Hollywood's CGI Special Effects Are Killing Classic Horror

When it comes to scary movies they really don't make them like they used to: Stop-motion Medusa gave me nightmares. CGI Medusa gave me a semi.
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When it comes to scary movies they really don't make them like they used to: Stop-motion Medusa gave me nightmares. CGI Medusa gave me a semi.

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Medusa is hella creepy, right? I’m talking about that stop-motion nightmare from Clash Of The Titans (1981). Everything about Ray Harryhausen’s creation chills me to the core. The green tangle of hissing snakes atop her hideous bonce. Those staring, unblinking eyes. Eyes that turn you to stone should you look into them. Her deadly accuracy with a bow and arrow. The fact that she’s half-human, half-reptile for Christ’s sake.

But most terrifying of all is the way she moves. That jerky, staccato movement that only a stop-motion model can produce. It scares the shit out of me. There’s something distinctly upsetting about it. Why? Because it’s almost human, but not quite. It’s otherworldly and alien. There’s just something incredibly jarring about Medusa’s off-kilter manoeuvrings that makes me want to scream.

But most terrifying of all is the way she moves. That jerky, staccato movement that only a stop-motion model can produce. It scares the shit out of me

When I heard about the 2010 remake all I cared about was how Medusa would translate to CGI. I had high hopes. Peter Jackson’s Gollum was a triumph, after all. When CGI Medusa slithered into shot I was horrified. Not because she was scary, you understand. It was because she was just too damn pretty. Stop-motion Medusa gave me nightmares. CGI Medusa gave me a semi. I was ruddy furious (and a little horny).

For starters she has a supermodel’s face. After a few beers you’d overlook the snakey dreadlocks and hit here with your best chat up line. But what really kills the chills is the absence of stop-motion. CGI flows too smoothly and looks too pretty to induce any kind of scares. Parallels can be drawn to horror games. This is something that Jim Sterling explains brilliantly in The Ugly Secret Of Horror Games.

For starters she has a supermodel’s face. After a few beers you’d overlook the snakey dreadlocks and hit here with your best chat up line.

Jim reckons the scariest game ever made is Friday The 13th (1985). He is, of course, absolutely right. I remember playing this on my Amstrad. I also remember having to quit after 5 minutes. Every time a kid was killed by Jason a pixely picture of a blood-soaked face flashed up accompanied by a high-pitched scream. It genuinely terrified me. But why? Jim says it best: “The fact the production values are so low it looks slightly shit, and slightly shit is what really sells horror.

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He’s right. True horror lurks on crappy VHS tapes where the shoddy film quality somehow enhances the scares. I saw The Exorcist and Nightmare On Elm Street on dodgy bootlegged VHS cassettes and I absolutely shit a brick. Same with Reservoir Dogs. True, it’s not a horror film but that scene where Mr Blonde is torturing the cop seems even more voyeuristic and perverse when you’re watching it on poor quality tape.

The same concept applies to games. The better they look, the less scary they are. Which doesn’t bode well for next-gen horror fans. Shiny HD graphics and meticulously modelled super-babes do not lend themselves to horror. Same can be said for explodey set-pieces and pithy one liners (Resident Evil 6, I'm looking at you). Developers, if you want to scare us, strip away the Hollywood glamour and get your hands dirty. Drag us through the darkest recesses of your mind. The louder you make us scream, the more we’ll love you for it.