The horror genre,
like any other, is host to a number of ideas perceived by many to be
Gospel. If you're unsure what I'm talking about, read some of the
following headings. Most of you, I'm sure, have heard, read or possibly
even mouthed one or more of the following oft-repeated quotes--and maybe
you've even bought into 'em. Well, here's a second opinion!
They just don't
make good horror movies anymore.
It might seem that way at times, but we have to remember
Theodore Sturgeon's famous observation about sci fi, which can applied
to any genre: 90 percent of everything is crap. The fact is,
"they" have turned out at least three solid horror movies in the last
few months, PANIC ROOM, FRAILTY and INSOMNIA, all of which were,
furthermore, made in the U.S.A., thus debunking another bad idea clung
to in certain circles: that there are no good American horror
movies! Speaking of which:
The Best horror movies are old/new, from
Any Best or Worst film list is suspect in my view unless it takes into
account the diversity of world cinema. ALL the above countries
have produced superb films, classic (read: old) and otherwise.
The "Quiet" approach to horror is far superior to
the "Loud" approach (or vice versa).
From its earliest
days, the horror community has been split between "quiet" terror, which
tends to be psychologically based, and its opposite approach, which
favors graphic, in-your-face scares. Personally, I think the entire
debate is nonsense. Horror movies are like any other kind: some
are good and many are bad. This week I just reviewed two very different
movies: Frank Perry's subtle and subdued
LADYBUG, LADYBUG and Andrzej
Zulawski's frenzied and outrageous
DIABEL. Which of 'em did I "like"
best? Actually, I liked 'em equally. Both do what all good
horror films must: transgress, unsettle and fascinate in equal measure.
So what if their makers use different approaches?
Modern horror films
err in showing too much; the classic moviemakers knew it was our
imagination wherein the true horror lies.
can't tell you how often I've encountered a variation of that ridiculous
proclamation, and it drives me nuts every time. For one thing, it's
blatantly false: Georges Franjau's 1959 classic EYES WITHOUT A FACE has,
in its infamous face-lifting scene, one of the most gruesome sights in
any horror film. For another thing, the statement is, frankly,
total horseshit. If we have to rely on our imagination to visualize a
movie's horrors, then why bother seeing it at all? If a film's "true
horror" is solely in your mind, then its makers ain't doing their job.
of FRANKENSTEIN and DRACULA are the greatest horror movies of all
Personally, I believe the adulation these movies have received over the
years is due more to the performances of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi,
respectively--after watching these guys, it's impossible to visualize
anyone else in the roles of Frankenstein's Monster or Count
Dracula. As for the movies themselves, well, it's surprising how few
horror fans have actually seen them. I recently watched 'em both
for the first time since the first grade, and was deeply underwhelmed.
In their place I'd recommend viewing THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, in which
Karloff and director James Whale ironed out the kinks of the first film,
or DRACULA director Todd Browning's FREAKS, one of the truly
great horror movies of all time.
THE EXORCIST is the
greatest horror movie of all time
Laugh all you like, but I actually prefer John Boorman's EXORCIST 2: THE
HERETIC to the original. Boorman, the maker of great films like
DELIVERANCE and EXCALIBUR, created an extremely ambitious film that
remains unique in its vast, epic approach, something you don't see in
too many horror movies. Yes, THE HERETIC has quite a few clunky bits
(like whenever its star Richard Burton is onscreen), but then so does
the original. Let's face it, William Friedkin's EXORCIST has some
absolutely fantastic "freakout" sequences, but the dramatic business in
between has always fallen flat with me.
trilogy rejuvenated the horror genre.
If you buy into that
one, then (to borrow a quote from MURDER CAN BE FUN'S Jonnie Marr)
you're probably still bummed that Santa didn't come last year. If
anything, those airheaded flicks took the genre several steps back, with
all the obnoxious (and apparently never-ending) teenybopper slashers
that have followed.
To be fair, some fine films like Antonia Baird's
RAVENOUS were greenlit as a result of the horror boom reaped by the
success of SCREAM, but then again, they inevitably got stymied at the
box office by Hollywood's boneheaded insistence on marketing them to the
pubescent SCREAM crowd.
THE BLAIR WITCH
rejuvenated the horror genre.
Take a look at the horror landscape in the wake of this monster success
and tell me how much it's been influenced by BWP. If anything, it
rejuvenated the horror parody genre, with offshoots like THE
BLAIR BITCH PROJECT, THE BARE WENCH PROJECT, THE BLAIR THUMB PROJECT and
one of the more memorable gags from SCARY MOVIE, to name but a few.
John Carpenter's THE
THING (1982) is a gory and unnecessary remake of an all-time classic.
How many times have you heard this, or some variation on it? The fact
is Carpenter's is one of the finest horror/sci fi flicks of the past 20
years, boasting groundbreaking special effects that are still impressive
today. Furthermore, the film is authentically scary.
About the original Thing, all I'll say is try sitting
through this ridiculous melange of commie paranoia and guy-in-a-suit
horror and then tell me which film is the true classic!
While on the subject of underrated remakes, let's go to
Paul Schrader's Cat
People (1982) is a gory and unnecessary remake of an all-time
I'll admit Schrader's film is flawed (mostly in its clumsy attempts at
replicating the original CAT PEOPLE), but it's also a vibrant, erotic
and perverse flick with truly stunning visuals. Critics were freaked
out by the sado-masochistic love story at its center (which was
apparently not dissimilar to the offscreen affair between Schrader and
star Nastassja Kinski), but it actually harks back to the blood-soaked
romances of novels like Hanns Heinz Ewers' VAMPIRE (1928) and Guy
Endore's WEREWOLF OF PARIS (1933), both of which appeared long before
the 1942 version of CP.
As for the Val Lewton production of CAT PEOPLE, I'll concede it has a
few impressive sequences, but I found it pretty stale overall, like most
of Lewton's films. This is NOT to say I'm partial to remakes, mind you
(I MUCH prefer the original HAUNTING to that imbecilic
Spielberg-produced 1999 remake!), just good films, which John
Carpenter's THE THING and Paul Schrader's CAT PEOPLE most certainly
have seen the future of horror and its name is Clive Barker."
The Rocky Horror
is THE cult movie of all time!
I'll write more on
this topic in an upcoming essay, but for now I'll just say this big
studio midnight movie mainstay is an overrated and derivative bumfart
most notable for squeezing out smaller, more deserving cult films that
could have benefited from its notoriety.
Friday the Thirteenth
was cool--it's only the sequels that suck.
No, they ALL suck!