The Big Screen
For those of us who enjoy seeing horror movies on big screens the news hasnít been too encouraging. Iím referring to the recent high profile horror releases CRIMSON PEAK and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: GHOST DIMENSION, both of which flopped mightily. So too the Eli Roth over-the-toppers THE GREEN INFERNO and KNOCK, KNOCK; Roth is a popular figure in horror circles, yet neither film made much impression theatrically.
The reasons for those failures are, obviously, numerous. CRIMSON PEAK was misleadingly marketed and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: GHOST DIMENSION suffered from the fact that many theaters refused to screen it (due to Paramountís decision to significantly collapse the theatrical-to-VOD window). Thatís also the fact that PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: GHOST DIMENSION was a rotten movie, as (to varying degrees) were THE GREEN INFERNO and KNOCK, KNOCK. And anyway, as a recent Fortune article on the subject stated, ďCRIMSON PEAK will probably do decently eventually on video.Ē
These days, it seems, the home video arena is where itís at movie-wise. Itís certainly not insignificant that so many iconic horror films, such as THE THING, THE BEYOND, HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, JACOBíS LADDER and DONNIE DARKO, gained their popularity almost entirely through video and/or DVD. Yet having experienced most of those films in movie theaters, I can attest that the big screen is where they play best.
Seeing a paying audience react to THE THING is arguably one of the highlights of that film. Ditto the original NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, a 1984 big screen viewing of which remains one of the greatest moviegoing experiences of my life. We can add to this grouping CRIMSON PEAK, whose incomparably lush visuals simply must be seen in a theatrical venue to be fully appreciated. I certainly donít dismiss home video, as thatís how Iíve experienced quite a few great films over the years, but my feelings toward the format are summed up by the back cover logo on the VHS release of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW: ďDream it in your living room, live it in the theater.Ē
Iím fully aware that trumpeting the joys of movie theater viewing is largely pointless, as itís clear that in the war between the big and small screens there is a clear winner. As Screamboxís Ray Cannella correctly assessed, ďBetween legacy TV and OTT (Over The Top) services, horror fans are scratching that itch in the privacy of their own homes.Ē
Certainly the logic behind that decision is sound, as uncut versions of many horror movies can generally only be seen on home video or online, with those same moviesí theatrical versions butchered by the MPAA (which has always taken a hands-off policy with DVD and PPV releases). Add to that the skyrocketing cost of movie tickets (it wasnít too long ago that an outcry was raised over the fact that ticket prices had topped the $10.00 mark, whereas ten bucks now seems cheap) and the shuttering of so many independently owned and/or discount theaters (itís rare to find a theater these days that isnít an AMC or Regal) andÖwell, I guess the stay-at-home option makes sense. But stillÖ
The communal experience is all-important to horror movies, with audience screams, gasps and even laughter being integral to the viewing experience. Another vital theatrical component, and one that isnít often brought up, is sound. Anyone whoís ever seen Dario Argentoís SUSPIRIA on a big screen can attest that itís an entirely different (and superior) experience than viewing the film on VHS, or even DVD. The reason? The soundtrack, one of most artfully cacophonous youíll ever hear, which must be experienced via a movie theater sound system to be fully appreciated. The same is true of Ken Russellís ALTERED STATES, whose soundtrack was known to blow out many a speaker during its initial theatrical run, while Andrei Tarkovskyís STALKER provides an equally potent demonstration of the power of silence, the effect of which can only be properly assessed in a movie theater.
Once again, I know my pro-movie theater arguments are futile, as, once again, modern horror fans have already made their choice between the big and small screens. Note how nostalgia for the grindhouse moviegoing experience has proliferated in recent years, yet not too many people bothered to turn out for the theatrical release of GRINDHOUSE, an overt tribute to such flicks, while 2011ís CHILLERAMA, a similarly formatted take on drive-in movies, bypassed theaters altogether--and I havenít heard too many complaints.
But there might actually be hope. In contrast to CRIMSON PEAK et al, some current horror films have actually thrived in movie theaters, specifically the kid-friendly offerings HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 and GOOSEBUMPS. Iím not overjoyed with either film, but I feel their success bodes well for the future of horror cinema. Why? Because those moviesí main audiences are children, and, like a certain tyke I once knew who eagerly patronized PG rated fare like SATURDAY THE 14th and POLTERGEIST prior to becoming a full-blown horror fanatic once he came of age, I believe it will only be a matter of time before those youngsters are inspired to seek out the harder stuff.
In the words of Quentin Tarantino, ďIím hoping that while this generation is completely hopeless, the next generation will come out and demand the real thing.Ē That ďreal thing,Ē for the record, is 35mm projection, experienced on a big screen.