworldly themes: witchcraft, demonic possession, mythic evil and the paranormal.

They prey on the fear of the unknown, the unseen, the evil lurking in the ordinary world and within ourselves.

"There's a controversy that goes on about horror movies -- what's more effective, the grossout or the imaginative horror, the one you don't see?" said Raymond McNally, a Boston College professor and author of books on horror.

Blair Witch falls into the second category and is being called a breakthrough film in the genre. Without giving the story away, it's safe to say the directors of the "mocumentary" rely on gore-filled legends, the hidden dangers of the woods at night and eerie sounds to build their tale of terror.

"Blair Witch goes back to the [Alfred] Hitchcock tradition, where what you don't see is the scariest thing," said Anthony Mora, a Los Angeles-based novelist and media consultant. "They've gone back, instead of going forward, to an older type of storytelling. Hitchcock terrorized you with the empty spaces and the sounds, which is much more terrifying than seeing the monsters come."

The unseen terrors that will appear on the summer's movie screens include: Lost Souls, with Winona Ryder uncovering a plot to let Satan come to Earth; The Astronaut's Wife, in which Johnny Depp becomes possessed while in space and returns to bedevil his spouse; The Sixth Sense, about a boy who can see the spirits of the dead; The Ninth Gate, starring Depp as a book collector who discovers ancient codes; and End of Days, with Arnold Schwarzenegger in a doomsday battle with the devil.

Before there were horror films, there were tales of terror. And before that, real terror.

Film historians mention Nosferatu and Phantom of the Opera, silent-film spookfests of the '20s, as the first truly frightening movies.

In the '30s came Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy, still mentioned by film professors as favorites. All have varying theories regarding the films' fright factors.

Michael Porte, a professor of communication at the University of Cincinnati, thinks the movies symbolized fears prevalent during the Depression: fears of the future and of loss. …

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