Chris Nashawaty explains the lure of the new horror

By Chris Nashawaty
Updated August 26, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT
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”Blair Witch” and ”Sixth Sense” make fright flicks scary again

The halls here at Entertainment Weekly are a bit like a college dormitory. I’m not saying that our movie critic Owen Gleiberman blasts Kid Rock while tapping a keg of Meisterbrau or that TV critic Ken Tucker burns incense while zoning out to Pink Floyd’s ”Shine On You Crazy Diamond.” It’s just that the stuff you choose to hang on your office walls kind of defines you.

For example, I get my fair share of abuse from my EW colleagues for having movie posters of ”Carrie,” ”Friday the 13th,” and ”The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” hanging on my walls. In fact, whenever someone enters for the first time they look at me like I’m some sort of twisted blood-thirsty freak. Still, I make no apologies — I’m a horror geek, plain and simple. And if that’s wrong then I don’t want to be right.

Problem is, for creep-thirsty folks like myself the past few years have been a long fallow period at the multiplex. Sure, I loved ”Scream.” It’s just that I’m getting a little tired of seeing the various cast members of ”Dawson’s Creek” getting offed in lame-ass ”Scream” retreads. Frankly, if I see Jennifer Love Hewitt pretend to look terrified one more time, I’m going to don a yellow slicker of my own. And judging from the beating Kevin Williamson’s ”Teaching Mrs. Tingle” took at the box office last weekend, I’m not alone.

So I say let’s bury the slasher genre in the same hallowed ground they put Freddy’s metal talons and be done with it for a good long while. Actually, now seems like the perfect time because we’re in the midst of another kind of horror renaissance that’s got nothing to do with psychotic bogeymen wielding kitchen knives and everything to do with one beautifully haunting whispered phrase: ”I see dead people.”

Yes, I’m talking about ”The Sixth Sense.” I’ve already seen the damn thing twice — on back-to-back nights if you must know. Then there’s ”The Blair Witch Project.” That one I’ve seen three times. The first time was at the Sundance Film Festival last January. And to be honest, I was so unhinged afterwards that I couldn’t even get into my car to drive home because I thought some backwoods she-devil was going to pop out from the backseat.

Long before I got hooked on the babysitter-slaughtering exploits of Michael Myers et al., I was cowering at such supernatural horror classics as ”The Exorcist,” ”The Omen,” and ”Rosemary’s Baby”. And now, with slasher flicks falling into pitiful self-parody, I couldn’t be happier that old-school spookfests like ”The Sixth Sense” are back in the horror saddle. Why now? I know I should have some well-thought-out and pithy answer, but I don’t. I guess things just come in waves. Still, I’m not about to look this well-timed eerie gift horse in the mouth.

And the good news is there’s more of these supernatural bad boys headed to a theater near us. Now, I can’t vouch for the very ”Rosemary’s Baby”-looking ”Astronaut’s Wife,” starring Johnny Depp and Charlize Theron, coming out on Aug. 27. Or, for that matter, Patricia Arquette speaking in tongues in ”Stigmata.” Yes, the trailer looks kind of tasty, but it could very well suck. And to be honest, I don’t hold much hope for ”The Blair Witch” sequel those newly minted millionaires are working on for next summer. (To me, the idea of a ”Blair Witch 2” just sounds craven and greedy.)

However, I did just catch a preview screening of a new film called ”Stir of Echoes” (due in theaters Sep. 10) and it messed me up big time. Kevin Bacon plays this guy who wigs out when he and his little boy start to receive visits from this little girl who was murdered in the house they’ve just moved into. Okay, okay, I know it sounds a lot like ”The Sixth Sense” — but it still managed to frighten the bejesus out of me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not enough of a simp to think that this new wave of supernatural horror is going to be around for very long. I have no doubt that Hollywood execs will find a way to screw it up the same way they run everything else into the ground. But for now, I say a hearty adios to Sara Michelle Gellar, Katie Homes, and all the other teen stars of the WB running from madmen on the big screen. And hello to the new folks who commune with the undead. Now if I could just get my paws on a ”Sixth Sense” poster for the door to my office…

Stir of Echoes

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