One of my personal myths, a story I misheard or misremembered and retold to all my friends all my life, is that I watched Ghostbusters so much as a child that the tape wore out. At one recent retelling, my mom laughed. She just got rid of the tape because she was sick of it.
But the core truth of that story was still real. I watched Ghostbusters a lot. It’s one of the first movies I remember, and of course I loved the animated series where Slimer hung out with the guys. What Ghostbusters taught me was that the things that went bump in the night were often your friend. And when they weren’t? They could be fought.
My love of horror grew in high school as my friends and I watched every slasher, vampire, and zombie film we could get our hands on. But something happened that would sever my love of horror for years. Saw hit theaters and revolutionized the genre.
Here’s where I have to admit I never saw Saw. It seemed too grim, too real. Too impossible to believe there would be heroes to triumph over a fun bad guy. More “torture porn” films hit theaters, and I blamed James Wan and Leigh Whannell for ruining horror and turning me away. I shared similar feelings as Jason in Gordon McAlpin’s web comic Multiplex.
And yet, in 2010 it was those same two filmmakers that pulled me back into theaters to watch a brand-new horror movie. Well, Ashlee pulled me in. I’m sure it was her turn to pick the movie. I couldn’t even handle Paranormal Activity But something seemed different about Insidious. It felt safe.
Not that I wasn’t scared to death. It’s an incredibly chilling and suspenseful film. But it also feels classic. There’s an old school horror sensibility in the film, and you can see where Wan was practicing techniques he’d flaunt in The Conjuring. The demons in Insidious had rules and weaknesses. In every frame of the film, I felt that this was a movie about a family surviving, not being nihilistically murdered. I knew that the ghosts in Insidious could be BUSTED.
Elise Rainier (our number one bae Lin Shaye!) might just be horror’s greatest heroine. Dressed like your aunt at a family barbecue, the spectral seer is a shining ray of hope in a dark haunted house. In every Insidious movie since, I always feel protected when Elise is on screen.
Elise and her associates, Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), represent two very different sides of ghost hunting. Elise is the baby boomer hippie psychic and her boys are reality tv tech nerds. Insidious’ ghostbusters are such an inspired choice that I can’t believe they are in the original film without any ounce of backstory. Fortunately, we got two prequels that delved into how they became a team.
Insidious spends a lot of time up front keeping things grounded. There are barely any scares with the demon that require a lot of visual effects, but when Elise and the boys arrive, the movie shows what it saved its budget for. The film pivots in tone. Specs and Tucker pull out all their gadgets in dramatic montages. Elise explains the demons and astral projection. She explains “the Further.” The fight is on and the demons are ready.
And then we go into the Further. Or at least, Josh (Patrick Wilson) does to save his son, Dalton. The Further is a unique aspect of the Insidious movies where demons and ghosts dwell in the shadows of our reality. We learn that when Josh was a child, Elise helped him forget about his powers to astral project to save him from the same kind of haunting Dalton suffers. As Elise guides Josh into the dreamlike ghost dimension, we also learn an important rule of the Insidious universe: The living will always be stronger than the dead.
When a ghost finally gets its clutches on Josh, he’s able to shove it away like a superhero. This family had hope. These monsters could get their asses kicked!
Okay, so Insidious does have kind of a bummer shock ending. But I wasn’t mad about it like I thought I’d be. The monsters in Insidious were still vulnerable, but the humans just kind of screwed up this time. Three more films, all with clever ways to bring back our hero Elise and her boys, proved how fun ghostbusting can be.
That’s why the Insidious movies are my favorite Blumhouse franchise – and now my mom can’t even throw out my videotapes.