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Where Have the Ideas Gone PDF Print E-mail
Written by Written by Mike Watt   
Aug 13, 2005 at 02:00 AM
In his book, “Stupography”, and his blog, “The Hard Way” before it, John Skipp called all of us horror filmmakers to arms.

He went to see the remake of Dawn of the Dead on opening weekend last year and was thoroughly entertained by the resulting empty-headed fare. And later, the empty-headedness of it hit him and he realized that all the good movies from the ‘70s, the ones that are held in such high regard by horror fans, are being remade with fewer calories.

Arguing the merits of Romero’s Dawn over Zack Snyder’s is pointless. It’s been done already, by countless others (who have since moved on to debate the new Star Wars trilogy vs the original). It remains a fact: Romero made a movie rife with social commentary, using zombies as a metaphor.

The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, for good or ill, was made to present a xenophobic look at the unknown to be found in backwater Texas. The original looks and feels like a documentary. The remake looks and feels like the original scrubbed clean, with a “pretty” filter over the entire thing, and then dumbed down so that Joe Jr., having been interrupted from his 20-hour X-Box marathon, could understand that the bad guys are killing the good guys.

Paul Schrader was ordered to make a prequel to The Exorcist, arguably the greatest horror movie ever made. He was told to make it “just like the original”. So he did. He shot a movie that debates humanity’s relationship with the divine, the nature of good and evil, and the entirety of Christianity viewed through modern eyes.

And the studio went nuts. “We wanted vomit and spinning heads!” So they yanked Schrader’s version and put the story in the hands of Renny Harlin, who wouldn’t know depth if cinderblocks were tied to his ankles and he was heaved into the ocean.

(And when Harlin’s The Exorcist: The Prequel was laughed off the screens by a dissatisfied audience, horror fans thought they’d gotten the last laugh. Schrader’s version was resurrected and distributed… or, sort of. It found its way to a mere 100 screens across the country… on the same weekend as Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. I have yet to meet a single person that saw Dominion: The Exorcist. That’ll teach that know-it-all Schrader to make a good movie.)

So Skipp called the rest of us to arms to make new classic horror movies. It’s the perfect time. Our new millennia is certainly mirroring the Viet Nam era with its unpopular war, illogically enforced patriotism and a government that thoroughly despises its citizens. Now is the perfect time for horror that has meat and weight to it. (Sort of the argument I’ve been making these past few years.)

But what have we been getting?

The Boogeyman.

White Noise.

The Amityville Horror.

House of FUCKING Wax!!

We’re getting remakes with half the fat and “less carbs”. Nothing to chew on. Escapism. Entertainment.

We’re not being scared. We’re being told at the outright, “Guys, we’re gonna scare you now, so don’t be scared, okay?”

Movies aren’t about anything anymore.

And on the low-budget level, where a good script is the only thing we can afford, the same, endless serial-killer, back-yard zombie crap is being churned out by the bucketful. Why aren’t we telling small, personal, scary stories? Scary on an intellectual level, if not visceral?

I read interviews with the hot new indie guy who talks about wanting to push the envelope, and then I get pointless nonsense.

“Push the envelope”.

That must mean more gore and close-to-porn sex scenes, right?

Sure. What the hell? Gore and nudity is cheap. Writing a good script is hard fucking work. And it’s not like audiences give a shit about a good script anyway, right?

Maybe those guys are right. What the hell do I know?

Am I any better? I produced a goofy comedy about a serial killer that attacked a sorority house. I churned out another “chock full ‘o zombies” movie. Didn’t I?

I’m not putting Happy Cloud Pictures on a pedestal. Severe Injuries and The Resurrection Game have their flaws, God knows. But since I brought us up, I might as well use us to try and make a point.

With both The Resurrection Game and Severe Injuries—and, our new one, Banshee—our original thoughts were movies with much less redeemable intentions. The original drafts of both the former scripts were balls-out Airplane-style comedies. Severe Injuries got toned down in subsequent drafts, with a lot of self-referential, self-conscious humor removed for the better by director Amy Lynn Best. We fell in love with The Resurrection Game when we accidentally realized that it had a plot. In Banshee, we wanted to do something quick that we could sell to the horror market. What we wound up with is a slasher movie wrapped around the concept of death—the nature of death and how it affects those in their early 30s—like us—when the first one of your friends drops dead of natural causes (as opposed to, say, normal horror movie causes like bloody murders).

In short, we’ve been trying to sell out for years and make something that will just “entertain”. But we’re having a hell of a time doing it. We keep making movies that are accidentally about something. Or, at least, we hope they are.

The Resurrection Game has virtually nothing to do with zombies. It has more to do with corporations run rampant amid an uncaring government that actually has stock in the corporation (Haliburton anyone? Albeit years before Haliburton became a word common to the Watt household). It also has a lot to do with the fleeting nature of fame and the importance of redemption. How greatness is often achieved through sacrifice. How someone who has nothing to lose learns that he or she actually gives a shit about something when that something is important enough.

Severe Injuries is a very silly, inane comedy about trying to fulfilling a dream, making a loved-one proud. It’s about finding pride in yourself when everyone else thinks you’re an idiot, or an old crone, or a loser. In order to get some of the jokes in Severe Injuries, you actually have to have seen a couple of movies, and, in a couple of cases in particular, read a book or two.

Whether these movies succeed or fail is largely up to the viewer. We’ve been criticized as often as we’ve been complimented—in many cases, for exactly the same thing!

It’s all subjective, and I realize that. But as I’ve said before, as long as, at the end of the day, I’m proud of the movie I’ve made, then I can stand up against my critics without a single flinch.

I love horror movies. The first story ever told in a cave, amid a roaring fire and flickering shadows, was a horror story. The first movie ever made, depending on your point of view, was a horror movie (if you consider Edison’s Frankenstein to be the first movie). I like horror movies when they’re “mere” entertainment (Bride of Chucky). But I love them when they’re about something (The Exorcist).

Like science fiction, the best horror has to do with ideas. In horror’s case, it’s the idea of something outside of your control looking to do you harm, or life after death, or the pain and suffering of death itself. But if there’s no meat, there’s no real fear.

So to the rest of you indie horror guys out there, seriously, push the envelope: give us characters we care about—villains, victims and heroes—give us situations that will scare us, make us go through the torture and wonder what we would do in that given situation. Give us something to think about, after the goose bumps have died down. Make us still scared long after the credits have rolled.

Let Hollywood have their empty remakes. We can’t stop them and we can’t convince them it’s a bad idea.

Everyone has the budget for a really good idea and a really good story. Start there and make a movie around it. Give us meat with our blood.

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