October 28, 2013 by bck1402
As much as I enjoy movies, I’d admit that I’m not a big fan of the horror genre. One major contributing aspect is this country’s moral guardians when it comes to censorship of the movies that reach our big screens. Sure, it’s a little more lax these days, probably due to the difficulty in actually taking a scissors to the digital format. But then, such movies seldom come in the digital format, which still allows for the snipping of the occasional profanity and the more obvious naughty bits. Then again, horror movies is considered big business where our local cinemas are concerned.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate horror movies. I do have a few favourites, and there a few that did freak me out as much as scare the crap out of me. Maybe it’s just the modern horror and the over-reliance on gore effects that I can’t be bothered with. Maybe it’s just the concept, or the over-saturation of a certain idea. Or maybe, there are too many of the other movies for me to bother with this particular genre? But then, there is still the occasional horror movie that grabs my attention.
If I go back to the beginning, the first movie to make an impact was Jaws (1975) and this was closely followed by Orca (1977) and then came years of aquaphobia. Heck, I was even scared of the damn swimming pool! (Although that may have been the more primal fear of drowning, but still.) Now, Jaws is one of my all time favourite movies. You have to keep in mind that in those days, movies travelled. There wasn’t simultaneous worldwide opening and screenings. By the time I saw those two movies in the cinema, it might have been between 1977 – 1978. Going to the cinema was an occasion.
I think most of us get into horror movies during our formative tween years. That age when just about discovering the world through the movies we happen to come across. I already was a bit of a TV addict at that time and there was the occasional movie I did get a glimpse of that had some horror elements. They may not necessarily have been outright horror movies, but at that young impressionable age (say, under 10 years of age), someone creeping about in the dark or even a skeleton popping on screen would seem scary. So, for me, the first movie that would be classified as a horror movie came during the early years of the home video revolution.
And that movie would be… Evil Dead II (1987), courtesy of my cousin. I honestly cannot recall any movie before that which might be considered a horror movie.* And it’s weird because I do remember watching A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) but it might have been later. This wasn’t a period when I was actively running off to the cinema and a lot of these movies were seen on video. And it’s hard to even imagine that there was a 5-6 year gap between The Evil Dead (1981) and its sequel. In any case, I would be about 15-16 years old by the time I set eyes on Evil Dead II.
[* add. Yeah, something did come to mind. There was a screening of The Exorcist over television one night. I can’t exactly recall when, and i didn’t catch the movie from the beginning. It was more like the family came home after dinner and shopping, so it was quite late getting home. I turned on the TV, as I normally would in those days, and then just watched it from there on. And how did I know the movie? It was a few years later I learnt the title when watching it on video and let’s just say that there were some iconic moments i.e. the crucifix scene (not something you’ll forget). I’ll get to this movie later.]
Now, how many of you would actually consider Evil Dead II as an actual horror movie?
Granted, The Evil Dead was a pure horror movie, but Evil Dead II was leaning more towards that weird schizophrenic zone between horror and slapstick comedy, mostly thanks to Bruce Campbell’s awesome performance. Still, there were some solid scare moments in that movie, less so by the time the third entry, Army Of Darkness (1992), rolled around and planting its foot firmly into the fantasy adventure genre. (It’s strange to find out that Evil Dead II still has it’s X rating.)
In the years since, I devoured quite a few horror movies, often through video tapes. This was a time when copyright enforcement wasn’t quite in effect yet and there were tons of video rental places. Heck, they even rented movies that had been taped off a TV broadcast! Indiana Jones And The Temple of Doom (1984) was a 90 minute feature with lots of the more gory scenes (heart ripping, child whipping) professionally edited out. Of course, by the time the official video version came out, most of those edits stayed in place. My memory of the cinematic version in comparison to the home video edition, even on Blu-Ray, differ quite a bit. Noticeable editing choices are very visible to me. But I digress.
So, I got into the Nightmare series, Evil Dead of course, some of the Halloween movies (not all), some of the Friday the 13th movies (also not all), and of course discovered the works of George Romero, David Cronenberg, Wes Craven, Sam Raimi (obviously, although he didn’t really stay in the horror genre), John Carpenter, Stuart Gordon and more, along with the films of Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing (I suppose that would generally be classified as Hammer Horror). As the years passed, ‘horror’ became less of a genre than simply a catch-all classification for this bunch of movies. I had taken a liking to creature features and seldom saw them as horror movies (Jaws and Orca would fall into this category, as would many others) even if the gore would push it that direction. I learnt to differentiate horror from thrillers (the likes of Alfred Hitchcock thanks to Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963)).
The quiet slow build dread that permeated through the likes of Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Exorcist (1973) seemed to be more effective horror movies to me. It was the kind that would slowly borrow their way into your mind and then sort of haunt you for days later. It was probably due to the more real world aspect of their stories compared to the likes of the stalker / slasher horror movies (Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers) of later years. The Exorcist itself enhance the real world aspect by eschewing the use of a soundtrack, relying mostly on performances, make-up and some very effective physical effects that still hold up today. By today’s standards, it might be considered slow and boring (probably moreso for Rosemary’s Baby).
There were the more psychological horror that seemingly stayed away from flashy visual effects, none more effective than The Haunting (1963) that solely relied on sound effects and solid performances. The remake in 1999 decided to add the flashy visual effects and did it no favours. It was the lack of visual effects that drove the success of The Blair Witch Project (1999) which also relied on sound effects and performances of its stars. Blair Witch did revive the found footage sub-genre (that can be traced back to 1980’s Cannibal Holocaust), which did give us Paranormal Activity (2007) having some control over its visual effects; and creature feature Cloverfield (2008) which went to town with the visual effects. And I loved The Last Exorcism (2010), that was effective. In any case, it’s a sub genre that isn’t going anywhere, what with the recent releases such as The Dyatlov Pass Incident (2013, okay-ish) and Europa Report (2013, haven’t seen it). And despite how it looks and being classified so, Chronicle (2012) shouldn’t be in this category. Pay attention to the movie and you’ll know why it isn’t a ‘found footage’ movie.
My interest kinda waned with the rise of what I called ‘survivalist horror’ or more commonly these days, “torture porn” which I think started with Eli Roth and Hostel (2005). This was violence and gore for the sake of violence and gore, and it has gotten more extreme as the years moved on. It’s almost as if the directors are trying to see just what they can get away with, and it’s given rise to the likes of Martyrs (2008), The Human Centipede (2010) and more notoriously, A Serbian Film (2010), but I’ve never seen them. Really. I can’t think of any reason why I’d want to watch anything like Human Centipede, and as for A Serbian Film, it’s not something that can easily found over here… unless I seek it out illegally (which of course, would be the way to watch such movies anyway). I did watch Hostel and Hostel II (2007) though, and that was it. Nope, haven’t seen any of the Saw movies either, but I did see a few of the Final Destination movies.
Not to say that there still aren’t some decent horror movie out there. There are other movies and such that I didn’t touch on. I’m not that big on the gory stuff, even if it permeates through so many movies these days, mostly thanks to the use of it on TV and their procedurals (see CSI and the like, although we might trace it back to The X-Files) And that being said, I did get into the body horror of Cronenberg movies (Rabid, Videodrome, eXistenZ, The Fly, the exploding head of Scanners and several more) and it looks like his son, Brandon, is either following his father’s footsteps or paving his own way with Antiviral (2012). And while in that category, let’s acknowledge Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator (1985) and From Beyond (1986) as well as Brian Yuzna’s Society (1989) and their off-spring, James Gunn’s Slither (2006).
Having been around as long as it has, horror does have its cliches. This does lead to movies playing with the typical conventions and the end result often doesn’t really fall into the horror category. Maybe with the exception of Scream (1996) which does come across more of a suspense/thriller type than actual horror. The Cabin In The Woods (2012) of course tackles that convention and archetypical characters, and becomes more of a roller-coaster thrill ride than an actual horror movie, relishing its creature feature moment in the second half splatter fest. Detention (2011) plays a little with the high school slasher concept, even acknowledging Scream at one point, and the heads off into some truly strange and weird territory (including sci-fi, time travelling, body switching, body horror and John Hughes movies) which does make it rather fun to watch.
I’m not going to make a list of notable horror movies here though. There are other places and other horror fans who know better what should be noticed (Dario Argento, Roman Polanski perhaps) and what can be passed on (too many to mention, but it’s a matter of taste). But let me do this instead… a few scenes and movies that did give me the chills, aside from the few already mentioned above.
- There was a scene in Mimic (1997, Guillermo del Toro, dir.) towards the end (spoiler, I guess). The insects of the movie were evolving and when that egg opened at the end, right before the explosion, there was a foetus inside showing the level of evolution the insects had achieved. That was creepy and chilling, and sent a shiver down my spine. The scene has since been removed in the new Director’s Cut.
- The mirror scene in Below (2002, David Twohy, dir.). The movie takes place on a submarine and after a fire had broken out, some of the crew go to investigate the damage. We’re told that the lack of oxygen might play with visual perception so when one of the crew notices his reflection in a mirror having a slightly slower reaction to his movements, it seemed like a malfunction in his breathing apparatus, until… It’s a very effective and chilling moment.
- The crucifix scene in The Exorcist. And The Spider-Walk (in the extended version). I know, mentioned it earlier, but ya gotta have this.
- The face peeling in Poltergeist (1982, Tobe Hooper, dir.) Okay, maybe not so much these days, but it is still memorable from the first time I saw it. It’s the only part of the movie that freaks me out, then… and a little now.
- The revelation / realisation of who his client is and who he was hired to find in Angel Heart (1987, Alan Parker, dir.)- shudder. Well, then on the first watch. Not so much now.
- Best jump scare ever, still- The Thing (1982, John Carpenter, dir.)
- The passing bicycle rider; breaking the fourth wall; “My favourite colour is blue.” all from In The Mouth of Madness (1994, John Carpenter, dir.)
I probably should have more, but nothing else is coming to mind right now. But as for the movie that gives me the heebie-jeebies… well, voodoo basically creeps me out (as you might notice above with that last movie) and I’ve only seen this movie once in its entirety, and hardly complete since then, because it still freaks me out. That movie is The Serpent and The Rainbow (1988) directed by Wes Craven.
Then again, I might just be a wimp where horror movies are concerned.