Welcome to the Horror Trope Retirement Home, where overused horror cliches (hopefully) go to live out there rest of their days, far away from the public eye.
In 1998, Ringu – the awesome and influential Japanese cursed-VHS-ghost movie – was released. In the above picture, you can see what happens to anyone who watches the aforementioned tape. They die with an expression best described as “mid yawn” frozen on their faces. Honestly: look at that picture and tell me you don’t immediately hear Sloth bellowing, “hey you guys!” By today’s standards, it’s downright quaint if not borderline silly – but at the time it was terrifying. As far as I can tell, this is the first time this sort of specific visual pops up in horror movies. A few years later, in 2002, an American remake was released, and this is what the victims in that version looked like:
Similar yet heightened idea. Much scarier. Entirely blank eyes, mouth agape and angularly distended. Scary stuff, no doubt. That same year another Japanese ghost film was released, Ju-On, and a few years later an American remake of that film – The Grudge – was also released. Here’s what the villainous entity looked like in those films:
Big dark eyes, mouth hanging open. Same vibe as what we’d been seeing from these movies for six years at this point. In 2005, one year after The Grudge was released, Dead Birds and The Exorcism of Emily Rose both came out, and both films exhibited what would become the zenith visual representation for this idea. (It should be noted: Dead Birds was released almost 9 months before Emily Rose, suggesting perhaps the latter was directly inspired by the former.)
Are we noticing a trend? Now, in my opinion, I really liked what Emily Rose did with the dark eyed, crooked-jawed, screaming antagonists. It was the most jarring, threatening incarnation of the idea yet. But then…something…happened. Beginning in 2011 with Grave Encounters, cheapo ghost and possession movies started milking this overdone visual for all it was worth. Let’s revisit some of them:
Thankfully this trend seems to have been restricted to low-budget, straight to video type stuff for the past few years, but there’s no denying the lingering effect the “blank-eyed, black-mouthed, distorted face” visual still has as remnants of this fad continue to pop up in well-received movies: the similarities in flicks like Sinister, Mama, and even The Babadook are a little too blatant to reject. I say: when Snapchat creates an app emulating this effect – one which parents use to tease their own children – maybe it’s time to hang it up and call it a day.
Kids, wave bye-bye to Screaming Ghost Demon Thing. It’s time to go home now. We’ll visit it on holidays and its birthday. Maybe.