The Daily Horror Movie gives you “Signs”

Sam Hays

For movie buffs, the month of October means one thing: 31 days of horror movies. With tons of horror flicks to choose from, The Daily Texan is going to be providing a daily horror recommendation. Whether you prefer ghosts, zombies or stark explorations of the human condition, we’ll be featuring horror films of all flavors. Check back every evening for the movie of the day. Today, "Signs" brings aliens and M. Night Shyamalan to the Daily Horror Movie.

There is always something terrifyingly memorable about your first experience with scary movies. No matter the realism of the monsters, no matter the intensity of the suspense, you vividly remember the first time a motion picture frightened you out of your wits. I was nine years old when I saw “Signs,” arguably the last of M. Night Shyamalan’s good movies. Up until that point, the scariest moments in movies to me were the flying monkeys from “Wizard of Oz” and the giant worm scene from “Star Wars.”

I had never even considered that a director could use fear and tension to guide his audience anxiously through a movie. In fact, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t even grasp the concept of “tension” at age nine, but I remember getting unfamiliarly nervous while watching this movie as a kid. Mysterious scene after mysterious scene laid the foundation for what was to be a tense ride for nine year-old Sam.

And then there was the moment. “There’s a monster outside my window – can I have a glass of water?” an eerily calm Abigail Breslin asks her father, played by Mel Gibson.  He walks her to her bedroom and stops dead in his tracks, because outside the window, on the opposite rooftop, he sees the silhouette of a dark figure, standing upright, staring straight at him and his unsettlingly unafraid daughter.

That moment changed my life. I screamed, very audibly, and covered my eyes and plugged my ears – a position I would assume for probably 95% of the rest of the movie. I felt betrayed – movies had always entertained me, but this movie had the audacity to scare me and make me uncomfortable in the confines on my own living room! On my very own TV! I, to this day, have trust issues with scary movies because of “Signs.”

Now, at the more desensitized age of 19, after having revisited “Signs” free of the anxiety of the unknown, I see a different movie. I see a brilliantly orchestrated psychological exploration of Mel Gibson’s character, a disgruntled priest whose faith was challenged when his wife died years before in a car accident (a scene which we’re eventually shown in flashbacks). I see puzzle pieces strewn across the floor at the beginning of the movie (“glass of water”) and then satisfyingly assembled at the end.

“Signs” will be remembered as one of Shyamalan’s good movies because it deals with very real fears and demons that people have by projecting it against the backdrop of far-fetched and terrifying situations. He masterfully builds suspense the whole movie by hiding the movie’s purported antagonists. You see mysterious lights in the sky, you see a scaly leg disappear into the corn fields, you hear the strange trilling language they communicated with, you see a dark figure cross a street on low-quality video, but you are hard-pressed to get a good glance at them, which creates an anxious fear that stays with the audience throughout the movie. That slow-building fear, coupled with a fast-paced and gripping last 30 minutes makes for a genuinely scary movie, or at least the nine year-old in me thinks so.

Maybe it’s because it was my first experience with fear in a movie or maybe it’s because the movie is genuinely scary, but because of “Signs,” I check rooftops for aliens, I get chills whenever I hear any sort of trilling noise, and I sure as hell don’t even think about going close to a cornfield at night. It’s the first impressions that stay with you, and, as an introduction to scary movies, “Signs” managed to wreak havoc on my psyche for a significant chapter of my life.