Jon de Vos: That’s not Timmy in the well
March 28, 2008
Ever the wellspring of inspiration, my wife looked over my shoulder and commented,
“You’re not writing about some stupid horror movie again, are you?”
“Um, what if I was?”
“Well, since you asked, it’s boring and nobody cares.”
Deep breath. Long pause.
“Let me see if I’ve got this correct,” I said. “You read Oprah and clip recipes from Martha and your total exposure to horror movies consists of the first four minutes of two of them during which you kept your eyes shut and I had to lead you out of the theater.”
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“Yeah, yeah, you don’t have to eat the whole omelet to know the eggs are bad. What movie are you babbling about this time?”
“I watched the new Masayuki Ochiai film, ‘Shutter’.”
“How was it?”
I closed my eyes and shook my head before answering, “It was boring and I didn’t care for it.”
Nobody cares? Ha, ha, ha. People love being scared. Google lists over four million results for “haunted house” and http://www.imdb.com lists 16 movies with that exact title.
Let’s check one out, hmm, lookee there, a 1921 Buster Keaton film, “The Haunted House.” I’ve seen this one. Buster dies and tries out the Stairway to Heaven. He gets there, looks around a bit and chooses a sliding descent into Hell. It’s a movie that would resonate in the U.S. Congress.
OK, maybe you’re more into the classics like the underrated 1967, “Hillbillies in a Haunted House” with a star-studded cast including Ferlin Husky, Merle Haggard, Lon Chaney, Jr. and Basil Rathbone. Hillbillies, a sequel to the blockbuster “Las Vegas Hillbillies”, was directed by Jean Yarbrough who directed 26 horror movies in his life, beginning with a jewel in the 1933 silent film, “Horror Classics: Volume 2”, to the
underappreciated 1976 feel-good epic, “Doctor Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks”.
If straight-up brain transplants aren’t to your taste, “Francis and the Haunted House”, was the best of the seven “Francis the Talking Mule” movies ” the only one starring Mickey Rooney instead of Donald O’Connor. A bit player in the film, actor David Jannsen, went on to fame and glory as Doctor Kimball in the 1963 TV series, “The Fugitive”, but you late-night rerun freaks already knew that.
The new Masayuki Ochiai film, “Shutter”, starts off just like your typical Girl Meets Girl movie. In an unexpected twist to a timeless tale, one of the girls is driving a Jeep and splatters the other all over the left hand side of the highway. Note the “left-hand”, just to let you know you’re actually in Japan. The paradigm of Japanese Horror centers around the dead getting even with the living for causing the death of the dead.
OK, the first time the previously-drowned girl climbed out of a TV set (a 27″ Toshiba
CinemaView flat-tube, as I recall) it was pretty spooky, but that seemed to be the
high-water mark of Japanese Horror that crested with Ringu, Ju-on, and The Grudge.
The icky black cobwebs drifting through the air have become as trite as the eerie, unmoving little kid on each elevator floor. Australia has the lock on the genre of Hardscrabble Mutants who prey on Tourists Lost in the Outback; England takes the prize for Zombie and Apocalyptic Plague films; America rules the Slasher and the Monster on the Skyline. That’s all a given, but I think Japan’s grip on the Ghastly Revenge upon Innocent Bystander film is slipping and nowhere is the point better illustrated than in “Shutter”.
I hate movie reviews that contain spoilers, but “Shutter” is in the long line of Japanese movies that fail to answer the question: “What the heck did I do to cause a lanky-haired dead person I never met to haunt me to the ends of the earth, kill my friends, trash my apartment, wreck my career, murder my husband and cause hallway lights to flicker ominously behind me?”