Friday, October 23, 2009

Hate On Me, Not Horror

We horror fans are a surly bunch.

Opinionated. Angry. Easily disappointed and even more easily disheartened. When we’re subjected to hack job remakes and speedily rushed sequels at a rate that defies the speed of a cheetah, it’s no surprise that we tend to bash any movie that dares to appeal to our well-honed tastes. What I wonder now, as Saw VI prepares to land its bloody feet on our ticket stubs, is if we were always such cinematic snobs.

Perhaps it’s the extreme nature at the very heart of most horror films that breeds such intense negativity. I guarantee that just as many people disliked the last tepid romantic comedy as those who greeted Halloween 2 with sneers (I was among the latter group), but you won’t see IMDBers drawing petitions to remove Diane Lane from Must Love Dogs with quite the same levels of ire as those itching to go all Godfather on Sheri Moon-Zombie and her fine white horse

Hating bad horror films is nothing to be ashamed of, especially if the films in question are made and marketed with little heart or respect to what its fans actually want. My problem with the oft-irked horror crowd is our habit of cracking the bad jokes before we actually sit down in the theater. I can’t count how many like-minded film lovers whose opinions I respect have issued death warrants to Jennifer’s Body based on its trailer, cast, and one-credit writer who has somehow amassed mass hatred by penning a single successful indie screenplay. Oh yeah, and of those who have cracked smug grins at the mention of its failed box office, take a guess how many actually confirmed their judgment by seeing the film. 

“Things were so much better in the ‘80s,” we grumble to our babysitting charges while taking a gulp from a rusty can of New Coke. Right, cinema was more innovative when a burly mute was silently slaughtering topless bimbos whose only method of survival was virginity and whininess. What have we come to when the most successful face of horror is a wrinkled old man with actual dialogue about the nature of mankind?

I won’t--and can’t--argue that the Saw series is composed of quality filmmaking, but every Halloween, I never fail to take a deep sigh before issuing a defense of the 5 and counting blockbuster(ish) films. Yes, the gore is gratuitous and the soundtrack grating, but how can someone who forked over $50 for the Friday the 13th boxed set still huff and puff about how torture porn is ruining the horror industry when Jason brought the bar down so low, the only escape was outer space? My idea of date night doesn’t usually include watching Brandon Walsh’s sociology professor get her rib cage torn apart, but at least Dina Meyer’s ill-fated detective was a literate and developed character. 

There’s something charming about ‘80s slasher cinema and daringly dark in the grindhouse days and cannibal genre of the ensuing years. Then again, there’s also more forgettable slashers than a Sesame Street vampire could count before sunrise.  And hey, it took a lot of cruelly killed wildlife in painfully unwatchable movies before Cannibal Holocaust cruelly killed wildlife to make a statement about such painfully wrought cinema. Maybe Martyrs’ twisted analysis of torture is the evolution of “gorenography”; just like we needed eight ho hum Halloween sequels before we could get a Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, so each sub-genre needs to work itself out before it can achieve greatness. In the meantime, we as audiences watch what we like and judge what we actually see.

I can’t claim that we’re currently in a golden age of horror, as thus far, this decade has produced one masterpiece (Let the Right One In) and a few memorable gems that succeed mainly by honoring the old with a smart twist of new (Shaun of the Dead, The Descent, 28 Days Later). Still, there are plenty of modern films to make us celebrate the cinematic time we’re living in. Roll your eyes at Repo! The Genetic Opera for its headache-making chords, but don’t put it in punchlines and turn around with a ready-made rant about how filmmakers are currently devoid of creativity just because the few sparks of newness don’t appeal to your personal tastes. Most of all, bash nothing until you’ve actually basked in its badness. 

Rants and rusty sharp device heavy games are welcome below. Are we a glass of blood is half-empty kinda crowd, or has horror truly taken a dip into disappointing hell? Share your thoughts, preferably after downing a bag of sugar-coated happy thoughts.

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