Thursday, September 04, 2008

LOTT D: What's Wrong with Modern Horror Films?

I've got your Thursday efficiency black hole right here! The members of that fine and thoughtful body of fright fanciers, the League of Tana Tea Drinkers, have posted a new round table. This time the topic is "WTF is up with modern horror films, seriously?"

And there must be quite a bit wrong with them as this is just the first of two posts on the topic!

Contributors to Part the First include Theofantastique, Slasher Speak, and Horror's Not Dead.

I'm not in this two-act commentravaganza, but you should really spread your horror reading around more anyway. Neither man nor woman can live off CRwM alone; it doesn't have enough vowels for that. Besides, I didn't really have much to say for this one as I don't think anything is wrong with today's horror films. See? That wouldn't have been much of a post.

Speaking of League members, the overachieving mad-genius behind Sweet Skulls has a second blog running: Monster Memories. Read it. Because when Fred's mad plans to completely dominate the world come to fruition, do not think the master will forget who stood by him and who did not. You've been warned. Here's some shameless self-promotion from Fred:


Heather Santrous said...

I totally agree with you. I don't see anything wrong with today's horror movies either. If nothing else, I have been getting excited by the films that are being released, not all of them of course, and some films that are on the way.

Btw, why can't we live off your blog alone? I see nothing wrong with that.

spacejack said...

I'm not sure if I agree or not.

I'm usually pretty skeptical when I hear "_____ sucks these days."

On the other hand, it's hard for me to come up with horror movies that seem as innovative as some of the classics of my youth.

Oddly though, many of the films I view as classics are actually remakes (The Thing, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Fly.) And many of the films of that time were criticised for using gore when older films would've done with offscreen or implied violence.

Still, it's hard to think of a decent contemporary horror movie as interesting and imaginative as Videodrome (or many of Cronenberg's early works) or stylistically innovative as Invasion of the Body Snatchers & Alien, or as near-perfect as American Werewolf.

CRwM said...

Screamin' Heather,

I'm with you. If you think about it, it is really a great time to be a horror fan. Netflix gives any curious fan access to the history of the genre, digital tech has opened up the field to innovative indie creators, modern distribution systems allow those outsiders access to fans, online resources keep the fan base in touch.

I think this bitchin' and moaning about the passing of the various candidates for horror's golden age are little more than the typical "kids get off my lawn" complaints one always hears when an old guard loses touch with the mainstream and becomes little more than the self-appointed curators of a genre's past.

CRwM said...

Screamin' Spacey,

See what you did there?

You compared the horizontal sample of "now" with a carefully selected sample of films picked from two decade's worth of filmmaking.

I'll admit, when you cherry-pick the greatest titles from the genre's past, you're not going to find any one period that measures up.

The "now" is never going to surpass everything that ever came before it.

The problem isn't that old movies were better, on average. It's that we play this game were we pick the best of the old and compare them to the average of the new. American Werewolf in London was great, but it is hardly as if every film made that year was that great. The Boogens, for example, was another 1981 horror movie, but you don't see defenders of "the past" willing to stack that up against Cloverfield to see if modern films are better than older ones.

spacejack said...

I confess that I did cherry-pick. But I was trying to stick to a limited span of time... which, now that I actually look at the numbers, turns out to be about 8 years, a little longer than I thought. But I should have made a note about that.

Anyway, if we compare to the last 8 years, I would still stand by my point. I'm not saying that the late 70s-mid 80s horror films were better (or even scarier), but more innovative and interesting.

Now that could just be a product of the times; that larger movie budgets, better technology and less censorship opened up a brand new playing field, and that those filmmakers were just picking low-hanging fruit.

As time went on however, maybe in some ways the ever-improving technology made itself obsolete. When you know computers can render anything, maybe images by themselves stop being scary. Perhaps this is the reason for the rise of (non super) natural horror (i.e., torture, cannibals, psychos, hillbillies, etc.)

Maybe in a decade or more, these will be seen as true classics, because while they do employ special effects, they really have to rely on storytelling rather than just effects to be scary.

Actually I am curious to know what movies horror fans would hold up as classics of the 2000s. I probably haven't even seen a lot of them.

And then there's the whole question of whether we're talking better films or better genre films?

CRwM said...

Screamin' Spacey,

I think you're short changing that last eight years. Especially if remakes are fair game (as The Thing and The Fly were).

Within the last eight years we've had: The Ring, 28 Days Later, The Devil's Backbone, Ginger Snap (1 or 2, depending on who you ask), Shaun of the Dead, Dead Man's Shoes (which I didn't like, but many people think is all 27 kinds of awesome), Funny Games, Cloverfield.

And that's not counting liminal is-it-or-isn't-it horror titles like American Psycho and Pan's Labyrinth.

I think your gathering together a few classics and circling wagons around them. You aren't defending an era (the films you cite aren't typical of the era). You're picking classics before doing your comparison. It is hard to think of films in any era that are as innovative as the films of Cronenberg. The issue isn't the era, it's the director.

Besides, if were going to play the era game, it's all been downhill since, what, the 1960s. You've got Psycho, Virgin Spring, Rosemary's Baby, The Innocents, Kaidan, Repulsion, Birds, Eyes Without a Face, The Haunting, Peeping Tom, and Night of the Living Dead. Compared to that slate, the period you're talking about is pretty thin.

Even better, what about the period from the mid-1920s to the mid-1930s, which gave us pretty much every major horror archetype that would appear ever again and, at the same time, pretty much established the entire vocabulary of film. Compared to that era, everything else is crappola.

It's a silly argument. The movies of our youth seem innovative and hard hitting because we're young (if you watch it again, you'll find the 70s remake of Invasion isn't as good as you remember it). Some, deservedly, become classics. But that's usually because they transcend their era, not because they represent it in some Platonic way.

At least, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.