Horror movies used to be good. Seriously.
I know the younger generation doesn't have much reason to believe me, but I am telling you the truth. There have been tremendous achievements in horror cinema, from the silent scare of Nosferatu to the steely glare of Karloff's Frankenstein. There has always been a fear-laden dignity in the performances of Vincent Price, an "every man" quality to Chaney and Laughton. There is a certain weight that accompanies screams in black and white.
Now, I realize that being a film from a certain age or era does not qualify it for "classic" status. For every great Bela Lugosi role there is most assuredly an Ed Wood fiasco. For all of Price's good works of cinema, you still have to understand that he worked with Michael Jackson (I don't know if I consider that a negative or not, but I refuse to give him the benefit of the doubt.).
Since the addition of the slasher flick in the 70's, however, there has been less attention paid to story or suspense, and more to gore and shock. I don't want to say that horror movies have gotten worse since then - but, horror movies have gotten worse since then.
Directors in the genre continually inundate us with bad movie after bad movie, and still get work. The master of the bad movie, the Ed Wood of our day, is Uwe Boll, and he has money to burn on bad horror films it seems. There's a long list of Japanese "visionaries" who have tried to bring that vision stateside and failed. Even legends like Wes Craven and John Carpenter have failed miserably, with choices like "They" and "Ghosts of Mars". I'm not even going to talk about the direct-to-video films that have come to define horrible filmmaking.
But, while the genre has suffered, there have been bright spots. There have been many low-budget wonders, and several big studio attempts that lived up to the hype. Everyone knows about the success of the Scream and Saw movies, and everybody loves Sam Raimi. Peter Jackson's early gore gave way to the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and Rob Zombie shows visual promise, even though he still seems to struggle with developing a plot or a decent performance from his cast.
There have been some great Zombie flicks, especially the ones that have made use of humor and social commentary. Shaun of the Dead, Fido, and Zombieland were all very enjoyable and set the bar pretty high. Remakes are all the rage. Original ideas continue to suffer in Hollywood, which is why the Asian Extreme market has been booming.
There are a lot of big films that have played well and opened big. I like the ones that people may not have heard of, the films that fly under the American public's radar.
Here are a handful of those films I think make the genre still worth watching:
Let The Right One In (2008): A young boy in Sweden is bullied and alone until he has a new neighbor move in across the hall. She befriends him and protects him, and people start to disappear. This is a good, original vampire movie - small wonder that it did not come from Hollywood.
Behind the Mask (2007): This might be the most clever horror spoof or sendup that I have ever seen, and it is very, very well done on a small independent budget. It does not make light of the genre so much that you find it mocking in any way - it more than does the job of presenting horror movies and villains in a reverent light. Great performances and story, with more than enough gore to level out the fun.
The Devil's Backbone (2002): Guillermo del Toro before Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth. Moody, spooky, and moving, the film follows a young boy at a school for orphans during the Spanish Civil War. A classic horror film with twists and turns, and very well done.
High Tension (2003): A French slasher flick with a twist, this movie is at times very gory and suspenseful, enough so that several countries forced more edits on the filmmakers before it could play. Beyond all that is a rather smart slasher movie that keeps you on the edge of your seat.
28 Days Later (2003) and Sunshine (2007): I think Danny Boyle makes great films, and he swept all the major awards last year with his ode to Bollywood, Slumdog Millionaire. His true talent, though, lies in suspense and raw, gritty stories. 28 Days Later may be the best zombie movie ever made, and Sunshine is extremely underrated. I would suggest them both.
There are plenty of other movies to list here. If you like revenge movies, and don't mind feeling uncomfortable for a while, there is no better than South Korea's Oldboy. If you want a laugh, pick up any horror movie with Bruce Campbell's name on it. Find the origin of most of the schlock from today's Hollywood by renting Japan's Tomie series, or Ringu.
I have a friend who knows of my penchant for offbeat films, especially good comedy or horror, and he has passed along a French movie called "Martyrs". He says that it is the most disturbing movie he has ever seen, and it was still good enough for him to watch again.
I think I'll have to give it a watch before Halloween.
I'll let you know if I liked it.
|Space Capone at Capone's|
|Space Capone made a landing and performed at Capone's in Johnson City, TN.|