There was a time when horror was bartered from mom and pop video stores. Where one store’s crappy copy of Lucio Fulci’s “The Beyond” was another man’s treasure. But no more. Horror has become self-aware, self-parodying, and untethered from any meaningful commentary or vision. I have identified 10 diseases which are ruining the genre through repetition, over-commercialization, and ignorance. These are the cancers that are destroying horror:
1. Cell Phones
There’s no way around this one. Cell phones have destroyed horror films. They’re always present, they’re always convenient, they have GPS tracking which alerts 911 operators of your exact location, and they require at least five minutes of setting up a scenario in which they’re either destroyed, run out of batteries, or lose a signal. And unlike land lines, they can’t be conveniently cut from the outside of the spooky house. They can, however, be used when playing into our…
Isn’t all this new computer technology scary? Yes. To your grandmother, I suppose it is. But for those who work with computers all day we know better. We know they’re clunky, they’re slow, and they utilize applications which are never as useful or as clever as you’re led to believe. And yet in the horror genre they’re presented to us as if we were foreigners getting off the boat at Ellis Island: “You mean it play-a my favorite-a mp3’s? America, she beautiful!”
It’s one thing to have a woman crawl out of a high-def television, it’s another to have grainy webcams of some guy in a ski mask and a detective’s coat beating off to a dead cow. Seen it already. And that’s the problem. Whatever a writer may have come up with that he thinks would be a terrifying use of technology, chances are I’ve already seen it on 4chan.
Not to belabor this point as I have written about this in other posts, but I can name roughly 20 films over the past 10 years which make “Jesus Freak” synonymous with psychotic, evil ideologues. Incidentally, I can name 20 politicians over the past 10 years who can as well. So what was my point? Oh yeah… while there’s nothing wrong with playing into people’s fear of those kooky nuts who protest at gay funerals, it would be an entirely new realm if we were given reasons to be afraid of other crazy religious folk. I have to be honest with you on this; if I saw our hero tied to a chair in a basement in Salt Lake City I would be much more concerned for his well-being.
4. The Broken Tradition
Believe it or not, the mythos of most sub-genres have an origin, but chances are if it’s being made today nobody bothered to know what the fuck it is. And this is why we have glittery vampires, werewolves with guns, and zombies that can run like regular Kenyans. The broken tradition is one of the most disturbing cancers infecting the genre, because without origin horror itself is useless. The “essence of storytelling” I spoke about in the introductory paragraph predates film; it predates fiction and probably predates The Bible. It is how people communicated the one another via word of mouth for centuries, and is the basis for metaphor.
A child living in feudal Europe asks a mother who the creepy old man is that lives in the castle on the hill. The mother doesn’t know. Neither do the townspeople, because he’s quiet and only comes out during the day in a carriage pulled by 8 horses where he is sheltered from the sunlight while zombie-like servants do all of his shopping as he silently watches. Having no explanation, people begin to talk. “How old is he? Why does he never see the sun? Why does he have so much and we so little? It’s like he comes down to prey on us.” And thus a vampire is born. Ever wonder why vampires are always rich old men living in castles who engage in excessive carnal acts with young peasant women? They’re aristocrats, that’s why. Anybody notice the werewolf mythos began during London’s great gin epidemic? Think maybe that’s why they turn into belligerent animals at night and bark at the moon.
Ever wonder why wind and trees make us think of suicide? No? Exactly. Tell it to M. Knight Shyamalan.
A character on-screen exclaims,”This is just like a horror movie!”
And that’s when I say, “This is a horror movie you fucking asshole!”
If boxes of popcorn could fly through projection screens and into the film itself the goofy stoner character would be picking my kernels out of his dreadlocks for the next twenty minutes. It’s utter horse shit which is always uttered by…
Douchebags have a rich history in the slasher films of the 1980’s. Unfortunately, it took the genre 20 years to realize that the moment Biff utters how many chicks he’s banged we are waiting for something to pull him screaming into the bushes. Classic douchebags provided great comic relief, and ranged from the pig-skin tossing meathead to the pig-skin tossing meathead who’s not like all the others because he doesn’t just want to fuck you. While I applaud certain films like Cabin Fever and Freddy vs. Jason for realizing the promise of a good shithead, and delivering, I believe that the genre suited for rounding up a group of shitheads and picking them off like deer from a helicopter would be the “exploitation” genre. And while the two can certainly cross-over, it’s a self-defeating strategy when all I’m paying attention to in your scene is something in the background with a sharp tip.
7. Bad Topical Humor
Nothing whisks the audience away from the land of make-believe like reminding them of some gnawing piece of bullshit taking place outside the theater in a totally separate medium. Luckily I believe that those two cock-whisperers who make those dreadful “Scary Movie” movies have exhausted this so much that it’s like a bukake girl who’s seen so much action that nobody would touch her without gloves on.
8. Metaphysical Twist Endings
Half M. Knight Shyamalan’s fault, half the creation of J-Horror, the metaphysical twist ending is almost expected in any horror film which has even a sliver of psychological elements. And it’s almost always unnecessary or distracting. Does the axe wielding maniac scare you yet? Wait until you find out he’s the hero’s repressed gay sexuality.
Sadly, remakes like the Ring, the Eye, and the Grudge have forced me to take a second look at my favorite J-Horror films and realize that without the waterfall effect of Japanese weirdness, these really are just silly contrivances.
Conversely, I believe that if the Metaphysical ending is a cancer, intentional fallacy is its twin sister. It takes a lot these days to wrap my mind in knots, and a very sick individual to pull it off. In the past it was the strength of the J-Horror genre that the films were not so much scary as they were conceptual buckshot that left lingering fragments that you couldn’t quite pluck from your head. They posed questions. Uzumaki springs to mind, as well as Tetsuo: The Iron Man. But today’s J-Horror has crossed a thin line between being truly twisted and purposefully weird. For those who want a better explanation, I’ll put it like this:
- Normal: Man Walks Dog
- Weird: Dog Walks Man (Hey, high concept!)
- Twisted: Man Pushes Rotting Dog Carcass in Baby Stroller
9. Squeamish Torture Porn
I can trace this cancer back to Mel Gibson and his misunderstood terror thriller “The Passion of the Christ”. Audiences recoiled at how the kind prophet was brutalized as snickering Jews and the androgynous chemo patient watched with glee. The lesson learned was that while being squeamish and being afraid are two totally separate things, they can evoke the same response. Films like Hostel, Saw, and Turistas took the mindless torture of innocents and turned it into something almost pornographic. And it’s an incredibly simple formula, really. It works exactly like a haunted house. You just trot the audience from room to room, turn down the lights, throw on some grinding unpleasant music and allow them to watch some young girl be vivisected for twenty minutes or so. You could do it with almost anything, really. Had it been shot through a grainy webcam in a dark basement I could show you 2Girls1Cup and tell you it’s Saw 8.
10. The Sequelmake
I know, I know… branding with pre-established names and the like. But I always wonder why it’s the mediocre stories which were made into classic films by imaginative directors that warrant remakes, and not the other way around. Evil Dead is the gold standard for a film which couldn’t be made any better, whereas “Blue Sunshine” sits on the shelf with endless possibilities. Does Rob Zombie really need to make a sequel to his Halloween remake? Is he going to remake the entire series? Maybe he can remake his own remake in about 10 years and just keep repeating the cycle until he dies or film has been replaced with virtual reality machines.
It’s a rare treat when a remake actually delivers, which is odd considering that all that fine young talent can’t outshine what were, for the most part, films concocted by basement dwelling geeks in the midwest. One Dawn of the Dead for every The Fog, The Hills Have Eyes, Halloween, The Exorcist, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Haunting, House on Haunted Hill, and the list goes on. And we still have Child’s Play, Battle Royale, Hellraiser, the Birds, the Crazies, It’s Alive, Evil Dead, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon to look forward to.
There will come a day when remakes and sequels reach a singularity and we’re watching the remake of the sequel before the original comes out. Maybe we can negotiate a bartering system? “You can have Deep Red, but leave Suspiria. Take Ghosts of Mars but leave us The Thing. And what will you give us for Phantasm? Nothing? Yeah, it was worth a try. Do you mind taking it off our hands anyways?”