Like most of you, I abandon watching "normal" movies in October, and stack the deck with horror movies. One of the first out of the gate was The Changeling as per the request of my sister. It's one of those quirks of family history that she saw it long before I did (during a slumber party, no less!) and rented it for me, insisting that it would scare the crap out of me. It did. It's been awhile since I saw this last, and I fully expected to go to bed with all the lights on. Ghost movies are one of the few that can eat at me during the long nighttime hours when I'm up writing, even when I've seen them before. But this time? Nothing. A few jumps, but I could leave the lights off pretty comfortably.

It's not a surprise that The Changeling has lost its effect on me after so many years. It's the kind of thing you see on Ghost Hunters nowadays (doors opening mysteriously, ghostly voices on a tape recorder), and no jump factor holds up through multiple viewings. No, what startled me was how upsetting I found the film to be. Perhaps I've grown older and more sensitive, but now I find Joseph's whispery voice to be a different kind of nightmare, and one that tugs on my heartstrings more than my fear factor. I'll admit it: I actually got a little choked up when he pleads for help. His end is tragic, his ghostly demands are pathetically simple, and it's hard to be scared of him. I don't even feel fear when he tears apart the house in the end. He's a kid. When they're angry and upset, they'll lash out at anyone and that's all the finale is.

I had a similar response to Poltergeist when I last saw it. While that film still leaves me curled up in a fetal position begging little Robbie not to look under the bed and to heed the sound of jingling bells, I found myself getting a bit verklempt when Diane "encounters" the missing Carol Anne:

Poltergeist is a film that has always played on my childhood fears of something under my bed or in my closet, but now it plays on a very adult fear of someone being taken from me. For the first time, I wasn't just terrified of that damn clown, but the idea of being powerless to help someone I loved, someone I was supposed to protect. This isn't just the story of a family haunted by the supernatural, which is all my youth saw it as, but the story of a family torn apart by an abduction. Remove the ghosts, and it's the story of any kidnapping. But with the ghosts, it's something even more haunting (pun not intended) because Carol Anne remains in the house and impossible to reach. It's a parent's worst nightmare twisted into a fever dream. You don't even have to be a parent to feel it. (It's too bad the sequel is so clunky, as the way it explored Steve Freeling's helplessness was pretty powerful.)

As someone who rarely cries during movies unless they're Pixar or animal oriented, I'm amazed that two horror movies have wrenched anything approaching tears out of me. I'm not even a parent, so I can't imagine why I now see these films in a maternal light except that it's something that might happen with age. Are there any readers out there who have experienced something similar with horror films? Or do you find yourself jumping at all the old points, careless of the emotional reality a ghost or a slasher could occupy?

categories Cinematical