“ParaNorman,” about a kid who can talk to dead people, is different from a lot of horror movies. First, it’s animated. Second, it’s targeted toward kids. But the fundamental difference is that, while most modern horror films are about fear, “ParaNorman” is about evil.
Whereas old-school horror films use scares as a way of examining moral questions (“Frankenstein” isn’t just about a monster), it seems that most modern horror films are just out to scare the pants off of their audiences. “ParaNorman,” which opens today, is scary in a deeper way, because the evil that Norman finds is much more difficult to conquer. I’m not going to go into specifics, but zombies are the least of his worries.
Both fear and evil can be beaten. Usually we defeat fear by making whatever is scaring us go away — we squish the spider or turn on the lights to prove once again that there is no one coming into the house to murder us. Evil, as Norman finds out, is trickier.
You can pretend it’s not there. You can even contain it briefly, through violence or laws. But that evil you’re up against doesn’t consider itself evil; every evil thing thinks it’s doing right. Evil doesn’t go away until you find what’s at the bottom of it, until you figure out what’s preventing evil from being good.