I am terrified of horror movies. I can barely watch “The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror” episodes. I only watch horror movies in broad daylight with all the lights on. But ‘tis the season and you’re gonna to have to talk about horror movies at some point this month.
Horror movie buffs are like cats; if they sense you don’t like horror or are easily scared, they gravitate towards you and try to convince you that being trapped in a house with a psycho cannibal named “Leatherface” isn’t scary, it’s fun. Needless to say, I know a lot of horror fans.
The easiest way to master a conversation with a horror movie fan is debate. Film fans in general love a good debate. The danger with a horror fan, and you’ll find this with sci-fi fans too, is that they go obscure. And if you even hint to a hard core horror fan that you haven’t seen a movie they mention, they will immediately force you to sit down and watch it . And they don’t care if it’s daylight or not.
So in conversation with your horror film buff, mention a movie you have seen first. I always go with “Nightmare On Elm Street” as my jump off point. Why? Because to me it’s the scariest movie ever made, I mean, Freddy Krueger HAUNTS YOUR DREAMS! But more importantly, it’s got sequels and a remake. Any movie with sequels and/or a remake is a great movie to debate. A HUGE factor with horror film fans is the “so bad it’s good factor” and nowhere does that come into play more than with sequels and remakes.
A rookie move in a horror movie debate is to say that the original movie is best. That is a given, the first film in a series is always the best and the original is usually more regarded. You should acknowledge that fact, but some sequels or remakes are notoriously terrible , universally hated or so terrible they are good.
So everyone grab the hand of the person next to you (unless you’re on the subway) and let’s get into the world of scary movies.
NOTE: If you love the genre, give me some of your favorites and I’ll see if I can make it past the first killing.
Maybe if we break this down a little clinically we (or I) will be less likely to get scared just by someone suggesting we see “Insidious 2”. Horror movies are designed to play on your primal fears by showing an evil force of some kind intruding into the every day world. And that evil force can be anything from zombies to serial killers, demons to vicious animals. Personally, zombies and vicious animals scare me the least. I can handle “The Walking Dead” better than I can deal with anything that involves creepy ghosts or serial killers. If I’m going to get forced into watching a horror movie, I would rather it be “Pet Cemetery” than “Poltergeist” any day.
Let’s look a little at the history of horror. Early horror films were gothic like the famous silent film “Nosferatu”, a take on “Dracula”. That continued until the early 50’s and into the 60’s when it gravitated more towards subject matter that seemed more real at the time like armageddon scenarios and demonic possessions. The 60’s also saw the first “slasher” movies, “Peeping Tom” and Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”, which scared my mom so bad she didn’t take a shower for months.
The late 60’s and early 70’s saw a trend in horror movies about the occult, notably “Rosemary’s Baby”, and then in the late 70’s the slasher movie movement took off and pretty much lasted into the early 1990’s. After that genre exhausted itself, you saw horror take a self-deprecating look at itself with movies like “Scream” and to an extent “I Know What You Did Last Summer”. Lately, you’ve got movies that have violent, graphic deaths like “Saw” and LOTS of zombie movies.
In the last 10 years a big trend has been the remaking of Asian horror films. “The Ring” and “The Grudge” probably being the most famous of these. And I have to mention “The Audition”. THANK GOD we have yet to get an American remake of this twisted psychological horror movie about a man who dates a woman that tortures and dismembers men. Look, I’m not sure what is going on in the Eastern hemisphere, but Asian filmmakers have created some of the most terrifying movies I’ve ever seen previews for (like I’d actually be brave enough to watch those).
I haven’t touched on every sub-genre of horror here. So grab a blanket to hide under….let’s go a little deeper.
Here’s a few of the most popular sub-genres designed to play on your worst nightmares.
Creature Feature: Or monster movies. Pretty self-explanatory. A crazy monster, creature, mutant, alien or science experiment gone wrong is roaming the lands killing people in horrific ways. Movies: “The Thing”, “Aliens”, “The Descent” and “Predator”
Creepy Kids: No lie, this is the name of genre. Although it doesn’t always have to be a kid; it can be any movie that takes something innocent and makes it evil. Movies: “Children of the Corn”, “IT” and “The Omen”.
Slasher: Serial killers are probably both the most popular and over-played of the horror movies. Movies: classics like “Nightmare on Elm Street”, “Friday the 13th” and “Halloween”
Supernatural: I wish it was just ghosts, but supernatural includes the occults, demons and witches. There are so many of these it is hard to narrow down. I’ll name a few I refuse to watch. Movies: “The Conjuring”, “Insidious” “Paranormal Activity” and “Dark Remains”
Torture Porn: Referred to by many names, there are the movies that show graphic amounts of violence, usually in the form of horrific torture. Movies: “The Last House on the Left”, “Saw”, and “Hostel”
There is so much to learn about the horror genre to be a true geek about it. However, there are a few names synonymous with the genre, drop them whenever you feel a conversation lull with a horror movie buff and let them run wild!
John Carpenter – While best known as the creator and director of the “Halloween” series, you can also thank Carpenter for “The Thing”, “The Fog” and “Christine”, a movie about a possessed car (The 80’s were a crazy time).
Wes Craven – This is who you can thank for all your nightmares. His list of credits is too terrifying to read, and includes the original “The Hills Have Eyes”. But most importantly, he is the creator of “The Nightmare on Elm Street” series. He also directed “Scream” and “Scream II”. Perhaps the most shocking thing on his resume is the heartwarming 1999 Meryl Streep movie, “Music of the Heart”.
Tobe Hooper – With no money in the middle of nowhere, Texas, Hooper made one of the scariest and most influential slasher movies ever, “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974). It is considered to be one of the most controversial horror movies of all time for its graphic violence and social commentary. The movie’s villain, Leatherface wears the skin of humans on his face and is a hugely significant character in the horror genre. The movie is responsible for establishing the use of tools for killing and the image of a large, silent killer with no personality (think Jason and Michael Myers).
Sam Raimi – Raimi’s graphic “Evil Dead” trilogy is a cult classic, especially the third film “Army of Darkness”. These are MUST watch movies for the “so bad it’s good factor”. The star of those films, Bruce Campbell, is a cult hero and makes a cameo in another Sam Raimi film you may know, “Spiderman”.
George Romero – Director of one the most influential horror movies of all time, “Night of the Living Dead”. Romero went on to direct “Dawn of the Dead” and “Day of the Dead”, all satirical, apocalyptic zombie movies. These films really started it all for the zombie sub-genre and at the time were considered extremely graphic and controversial.
Here’s some stuff you can say besides “turn it off”, “make it stop” or “Mommy!” when someone brings up horror movies this month.
“If it weren’t for Leatherface there would be no Jason Voorhees.”
“I don’t want to start a fight, but the “Dawn of the Dead” remake is better than the original, it just feels more like a real zombie apocalypse”
“You may not like the movie, but there is no question that “Scream” revitalized the dying horror genre.”
FOR MORE INFO
Like many film genres, there is a lot to take in and a lot that couldn’t get covered. And honestly, it’s starting to get dark and I’m legit getting nervous. So check out these books, documentaries, and sites for a deeper, scarier look at horror films.
Books: “Nightmare Movies: Horror on Screen since the 1960′s” by Kim Newman and “It Lives Again! Horror Movies in the New Millennium” by Axelle Carolyn
Documentaries: “Nightmares in Red, While and Blue”, “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: A Family Portrait”, and “Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film”