catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 1, Num 4 :: 2002.10.25 — 2002.11.07


Scared by the screen



How’s it going?

All right. You?

I’m good. What you been up to?

Just hanging out.

Sweet. See any movies?

Yeah! I saw The Ring. It’s that new horror movie with the videotape. It’s the scariest movie I’ve ever seen.


Yes. It is the scariest movie. I’ve ever seen.

Wow. I kind of wanted to see that. The previews looked excellent. What’s the videotape all about?

In the movie, there’s this videotape. You put the tape in your VCR and press play. You watch about two minutes of dark, random images. When the images finish playing you press stop on the VCR. Your phone rings. You pick it up. A girl’s voice on the phone says, “Seven days”.



And then what!?

Seven days later, you die.



This sounds like another urban legend thing, though. That’s been played.

I know. And that’s what The Ring is, really. It’s an urban legend movie and a ghost story. A simple variation on every scary story you ever heard around the campfire as a kid. In fact, the opening sequence is a total cliché. Two girls in a bedroom are discussing the urban legend of the haunted videotape. Conveniently, one of them saw it a little less than a week ago. She tells this to her friend. They laugh about it and switch off the TV. Very soon afterward, the TV switches itself on. The girls go back to the room to turn it off, but it can’t be turned off. Then, something (we don’t know what) kills the girl who watched the tape a week earlier. All we find out then is that her friend who witnessed her death is very reluctant to talk about it, and must be sent to a mental institution.

This sounds kind of scary.

It is, but wait! Then we meet the girl’s Aunt Rachel, who is a Seattle newspaper reporter. At the urging of her sister, whose daughter has just died inexplicably, Rachel sets out on a mission to track down the source and meaning of the videotape. And that’s the movie. Figuring out who made it and what it’s all about.

And I’ll bet that to figure those things out, she has to…?

Right. Watch the tape. And she does, which ensures a fast-paced film since she’s racing against the seven-day-clock to figure things out!

Do we get to see the tape? All of it?


Is it scary?

The images on the tape were the ones that I couldn’t shake from my mind the two nights after I watched the movie. I lost a considerable amount of sleep. Eyes wide open, staring at the dark ceiling. You know. So, yes, it’s scary. But not in that surprise-scare, terror, way. More in that ominous, dreadful, horrific way. Yeah, ominous. The film oozes ominousness, from the rainy, dark, Pacific Northwest setting, to the weird pictures on the haunted tape. Just the idea that something as simple as an unmarked videotape can hold such power is freaky. The images themselves on the tape look disjointed, random, like someone copying early surrealist work. Or as Rachel’s ex-lover, who also watches the tape, says, “Very student film.” And it is. But part of us always knows when we watch those films, and this videotape, that the images aren’t quite random. They are connected somehow, maybe in a way that lies just beneath the surface of our consciousness. It’s that inability to put each piece together and our mind’s involuntary response to do just that, put them together, figure them out, make sense of them any way we can, that makes them so eerie.

Our dreams and nightmares make perfect sense to us when we’re sleeping, but almost none when we’re awake.



Yes! And I think that’s what drives this film.

So do we figure everything out?

I can’t tell you much, but I can tell you that much is explained. We do find out about the evil that’s behind the tape, and why and how people are dying. Most interesting is the recurrence of images from the haunted tape in the “real life” of the movie. Every few minutes, these brief familiar images are shown, giving the audience a chance to gasp and have a short wonderful revelation. Lines between real life and the medium are blurred, as are lines between the natural and the supernatural. But some does remain unexplained. We leave with some questions, wrestling with intentional plot holes, speculating about what we are not explicitly told, and primed for the sequel.

Will there be one?

Oh, there will be one.

You can’t tell me any more?

I can tell you that it’s amazing to look at. Visually, it’s brilliant.

That’s it?

Yeah, go see it if you want more!

Seriously, should I?

Well, The Ring isn’t for everyone. It’s much too scary for kids, in my opinion. Even though it’s rated PG-13, I know a lot of thirteen and fourteen-year-olds who probably would be better able to deal with it in a few years. And some people just don’t like scary movies. As I said, there’s some disturbing imagery that might stick in your head for a while. I was scared to go near a mirror for a couple days. But if you’re willing to have a fun, frightening experience, I’d recommend it.

Wait a minute. I’ve never understood about scary movies: why are they popular? Why do we go see them? Isn’t our impulse to avoid terror and the unpleasant feeling of being scared? Isn’t it even a little masochistic?

Good questions. I think it’s about curiosity. We’re curious about dark things, about the things that scare us. And by watching them, by actually being scared, we do learn more about them. We sort of get a handle on our fear. By watching a scary movie, we learn about ourselves and about the people we watch with. We learn about what exactly it is that creeps us out, what our fears are about, where they come from. Best of all, with a scary movie, we can experience terror and escape unscathed! Our heart pounds a little faster, our adrenaline starts pumping, but we know we’re safe all the while. We get to exercise those feelings and emotions in a safe environment. It’s not too far from a rollercoaster. Good scary movies are thrill-rides. And as it is with all art, we allow ourselves to be taken into it only if we want to.

But not all scary movies are worth going to. I’ve seen some junk.

Very true. A lot of horror films are simply out-of-control glorifications of sex and violence. Scary movies that exist to satisfy some obsession or fascination with sin, darkness, and depravity certainly exist and should be avoided. I find The Ring to be a more satisfying examination of fear and evil.

Still, I think I’ll go with some friends.

Perfect! That’s the best way to see scary movies. With friends and family. Afterwards you can talk about it, continue to be scared by it, laugh at it, whatever you want.

Does The Ring have anything valuable to say or is it just a few good scares?

I don’t think it tries very hard to make a big statement and I don’t think it has to. Like most horror movies, though, it does deal with the topic of evil. In this film the offending ghost is evil. It has a goal and that goal is death, destruction, and recognition of that death and destruction. The film certainly acknowledges the existence of evil, and therefore, acknowledges the existence of good, albeit an unnamed good. The film also can be taken as a critique of media. A question often thrown around these days is, “Does what we watch affect us?” Well, if you’re watching the videotape that is at the center of The Ring, then, um, yeah, it affects you quite a bit. But the temptation to watch it is great. I mean, who could resist, “You know that videotape everyone’s talking about that if you watch it, it kills you? Well, I’ve got a copy.” The ghost in the film is obviously familiar with the nature of humankind. This plain old videotape has some serious power. Kind of makes you look at all the blank tapes in a different way, not to mention your television. So, yeah, I think it deals with some really interesting issues. I’m sure you’ll pull your own interpretation from it.

All right. Thanks, man.

No problem. Good talk. So what are you gonna do, now?

Probably just watch some videos.

Sweet. See you around.

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