Calling Cards

Three of the most successful horror franchises in recent years all boast their own cinematic calling cards, each of which appear in every installment, each of which capture an essential element of what makes the horror of their respective series so horrifying.

And, all of these calling cards are related to media in some way.

When you sit down for a Saw movie, you damn well expect to hear a chillingly monotone recording of Jigsaw’s voice asking, “Do you want to play a game?” Anyone even remotely familiar with the franchise will know what that means: we’re in for some motherfucking torture-porn traps, baby. And, to connect it to my previous thoughts on the series, “playing a game” can also refer to the cat-and-mouse game between Jigsaw and the cops’ now-standard investigative-procedural storylines, which fuel the narratives more than the actual traps. This single line of dialogue, with its staticky sound, has come to represent so much of what the Saws offer.

The Conjuring’s calling card arrives earlier in each installment: the introductory “inspired by true events” text, which provides a quick bio of the Warrens before scrolling directly into the font-oversized title. The series has always reveled in the vague truthiness of the Warrens. Yes, they were real people, and the movies try their darndest to remind us of that, but I’m sure the sourced exploits are nowhere near as thrilling (and conclusively supernatural).

And yet, after that initial scroll — a trope usually associated with historical context and legitimacy, with its flickering look of archival film, accompanied by the sound-pops of old-school audio equipment — it’s easy to become seduced by The Conjuring’s blurring of fact and fiction.

The Purge’s cinematic calling card blurs a similar line. Granted, unlike with The Conjuring, no one believes anything on screen ever actually happened. But the TV emergency-service advisories broadcast at the beginning of each Purge — with the mechanical government-style voice announcing its official start — plumb the same uncanny-valley feeling that makes the franchise so juicy. It’s an easily imaginable premise, and one that’s not impossible to believe could be implemented somewhere at some time. 

There’s a reason each entry is chock full of news-clips covering The Purge; I still view the news as being about “real life”, and mixing the “truth” of the news with the “fiction” of The Purge pulls me further into the universe’s “what if it happened here??” appeal.

Or am I the only wimp still horrified every. single. time. by Emergency Broadcast System test-alerts when they pop on my TV in the middle of the night/morning?

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