Monday, February 25, 2008

Give The Gorehounds What They Want - Part 1

A comic that recently came out finally did a scene I've been waiting for for years. I want to talk about it, but first I've got to go over some history.

I was a serious horror movie fan for almost two decades. I got my real start in the early 1980s, when my Dad managed what was at the time the largest video rental store in our town. That meant free rentals, and I worked my way through the entire horror section.

Even as I ploughed through the whole category, usually at a rate of a movie a night, there was one I deliberately left for last. Somehow I knew just from looking at the box that this movie was something special. It was almost as though I was working toward it as a goal, and all the other movies were distractions from the actual object of my quest.

That movie was George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead. The yellow box with its cover depiction of a man transforming into a zombie (a huge spoiler, in retrospect - that man is one of the leads) captivated me. I even remember its item code at Dad's store: 160-585.

When I finally finished off everything else and Dawn was the only one left - when I had earned it - I brought it home. I was not disappointed. It was probably two weeks before I got a good night's sleep again.

Through the rest of the 80s and 90s, I kept up my habit of consuming anything in the horror category. I read magazines like Fangoria, Gorezone, Horrorfan, and Slaughterhouse. In high school I hosted parties that we called Gorefests - marathons of movies specifically selected for their capacity to make the viewers sleep with the lights on. I remember Salem's Lot being a recurring favourite at those events.

Although I'd happily watch any horror movie, one subcategory was always my favourite: zombies. Even before watching Dawn for that first time, I loved zombie movies. It may have stemmed from a very early memory of watching Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things when I was very young - probably around seven years old - and having the living daylights scared out of me. Nope, I'm not quite sure what my parents were thinking either, but in retrospect I'm glad they were thinking it. Some parents hand their kids condoms or let them smoke pot - mine let me watch Shock Theatre when I was in elementary school. I'm absolutely certain that was less damaging in the long run, and I'm grateful for it.

Speaking of Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things, I got to watch it again years later. I was expecting to be terrified all over again. I wasn't. It's passable at best, even for a serious zombie enthusiast, although these days I have a greater appreciation for watching occultist hippies get disembowled.

At some point, my enthusiasm for horror movies waned. I can't put my finger on why; I think it's just a matter of changing priorities as I age. These days I'll rarely commit the time it takes to watching an entire movie, or even an entire TV show (another future post will discuss my abandonment of the idiot box, which I would not have thought possible a few short years ago). I usually only get a few minutes in before realizing that the time would be better spent doing something - almost anything, really - else.

I also don't think that my becoming a Christian, which happened somewhere during those same years, was a major factor. I've always been good at separating fiction from reality, and can still enjoy some entertainment that would really upset Donald Wildmon.

The state of horror movies these days may also have something to do with my gradual loss of interest. Although there are still bright spots, and I'll come to those, most horror films these days have abandoned atmosphere, plot and characters in favour of shock attempts.

The craft of horror filmmaking is also in dire straits. For this I blame first of all The Blair Witch Project (which I did not like). It was shot for nothing, with no script and amateurs in charge of most of the process, and it shows. Far, far too many horror directors now think that jerky camera work, no budget (or at least looking like it), and superfast cuts are "artistic", I guess, and many potentially scary movies have been ruined because of it. There's no shame in using a tripod, or in shooting a coherent scene.

I blame Seven (the Brad Pitt / Morgan Freeman / Kevin Spacey movie whose title I refuse to spell in the cutesy way that seems to be official) for a couple of other problematic tropes of the modern horror genre. First, the scratchy, jerky opening credit sequence. Yes, it was cool once. It may have even been interesting once or twice more. The problem is that it's since been used on, like every single stinkin' horror movie of the last ten years. Directors, stop it. I don't care if you want to go all Blake Edwards on us and have your opening credits delivered by animated anthropomorphic neon-coloured felines, just stop with the jerky scratching.

Second, and far worse, I think that the Torture Porn subgenre (which I was calling that long before I saw the term used by anyone else) may be traceable to Seven. Saw, Hostel, and their revolting, artless ilk are not horror movies. They are simulated snuff films with no art, no craft, and no redeeming qualities. I've never managed to sit through more than a few minutes of one of them (I've tried, in the interest of seeing if I'm wrong), and I hope I never will.

The final major problem with horror cinema over the last few years is the reliance on Japanese remakes (or slavish wannabes who clearly hope you'll think their dreck is based on a Japanese original). The Grudge and The Ring started this trend, which shows no sign of giving up. The Grudge had a few really genuinely creepy images (creepy is good), but no plot, script, or characters. The Ring had two creepy images (the figure walking down the hallway toward the security camera and the ghost crawling out of the TV) and nothing else. The most recent of these I suffered through was The Pulse, which was just awful with nothing memorable about it besides its massive awfulness.

This is turning out to be much longer than I expected, and I'm still not even particularly close to discussing the comic, and in particular the scene, that inspired the whole shebang. Now it's late and I'm getting sleepy, so I'm stopping here with my first-ever


Enough rambling. Here's a picture of my son's shadow. On some concrete.

No comments: