Problem of the Day: Has Martin Scorsese made a Ghost Story? And if so, What am I going to do about it?

cylon So I was up early this morning having slept restlessly after watching the end of 'Battlestar Galactica' last night (no spoilers - suffice it to say that fans of Richard Dawkins and Thomas Merton may find themselves both satisfied; I certainly was).  Cylons colonised my repose (for some reason the early models, one of whose bosses is depicted above, were the stuff of my childhood nightmares), but I managed to avoid the bad dream I might otherwise have had when I was younger and less apt to resist imagining the imminent doom of the planet.  I have a sensitive constitution, as they say.  Which segues neatly into the reason for this post: why I am about to let you, dear reader, down.

Over at The Film Talk, my genial co-host and I are busy as usual in TFT Central, grafting away at the plans for Episode 98, which will - must - feature 'This is It' (and if you heard our preview at the end of Episode 97 you'll know just how much we're looking forward to that particular endeavor, although early reviews are surprisingly good), and 'Paranormal Activity', (image below) the once-every-ten-years-straight-outta-the-gate-micro-budget-huge-audience-scare-the-life-from-you-neo-Blair-Witch-Project, cleverly marketed with midnight screenings before opening wide wide WIDE.  It will be unavoidable for the next few weeks.

paranormal activity

And here's the problem:

I hate scary movies.

I spent the better part of 'The Sixth Sense' (and, yes, before you jump in, there was a better part - and we tend to like Shyamalan round here, no matter how unpopular it makes us) employing the time-honored tactic of removing my glasses and staring at my left foot, thereby reducing the height that I would be propelled out of my seat when whatever Mr S wanted to frighten me with appeared on screen.

exorcism emily

I got as far as being picked up by my friend Alex and half-way to the theatre before I decided that I couldn't go through with our previous arrangement to see 'The Exorcism of Emily Rose'; I was sure it would be an ordeal.  (Note to the snark police: I mean for good reasons; I'm told the movie's not bad at all.)

I even found my viewing of 'The Black Hole' at Escapism last week to be problematic - Maximillian Schell made me jump on more than one occasion, and the final sequence in which he is possessed by the spirit of his pet robot to rule over Hades is just about as much as my resolution can take.

So, to the presenting issue:

Jett wants us to review 'Paranormal Activity' this week.  I can't face seeing it.  I think I can address the ethical question by carrying out one of our patented q&a reviews; and I'll devote some serious attention to thinking 'em up; but I just don't think I can sustain the emotional assault course of watching the movie.

This isn't just for reasons of psycho-spiritual balance, although I do tend to think that there's enough struggle in most days to make me less than apt to subject myself to more for entertainment's sake.  And I'm not averse to horror films per se - 'The Exorcist', 'The Shining', 'Quiz Show' (trust me - it's a horror movie about the potential collapse of a man's soul) each find their way into my roster of re-watchable movies, most of the time.  No, I guess my resistance to 'Paranormal Activity' resides in a combination of the emotional terrain questions I've just raised, and the fact that it seems this apparently very accomplished film chooses to present the mystery of spirit as a threat.  We've mentioned on the show before that no less a philosophical artist than Stanley Kubrick considered the tale of Jack Torrance, the hotel, and the tricycle to be 'an optimistic story', because, he said, any story that posits the existence of an afterlife for human beings must therefore include hope.  Fair point, Stanley, even though I think he was slightly joking.  Of course, 'The Shining' doesn't exactly present its vision in an optimistic way.  Nor, I'm told, does 'Paranormal Activity'.  [SPOILER BELOW THE PICTURE]

wings of desire

We see a young couple killed by ghosts.  It's supposed to thrill us.  Next week, we will watch angels try to save humans from their selfishness in 'Wings of Desire'.  It will feel transcendent to watch it again.  It will thrill me.  And I don't think I'll have missed anything by not seeing 'Paranormal Activity'.

Now, I've read that Orin Peli, the director of 'Paranormal Activity' used to be afraid of ghosts, and that he made the movie as an attempt at catharthsis.  Good for him.  I'm pretty sure, however, that it wouldn't be cathartic for me.

So here are my five questions to you - I'd appreciate any advice you can give:

Can any of you convince me to see 'Paranormal Activity' before we record on Friday morning?

What is the purpose of horror fiction?

Does horror on film create, reduce, nurture, or ignore horror in real life?

Is it a good thing to pay to be frightened?

And, given that Martin Scorsese's 'Shutter Island' looks like a serial killer/scary mental institution/murderous-rage-from-beyond-the-grave film, is there any advice you can offer to help me prepare for the inevitable repeat of my pre-emptive angst when that movie is released next year?