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The Dark Side of Horror – Part 2 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Written by Mike Watt   
Apr 27, 2005 at 02:00 AM
“The Dark Side of Horror”. What the hell are you talking about? It’s horror. It’s all dark side!

Well, what I’m referring to is the treatment of the genre. Particularly the “I smell a buck to be made” studio trend to shoot the horse, beat it, set fire to it, beat the ashes-style of approaching a film trend.

As I more or less pointed out in the last column, Scream is generally credited for having revived the horror genre in the ‘90s by calling attention to the conventions of the slasher subgenre. It let the audience in on the joke and did, actually, provide a few scares along the way. Later, The Blair Witch Project gave the independent horror film some legitimacy (odd that Meyrick and Sanchez, the guys behind BWP, haven’t faired so well in their own careers) and allowed movies to be scary again (don’t argue with me—I don’t care if you liked or hated it; a lotta folks were scared by it and that’s all there is to it).

Well, now we’re about a decade into the new horror boom, and the studios are continuing their aforementioned trend. Just as they did to kill it in the early ‘80s, they’re cranking out crap film after crap film, rushing things into production and slapping CGI monsters here and there without thought to logistics or even rudimentary design. Did anyone fear the big blobby thing at the end of the jokey House on Haunted Hill remake? Say what you want about the actual movie, the end creature looked like something that could have been dispelled with an industrial fan. Or what about the more recent, albeit strangely successful, travesty, TheBoogeyman? While you barely got a good look at the lazily-rendered title creature (which was apparently slapped on in a hasty post-production afterthought ending), what little you did see was not scary and didn’t convince anyone that it could ever scare anyone, much less a kid brought up on video games and AIDS culture, like Barry Watson’s character (I don’t care how many fathers it sucked into his closet).

The Boogeyman is just the latest shoddy attempt at wrenching a buck out of the audiences, and sadly, it appears to have worked like a charm. As of this writing, it’s #2 in the Box Office Horse Race, and has raked in $33 million dollars so far. Not bad for a movie that looks like it cost six bucks to make. Of course, it’s surrounded by kids’ movies and Will Smith, so how could it not do well? It’s even beating out the more-stylish, but just as cheap (from a script-standpoint) Hide and Seek, despite the latter’s powerhouse actor DeNiro slumming it for thrills (perhaps he was thinking, ‘Well, Nicholson did The Shining…’).

As usual, all Hollywood is looking at is the Box Office—a “duh” statement if there ever was one. I stated in the last column that horror fans just aren’t that picky. They’d prefer to go see any piece of shit than nothing at all. And I must confess that I’m as much a sucker as the rest of you. I was conned into seeing the bewilderingly-dull Darkness, despite my better judgment, when I saw Brian Yuzna’s name attached. I allowed myself to be sucked into The Boogeyman’s ad campaign because of the affection I feel for the Raimi/Tapert combo. Because of these names, I expected better movies. I expected Re-Animator and I expected Evil Dead. I would have also accepted Darkman and Bride of Re-Animator. Halfway through Darkness and The Boogeyman, I think I also would have preferred Society or For Love of the Game!

I’m picking on these two because they’re the most recent, and therefore, freshest in my memory. But it wasn’t too long ago—just a handful of years, really—where Hollywood was actually allowing horror movies to take chances because they were still feeling their way through a relatively new (in Hollywood’s ADD memory) genre. We were given pretty original fare like Jeepers Creepers, The Others, The Sixth Sense, and Wrong Turn (don’t argue with me—they all had style, suspense and/or genuine feeling infused throughout whether you liked them or not). Yes, we were also given shit like Valentine and 13 Ghosts and Ghost Ship—all which could have been really good, had anyone bothered to pay the slightest bit of attention to the scripts!

And that’s the biggest problem. It isn’t the rampant CGI taking the place of genuine scares. It’s the fact that movies aren’t made with the audience in mind, no matter what the suits insist on telling you. Hollywood thinks you’re stupid. Bottom line. And they’re right. All of the above movies made money, good, bad or “Jesus, this sucks!”, because, as stated, you and I will go to see anything even remotely horror. We’re junkies. And Hollywood caught on. So now we’re getting remakes, rather than follow-ups (Evil Dead, I’m looking at you) and remakes nobody cared about in the first place (i.e. The Amityville Horror). Now we’re getting prequels (Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning) and movies with “the” followed by generic nouns (The Cave, The Curse, The Cash-Cow To Be Later Titled). Because they know—they fucking know—we’ll go to see them.

And because they want to get the younger asses in the seats, most of these will be watered-down PG-13 yawn-fests. Yes, I know, a PG-13 doesn’t automatically equal crap, but there’s a strong argument to support the contrary (Alien Vs. Predator, The Boogeyman, Darkness). There are equal arguments to support the positive (The Grudge, The Ring). And there are inevitable “Unrated Director’s Cut” DVDs to look forward to. Which we’ll buy to support their bad habits.

There is no easy fix to this problem. As I said, I’m just as guilty as the rest of you. Lord knows I’ve tried to be good, though. I avoided Alone in the Dark, just as most of you have, so many were spared. I did my best to stay away from The Forgotten, but that still stayed in the top ten for over a dozen weeks, so I can’t be blamed for that one.

Ultimately, the problem lies in Hollywood, because they don’t listen anyway. They continue to make strange snap-judgments even contrary to their own data. We scream and rant and rave that we want more gore and we want our nudity back! But, see, that would upset the parents and the Religious Right, who wouldn’t see these movies anyway (but think of the children!), so we get the PG-13s and the kiddies are safe. Movies like the outrageously gory Dawn of the Dead remake go through the roof (hell, even the odious House of the Dead, with its ‘tits galore’ attitude made money), but still, Hollywood’s squeamish. We don’t want to offend anyone, do we? (Goddammit! We’re talking about monsters and killers and fiends! They tend to make a fucking mess!!)

So, in a sense, horror is doomed no matter what we do, and we can only hope that things like The Devil’s Rejects and (shudder) Return of the Living Dead 4 & 5 will deliver the promised goods along the way. Because at some point, there will be one too many remakes and/or crappy slashers made and the Box Office will start to reflect our displeasure. And rather than pay attention to what makes this movie money as opposed to that one, Hollywood suits are just going to say, “Okay, horror’s dead. Let’s move onto killing science fiction.” They won’t hear our cries for better scripts and scarier killers. They won’t look at Alone in the Dark and say ‘Well, that didn’t make money because it wasn’t scary or special and it was just stupid.’ They’ll say, ‘That didn’t make any money because people don’t like big monsters in movies. Let’s kill all the ‘big monster’ movies we had planned!”

Which, of course, isn’t what we meant at all.

It’s okay to have faith in the human race. It’s optimism and occasionally it works. The same can occasionally be said for Hollywood, except that there is so little thought-process going on over there. They think with their wallets and nothing more. They live in the moment, not in the future. Suits are not ones to plan ahead. There’s just no time. Today’s executive could be tomorrow’s mail boy and vice versa. So what’s making money now? That horrible thing? Make it again. Use bigger guns in the end, and more pixels in that shadowy whatever-it-is!

Take comfort, though, that horror never truly goes away. Remember, the first movie ever made was a horror movie. The first tale told around the fire was a horror story. They’ll trickle in long after the genre is, yet again, pronounced dead. They’ll be made in back yards and basements, with ever-evolving digital video, affordable high-def, whatever. We find ways to scare ourselves. It averts our attention from the real-life horrors, and that is very, very important.

So, Hollywood, do your worst. We have no say in the matter, after all. And we know it doesn’t matter to you one way or the other, but we’ll make our own movies and create our own nightmares. Just as we have always done.


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