Editorial by Marc Calavera
Last month, I said in my editorial that a lot of today's horror movies
are garbage. Okay, let's not put too fine a point on it; I referred to
them as "crap."
The text of that article can be found below. I stand by my statement.
One of our readers took exception to that however, and sent in the following
So rather than pen my own editorial this quarter, I defer to Jeremy with
one further remark: Enjoy this issue! We've got a lot of cool work this
time! Take some time to flip through our pages. We're assured by our staff
that it isn't "crap."
And I reserve the right of surrebuttal, Jeremy!
Rebuttal by Jeremy Gwinn
Hollywood Horror Crap Re-evaluated:
Are We Asking Too Much?
(Spoiler warning: If you haven't seen the movies
Jeremy discusses, be aware that in some cases he gives away the ending.
Upon reading the editorial 'Is Hollywood Horror Crap?,' I was slightly
put off. Not to say that it wasn't an intelligent, insightful and well-thought
out argument, but it was quite overly critical.
First of all, what exactly does the author mean by "today's horror movies?"
Is that the movies of two thousand, the nineties, the eighties, the seventies?
Does the author wish to return to the days of Bela Lugosi donning the
slicked back hair and atrocious accent or the monsters like the Creature
From the Black Lagoon with the zippers showing? What makes a good scary
It's quite simple: a good scary movie is one that just gets us in a certain
way - that somehow gets under our skin.
Horror movies do not necessarily need to induce a coronary or reinvent
the wheel or offer some quasi-religious epiphany to be good do they? This
seems to be what we have come to expect out of entertainment today. We
come from a cynical generation with rather jaded appetites. Actors can't
just deliver lines convincingly, they must actually become nothing less
than the living incarnation of the part they play and dazzle us with standing
ovation performances. Special effects can't just be eye-catching or look
simply genuine, they have to leave us gaping with amazement. Stories can't
just be good, they have to be literary epochs worthy of legend. In our
jaded "seen it all before/been there, done that" attitudes, we tend to
fail to appreciate these stories for what they are and what they do for
us. In the introduction for the anthology 'Prime Evil,' Douglas Winter
wrote that "fear is fun." I quote from the same intro.,"We don't really
care if effects-oriented films like Poltergeist or The Evil Dead or Aliens
have flimsy plots - after all, nightmares rarely follow a coherent storyline.
The images alone work a special magic: the hideous faces popping into
view, the sudden grasping hands, the buckets of stage blood, are all props
in a high-tech carnival. We love to see something so grotesque and so
unexpected that it makes us scream or laugh..." and I tend to agree. Not
only are such movies meant to be fun, but a catharsis of sorts. As morbid
as it sounds, let's face it - how many times have you watched a horror
movie with a certain character that you truly loathe bite the dust and
you want to stand up and cheer? Did that character remind you of someone
you encounter in your day-to-day life? Go on and admit it. These kinds
of movies, in a way help vent our homicidal urges without actually doing
something we'd regret (of course, that could just be me - no one ever
accused me of being completely sane). So even the most low budget, poorly-acted
films with flimsy plots offer some value (of course, I think there could
be a few exceptions to this rule including I Still Know What You Did Last
Summer and Urban Legends 2, Final Cut among others). And one more thing
about horror movies - they help us put a face to our fears. The old saying
goes, "the devil you don't know is always worse than the devil you do."
I think this saying has much merit here. This is another contribution
these films make. They put faces and names to our fears for us.
In any case, back to the "getting under your skin" part. Movies need
not be deep to get to us on certain levels. Take Jaws for example. I mean,
it's no Poe or Lovecraftian masterpiece but it gets us because it hits
us in an area in which we are vulnerable. We know there are predators
in the ocean and shark attacks do happen. So isn't it an unnerving thought
that you're at the beach with your family or your girl, enjoying the warm
summer sun and riding the waves, when all of a sudden, something brushes
by your leg... then the bite. The beach, once a place of sunshine, celebration,
fun and life is now one shark's favorite resturaunt. I wonder how many
people postponed their trips to the beach the year that movie came out.
Those dreadful slasher flicks of the eighties work on a similar level.
Despite the classic equation, teens + sex = death that seems to drive
those movies, they also get us where we are vulnerable. They are the fictional
counterparts of the Zodiac and the Lover's Lane Killer of Texarcana that
strike us in the midst of intimacy, figuratively and literally, catching
us "with our pants down." Anyone who has ever been unexpectedly interrupted
in the middle of sexual activity could empathize. Post WW II movies like
The Thing or the Blob or Invasion of the Body Snatchers played upon our
fears at the time of the outsider, who threatened our country's way of
life (whether he was communist, a vegetable from outer space or a gelatinous
mass, it was the same thing). With the invention of the atom bomb, also
post WW II, there were concerns about radiation and mutation - expressed
in films like Them. In the nineties, Final Destination (and Marc, you
can't possibly honestly tell me that this movie didn't get to even you)
is the modern incarnation of Poe's Masque of the Red Death. Here we discover
our mortality - we become aware of just how delicate life is and how close
to us death really is which, is a vulnerable spot for any human being.
Comically enough, after my girlfriend and I saw this at the theatre, she
had to take a plane back home. Needless to say, she was a nervous wreck.
Films like Carrie as well as I Was a Teenage Werewolf prey upon that angst
we feel at a time in our life when our bodies are changing and we're feeling
different emotions that make us feel like outcasts. In the seventies (my
favorite decade of movies), we had some of the most dark and disturbing
horror movies of all time, usually dealing with Satanic themes - The Exorcist,
The Omen, Rosemary's Baby, The Sentinel, The Legacy, The Evil Dead, and
relatively unknown but excellent, The Changeling (one the best ghost stories
I ever saw). After the tragedy of the Manson murders, evil and the supernatural
seemed to be particularly touchy subjects and the silver screen abounded
with stories of demonic possession, cults, and human sacrifice (remember
Texas Chainsaw Massacre?). How about the way that the aliens of the Alien
movies get inside you? One of those tentacled things attaches itself to
your face and shoves its fetus down your throat only to bust out of your
chest later? Although it isn't exactly what we would call "taking the
high road" with horror, it works because it gets us level in which we're
very vulnerable like the urban legends of the spider nest in the hair
or the squid eggs hatching in the boy's stomach - foreign invaders in
our bodies - very gross. On a side note to that, speaking of Ridley Scott
movies, my hat off to him and Thomas Harris for making even me turn my
head in the theatre watching Hannibal when Hopkins was feeding Liotta
his own brain - that was way over the top. I can see why Jodie Foster
was squeamish about and ultimately declined taking the part in that one.
In any case, what makes a good horror movie is that it gets to us in some
way, not that it is a modern masterpiece of filmmaking.
With all that said, let me now turn my attention the Blair Witch Project.
Public opinion of this movie affirms most of all what I previously said
about our jaded appetites. I cannot argue that the camera vertigo may
induce motion sickness or that the plot was lacking or that it wasn't
a little bit influenced by the whole reality tv fad, but I can argue that
it was unjustly judged by some. First off, many of us were probably disappointed
because we are so accustomed to those easy-to-look-at twenty different
camera angles, digital animation/special effects, million dollar actors,
and neatly scripted, smoothly-flowing directing (and maybe that we didn't
get to see the monster). However, by being fixated on those things, we
fail to see the genious of the film. It wasn't supposed to be an intricate
plot with talented actors. It wasn't supposed to revolutionize filmmaking.
It just is what it is. From a marketing angle, it was beyond brilliant.
The filmakers didn't just go for the reality tv angle, they basically
created their own mythology. By setting up a realistic website and other
similar promotional stunts, and making the film soley with camcorders
by non actors and setting the story in the real town of Burkittesville
and labeling it a documentary, they had millions of people wondering if
it were actually true. That, in my opinion, is the first step towards
successfully scaring people. When someone realizes that something isn't
real, he isn't afraid of it. However, when something is believed to be
real and the audience can identify with the characters more, the more
frightening it is. The film makers went far beyond reality tv. What made
the actors in the movie so convincing was that they weren't really acting
that much. They really were out in the woods, cold, tired, dirty, and
hungry for days and their lines only delivered to them at the times to
say them with them really not knowing what the hell was coming next. Extras
on the set interviewed about the Blair Witch were left to ad lib their
lines. Talk about being convincing. So even if you weren't scared by the
movie, you at least have to respect it's originality.
In summary Marc, I believe you've fallen victim to one of the oldest
cliches imaginable - "well, they just don't make 'em like they used to."
I'll agree that the Haunting wasn't really scary, but I don't even need
to see the original to know that it can't have been that much worse and
Shirley Jackson probably had the best version of all. There are plenty
of movies worthy of merit this day and age if you just stop looking for
something completely original. Which reminds me, in regard to The Others,
it was a great movie but Marc, they didn't exactly reinvent the wheel,
ok? The O'Henry type twist "I didn't realize I was dead," theme really
isn't anything you can't find in some ghost stories and an eighties episode
of The Twilight Zone. As the old saying goes, "There is nothing new under
the sun." As for recent Hollywood horror "crap," how about this list of
movies (some I know you've seen before but check them out anyway):
Sleepy Hollow (I think Burton did a superb job of casting and atmosphere)
Stigmata (not just Arquette going possession psychotic, but a deep theological
Stir of Echoes (far surpasses Matheson's original story in my opinion,
and such a shame played second chair to 6th Sense)
End of Days (can't say much for Arnold as an actor, but who could complain
about Gabriel Byrne as Satan?)
Bless the Child (you honestly can't tell me this wasn't creepy - not
to mention wonderfully reminiscent of those 70's cult flicks)
BW 2 Book of Shadows (ok, this time you've got your special effects plus
some interesting questions about the nature of myth and reality and a
drunken orgy and cool soundtrack to boot - I love this movie)
Event Horizon (maybe I just like the movie so much for the name but it's
extremely creepy too, like a futuristic outer space Shining)
Alien IV, Resurrection (I just loved what a badass Sigourney was here,
interesting themes of humanity posed by Whedon)
St. Francisville Experiment (blatant ripoff of BWP... but hey, it was
actually kind of convincing and spooky in a way)
Chasing Sleep (much different role for Jeff Daniels than Dumb and Dumber,
creepy psychological "what the hell?" thriller)
Bruiser (another winner for Romero, brilliant and insightful theme, you'll
really root for the killer)
Hannibal (Ridley Scott, Anthony Hopkins, Thomas Harris...what else really
needs to be said?)
Valentine (I know this one probably confirms your feelings, but it is
a little fond nostalgia for 80's slasher flicks)
Jacob's Ladder (a little old I know, but if this one doesn't unnerve
you, then nothing will. check out dvd alternate ending)
Hollow Man (best invisible man movie in decades to deal with the psychological
aspects of not being able to see yourself, plus cool title, stellar special
effects, and Kevin Bacon going psycho is hard to miss)
Lost Souls (straight out of the 70's satanic cult theme, totally creepy
atmosphere, lighting, effects, great acting by Chaplin and pasty anorexic
waif Ryder add to the creepiness, very good plot - you should like - and
not so happy ending)
Pitch Black (another cool title, alien vampires, Vin Diesel as serial
killer who can see in the dark - loved those eyes - intense)
Jeepers Creepers (I was a little disappointed, but it was still creepy.
I like the idea of monsters existing without rhyme or reason)
Final Destination (I think I stated the most important aspects of this
movie earlier, try to let it not get to you)
The Addiction (Christopher Walken and Lili Taylor, this is definitely
an original take on vampirism, you really need to watch this if you haven't
already - trust me. very creepy and thought-provoking).
What Lies Beneath (Harrison Ford as the bad guy in a creepy ghost story?
how can you tell me Hollywood puts out crap?)
Ok, I could probably add more to this list, but I think that's sufficient
for now. Anyway, there is my case for "hollywood horror crap," which,
I believe, is in the eye of the beholder.
Until next time,
Original Editorial by Marc Calavera
I want to talk about horror movies today. Horror movies have been enjoying
a resurgence at the box office for whatever reason, and we've all been
flocking to see them. But I wonder if we're doing the right thing.
Most of today's horror movies are crap, don't you think?
Let me take a few of the more widely talked about movies and show you
what I mean.
We started in the nineties recovering from all the slasher movies. Sort
of. At least the slasher flicks became more self-aware, like Scream and
I Know What You Did Last Summer. I didn't care for these, except for some
of the silly characters. They were just more hip versions of Jason and
Michael trying to decimate the population of America for no real reason
other than the fact that teens can be annoying.
Can't we all?
The next really new thing was the Blair Witch Project. Everyone
said it was scary, there was a HUGE buzz and even that fake thing on the
Sci-Fi Channel (which had my nephew absolutely convinced that the
whole thing was for real). So we went, and we came home--or at least I
did--and said, "That's it? I shelled out six-and-a-half bucks
Drew Carey called it the Blair Boring Witch Project, and I can't
say I disagree. The film wasn't particularly good, wasn't particularly
well-plotted, wasn't even particularly scary. The story wobbled with the
camera and was completely unbalanced. The bouncing "reality TV"-inspired
angles gave my girlfriend motion sickness and on her way out of the theatre
towards the bathroom, she said "Let me know if I miss anything."
What it was was different. That's what Hollywood needs today: different.
It was a good start. Unfortunately, what Hollywood did next was take a
When I heard they were going to remake The Haunting, I was both
excited and disgusted. Excited because the original Haunting is
one of my favorite horror movies of all time. All the creepy takes place
off camera and lets you imagine the whole thing. I slept with a light
on the first time I saw it. I thought, so now, with what we can do today,
it has so much more scary potential, it will be great.
I was disgusted because Hollywood had, of course, already been there,
done that. I should have known, because they actually made it less scary
than the original. Not only that, but they made it trendy by playing the
abused children card. Sure the effects were great, but hell, the only
scary scene in the whole thing was [SPOILER WARNING!] Owen Wilson losing
These are just two of the films that illustrate the whole trend of scary
films, and I had pretty much resigned myself to more of the same, until
The Sixth Sense and The Others came along. The Sixth
Sense, while not entirely original and fresh, had a new take on the
"I see dead people" theme (managing to be both hip and
fresh), and two excellent, if underappreciated, actors to pull it off.
And The Others. The Others brought back my faith in Hollywood
moviemaking, thank God. The Others was what I hoped the revamped
Haunting would be. All of the scary stuff off camera, creeping
me out with the actors' reactions. It was different, with the new take
on the haunted house story, it was interesting, a real I-forgot-about-the-popcorn
flick. And it had a twist ending that worked--something you don't see
very often anymore.
And who expected Nicole Kidman to act that well? Not I. I saw her in
To Die For.
So perhaps Hollywood can still produce a few good horror flicks.
At the very least, they're not making any more Know What You Did Last