Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Pondering Whether Horror is Truly Dead
Enlisted at the early age of eight, my parents introduced me to some “classic” (or classic for my generation) horror films, that would forever bend my view of what a decent scary movie should entail.
After seeing Wes Craven’s 1984 film Nightmare on Elm Street, my craving for true horror films began. Although I did not know this at the time, after seeing the iconic film, I suffered from paralyzing night terrors for the following year that traumatized my parents for life (slightly ironic, considering the film’s subject matter). Now, at the age of twenty-four, I can see how this film—and others that I watched during my early teens— fueled my obsession with films, and why I am (to this day) seeking out the perfect horror movie that will scare the shit out of me like Craven’s had.
This April, I made my way to Calgary’s Comic and Entertainment Expo (CCEE). At this expo, I had the absolute pleasure of attending a panel featuring the Lord of Horror—Mr. John Carpenter. Let’s briefly revisit Carpenter’s colorful horror film history—Halloween (1978), The Fog (1980), The Thing (1982), Christine (1983), Prince of Darkness (1987), They Live (1988), Village of the Damned (1995), Vampires (1998), Ghosts of Mars (2001), and The Ward (2010). Directing, and also writing and scoring some of these films, Carpenter added his own flavor to mainstream horror films. Although Halloween is recognized as the “first” slasher flick, earlier films such as Psycho, Peeping Tom, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Blood Feast, can be seen as precursors of the genre. With the improvements in special effects, and the relaxation of censorship, Carpenter’s films contributed to the success of horror films into mainstream culture.
In regards to what I mentioned earlier about my night terrors as a child, I have found the only way I am really terrified while watching a horror film is if the film is completely believable—not as “this is a true story,” but in plot, acting, and of course, visual/special effects. Although Freddy Krueger only exists in the dream-world of those on Elm Street, to me he was realistic because he epitomized those creepy men you don`t dare to stare at on the streets, the loner neighbor who never comes out of their house, and the person with the unidentifiable skin condition who smiles at you at the office.
Carpenter’s zeal for bringing those realistic features out onto the screen speak for themselves now. Directors and writers look to Carpenter’s earlier films for that authentic horror flavor, and pay homage to what was created and what should stay sacred within the horror community. Alongside signature and propelling scores, witty and engaging dialogue, and ORIGINAL plot-lines, Carpenter is a man of a dying breed. One of the reoccurring questions at the CCEE panel was, “did you have input on any of the remakes (The Thing)?” Carpenter replies:
I had zero input...There are two kinds of remakes. The first is, if I’ve written it, or if I’ve come up with the idea, there is a brilliant moment that happens. They are ready to make the movie and I’m sitting on my couch. And I extend my hand, and a cheque drops into it [pauses for audience’s reaction]. And I continue playing video games. The second type of remake is when the studio owns the material and I get zero, nothing. The producer (of the 2011 remake) brought me in, buttered me up a bit, and explains what they are going to do. I didn't even get a cup of coffee out of it.
From the tone of Carpenter’s answer to the fan’s question, and his blatant dislike for the remakes of his movies (including Rob Zombie’s remake of Halloween), Carpenter raises the issue of the progress and survival of (decent) horror films. My concern, not unlike Mr. Carpenter’s, is for the horror scene on the big screen. In the past two years, horror has either gone one of three ways: remake, glorified-gore, or that-was-really-weird. 2012 had potential with a few films which were released in theatres such as Cabin in the Woods, Chernobyl Diaries, Excision, Antiviral, and Sinister. However, this past year also had a few movies that were either sad remakes (Piranha 3DD and regretfully, The Woman in Black) or rehashed (sequels) films that should have been straight to DVD (or digital copy) such as The Possession, Paranormal Activity 4, Silent Hill: Revelation 3D, Silent House, Smiley, and V/H/S. Of course this is my personal opinion because I do not scare easily, but originality is extremely rare—especially within the past year.
With horror films taking a dive in originality and compelling plot-lines, television has swooped in to save the day—that is, cable horror programs have returned. Following in the footsteps of Masters of Horror, The Twilight Zone, X-Files, and Tales from the Crypt, the resurgence of horror on the little screen has risen from the dead (excluding teen dramas like The Vampire Diaries, Supernatural, and Teen Wolf). The Walking Dead (AMC) and American Horror Story (FX) fill those creative gaps that we find in the theatres right in the comfort of our own homes. Although there are a few honorable mentions like E4’s (UK) The Fades which was cancelled after one season (sadly), HBO’s True Blood (which has certainly taken a downward spiral in the past two years), and Netflix’s Hemlock Grove (which has only started recently), television horror is rising to the challenge—viewers are sick of remakes, rehashes, and torture-porn films.
The search for the future classic horror film is still on, and the challenge to find one film that will make me shiver in my seat, is still on as well. I have looked beyond—and beyond I mean to the absolute sick (Human Centipede: Sequence 1&2) and annoying (Smiley)—and found nothing that will satisfy this horror palate. I don’t think I am the only one who suffers from this affliction. With proof and verification from Carpenter’s opinions and stories at his panel, he addresses the dry spell of horror on the big screen, as well. The wait and the watching will continue—like Jason coming back year after year to the same place, and the same bulshit stories.