Ghosts are a tried and true horror staple. They’ve been around since the dawn of man. Roman military logs speak very matter-of-factly about spirits of dead soldiers leading their men to victory. In their warm n’ fuzzy incarnation, ghosts give us an opportunity to mend an incomplete relationship, or find true love in a world gone mad. In their more horrific applications, ghosts are angry at the living, and want them to suffer before joining the ranks of the dead.
The sub-text to the ghost story is usually guilt. There’s a horrible act in someone’s past, or in society’s past. The main characters are forced to confront it and resolve it. Maybe they were directly responsible, maybe only peripherally. Sometimes, they have to pay the ultimate price.
Ghosts stories used to be relatively tame. First off, they couldn’t touch you. The best they could do is fly through you. Occasionally, they’d knock a picture down or howl. Things have changed (thank you, Japan!) Now, ghosts are able to impact our reality in a stunning variety of ways, including but not limited to casting reflections, altering your body, possessing you and making steak crawl.
The current ghost movies are so open-ended in terms of the spirit’s capacity to act, that they function more as dementia movies. The main character’s experience with meeting a ghost is usually the same as losing his/her mind.
Personally, I prefer a movie where the ghosts have a motivation for behaving the way they do. The main characters at least have an out, a possibility of redemption. But when the ghosts are just pissed off, and everyone dies—seems a little nihilistic to me. What happens next? Do the ghosts of the movie’s victims haunt the ghosts that killed them? And on through eternity?
But as our nation’s guilt continues to grow, expect more ghost stories, depicting a superior past and an intense anxiety over the justifiable guilt we feel.
Examples of Ghost stories include Ghost, Jacob’s Ladder, The Grudge, Sleepy Hollow, Friday the 13th (sort of), Nightmare on Elm Street, Poltergeist and Beetlejuice, to name a few. Any others you can think of, chime in. In the meantime, keep screamin’!