Friday, December 23, 2011

Still Life with Robin: Moves for Scary Movies

by Alex Barth
by Peggy Robin

This is the prime movie-going time of year. If you’re like me, that means you’ll probably end up seeing at least one thriller or action-adventure picture, and if it’s not a kids’ movie (or even if it is a kids’ movie but is anything other than a G-rated movie meant for toddlers), that virtually guarantees there will be at least one scene of heart-stoppingly gory or scary violence. Or more likely several.

I’m definitely too squeamish to watch the typically graphic Hollywood shocker scene with my eyes entirely open. But not so sensitive that I need to stay out of movie theaters on that account. I just need to employ a strategy to shield myself from the bloodiest few seconds onscreen. Through years of experience I have mastered each of the following techniques:

* The blur. First, squeeze your eyes half-shut. Then do your best to make your eyes watery and/or unfocused.

* The lookaway/one-eyed-glance-back. As soon as you see the first sign that something horrible is in the works, look down or to the side. Every few seconds take a quick, one-eyed peek at the screen to see if it’s safe to return to full gaze.

* The partial hand-block. Hold one hand up in front of your face, fingers slightly parted to allow you to just enough of a view to get an overall sense of what’s going on, without seeing more than you want to. The idea is to make your hand function like a slit in a curtain or a peephole in a door. This takes practice! You may also find it useful to employ a scissoring motion with your fingers.

* Full blindfold. You can use both hands to cover your eyes completely. Or bring a scarf along for the same purpose. The problem with this approach is that you will need to rely on auditory cues (such as a change in the music or lines of dialog) to get a sense of when it’s safe to view the screen again. This is the riskiest of the four methods, if your aim is to avoid any unpleasant surprises.

A good strategy is to go with a friend who (a) loves these kinds of movies and wouldn’t dream of missing a second, but (b) understands or at least tolerates your squeamishness, and so is willing to give you a poke when it’s safe for you to return to normal viewing mode.  You also have to trust this friend’s ability to appreciate what you consider the right time to resume watching with eyes open.

Even with the friend-alert method above, you still have the double-scare problem. That’s when the movie maker has seemingly brought the scary/violent scene to its conclusion: The monster/badguy is defeated and/or dead, and you’re ready for the happy, or at least satisfying, ending . . . when, AAACK, he’s alive again and attacking everyone in sight. So there’s a second, even more unsettling scene of carnage before the final credits roll.

Here’s a strategy I think really works well: Wait until the movie has been out long enough for a full plot summary to be posted online on a comprehensive movie review site such as Read the full plot, including any parts labeled “spoiler alert.” Yes, I know what you’re thinking: “That would definitely kill my enjoyment of the movie.” But according to researchers at the University of California at San Diego, it doesn’t work that way. The study revealed that in most cases people not only did not mind knowing in advance what would happen, but actually said they enjoyed the story *more*  than the “unspoiled” version.  (See So go ahead and find out as much as you can about what’s going to be in the movie before you go. That way you’ll go in armed with some sense of what scenes you’ll want to block, by whatever technique you choose.

And for all of you strong-stomached moviegoers out there: I guess I should have put a warning at the beginning of this column to alert you as to its irrelevance to you.

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