I’m not opposed to a redux of zombies, werewolves, superheroes, vampires or malevolent spirits. I just ask that the writer make it interesting, improve on the original, and perhaps give me a twist at the end that is truly “smart.” Now hold up a second before we get all crazy. I am not, repeat not, suggesting we slap on some back drop monsters and a little mood music to dress up a love story. Or parade a thousand zombies in order to thinly veil a political message. I’m talking about taking a genre to a new and unexpected level.
The smartest that I’ve seen (although not horror) was Memento. A movie that told the story backwards. A movie that only really announces itself in the final frames. In the horror/suspense/Sci-Fi world this type of stuff is hard to find. Reliance on shock and gore makes some forget that horror fans are not only intelligent but also some darn tough critics – Probably because we’ve wasted more time and money on films than fans of other film types. We expect more. We expect that a film will not only scare us, but will respect our desire to sink ever deeper into our terror.
I can make you laugh with a funny antidote, I can kill a puppy and make you cry, I can chop off an arm and make you feel queasy, and I can show you a rape scene so that you feel disgust. But scare you? Make you frightened? That may be the second hardest job in the world. The hardest is to do all of the above AND provide an ending that elicits a “wow, WTF, I did not see that coming.”
My list of best twists is short and not all of them are “horror” films. In fact, they may not be the scariest movies I’ve ever seen and maybe not even the best movies I’ve ever seen. But in the end these twists made me nod my head and say, “that was pretty darn smart.”
In my head we’re all dead: Identity delivered in a big way. A first-rate cast, great backdrop of a “dark and rainy night,” and a twist that made me need to watch a second time and the added bonus of a “Hitchcock” type feel to the cinematography. I’ve seen a ton of movies where the “kid” is the “evil” character and I still didn’t see this one coming. If that had been the entire story I still would have loved this film, but wait there’s more. The entire film is about a group of personalities in one guys head. It a battle to be the “only” personality. As a lover of both horror and the field of psychology this film satisfied on every level.
Turn of the Screw: Henry James penned the original tale in 1898. The impact it has had on films and literary allusions is vast. (Not quite the love affair that Hollywood has for Jane Austen – if I have to see one more modern adaptation of her stories I will scream). The film, The Others is an adaptation of James’ novella. A ghost story that focuses on the type of “despair” that inspires ghosts to stick around because of the unfinished emotional business of life. It was a spooky film with great atmosphere and a twist that inspires a second viewing. A film told entirely from the ghosts point of view…very nice.
Freaky Friday goes really freaky: What I loved about Skeleton Key was that I thought I knew exactly what was happening. I thought I had it all figured out. A typical southern voodoo story with maybe a dash of crazy nursing home. I was not prepared for the ending. When you realize this is about switching “bodies,” that the young lawyer is in the old man, that these folks are “jumping” through time by stealing the young…damn that was smart.
I thought he just liked that suit: Many “horror” fans didn’t like the Sixth Sense. I thought it was damn spooky. I guess one might be disappointed that there weren’t any real “bad” ghosts and much like The Others they just had an important unresolved issue. Still, the ending was a great twist. Maybe people smarter than I saw it coming…I did not.
It’s real, it’s not real, it’s real: I almost didn’t watch The Last Exorcism. Even the trailer, which often is the best part of a film, suggested it was going to be more of the same. In many ways it was more of the same, but the ending was worth the price of admission (or Redbox in my case). The film was so reminiscent of those 70’s movies with the evil satanic cult operating behind the scenes (see Rosemary’s Baby, Race with the Devil, The Omen). It was well hidden throughout the film and the writers did an excellent job making me believe the Pastor from town was actually a nice guy…hell they had me convinced the dad was a molester. The end was unexpected and just a lot of horror fun.
Abracadabra Wolverine: I didn’t think going into it that The The Prestige was a horror film until the end. Just a couple of magicians engaged in a little “one up manship”in terms of who could conduct the best trick. As far as mysteries go, I had an entire list of scenarios and possible solutions to “how he did it.”I never saw the end coming. When the film gets to it, I was left considering it over and over in my head – the philosophical and spiritual implications alone kept me busy for hours. If you haven’t seen it you should. If you have seen it I would love your answer to this question – is it murder or is it suicide? And do you think with each reincarnation he took all of himself along for the ride?
These films share a common ground beyond just the “twist.” They are also fair to the viewer. Fair because you could figure it out, you could have noticed the hints and foreshadowing…you could have seen it coming…if you paid close enough attention. They are great twists because the writers operated like magicians. It was all there for you, but you were distracted watching the film you thought it was rather than the film it actually was. That is a difficult trick to achieve with a hard-nosed movie viewer who appreciates more than a Michael Bay Eye Fest. When it’s pulled off, it deserves accolades. So my hat is off to these film gems.