Sunday, February 6, 2011

Five Reasons to be Stoked about the Current State of Horror

I’m more excited about horror now than I’ve ever been, including my teenage years when Freddy Krueger was all the rage and we still believed Friday Part 4 was the final chapter. Part of the reason for my excitement, I’ll admit, is that I hardly watched any horror for the better part of a decade. I blame my kids. As soon as my first son was born, I completely lost my tolerance for screen violence. But after eight maddening years of non-stop child-rearing, I was more than ready to see some good blood-letting. When I returned to the fold a few years ago, I was amazed at what I had missed.  Great things have been a-brewin’ in the world of horror over the last decade. So here’s my list of the top 5 reasons I’m stoked about the current state of horror.

Horror makes me happy!
1. Europe is bringing it – Remember late’70s/early ‘80s horror, and that rugged collection of independent filmmakers who could take a shoestring budget and craft it into the gritty, disturbing films that would become the future classics of the genre? You know, before Hollywood smelled the money in all that blood? Well that’s what’s going on in Europe right now. Armed with tiny budgets and endless imagination, the new Europeans horror auteurs are bringing scary back. Even in this new age of ultra-gore, these filmmakers are finding new ways to unnerve us. My fellow Americans, it’s time to shed that irrational fear of subtitles and embrace the new century’s best horror.  Here’s your must-see list:
High Tension – Alexandre Aja’s slasher on steroids is relentless and brutal. Lots of people have a problem with the ending, but don’t let that ruin it for you. Besides, if it was just a straightforward slasher, you wouldn’t spend the next three days thinking about it.
[REC] – This is the absolute masterpiece of the found-footage horror genre. By the finale, I literally could not believe my eyes.  I was like, “I know what I’m seeing isn’t real, but it’s not CGI either, so what the hell is that thing?” My wife had to sleep with the lights on for a week.
The Descent – If you seriously can’t stand subtitles or dubbing, behold, here’s one in English.  Spelunking is just inherently terrifying, so I was pissing myself before things even got weird. Director Neil Marshall seems to be moving away from horror for the moment, but this and Dog Soldiers should be enough to earn him a place in horror history.
Also check out Frontier(s), Sheitan, Martyrs, Slaughter Night, and The Orphanage, at the least.

2. New School American Horror – Forget Hatchet’s tagline, this is the New School of American horror, and it’s looking damned promising.  Here are some of the Yanks who are taking it to the next level.
Adam Green – Seriously, I didn’t think Frozen would be that scary. I mean, the premise is terrifying – being trapped on a ski lift for a week in subzero temperatures—but really, how can you make that into a movie?  Ask Adam Green, or better yet watch his film to see how it’s done.  While Frozen is his finest, Spiral is another fine, unsettling character piece, while the Hatchet movies bring the fun back to slasher flicks.
Eli Roth – Okay, lots of people don’t like Eli Roth, but come on, have you seen Hostel II? I strongly suspect that it’s his personality people have a problem with, because his skill as a filmmaker speaks for itself, and his movies get progressively better.  With any luck, Roth’s best films are yet to come.
Rob Zombie – Quiet down everyone. I know, I know.  All of Zombie’s films are deeply flawed in numerous ways, but it’s hard to argue that he has established himself as a unique voice in American horror.  Love him or hate him, his films are always interesting.  He’s got brutal, gruesome imagery down to a science, so if he just brushes up on his suspense, he may change some minds yet.

3. Indie Horror – I went to film school in the late 90’s and remember having to sign up weeks in advance to get a few hours in one of the editing suites. Student and amateur filmmakers today don’t even know how lucky they are.  These days editing software comes standard with pretty much every computer, and even cheapie $100 digital cameras are capable of shooting video and sound.  Of course, there’s more to filmmaking than equipment, but at least there’s opportunity for young filmmakers to practice, hone their craft, and even make a releasable film on practically no budget.  Paranormal Activity, of course, is the little indie that could, but there are hundreds of lesser known films out there vying for the opportunity to become the next big thing.  I honestly haven’t seen that much indie horror, so I don’t have a list of must-sees. I can recommend Stacie Ponder’s Ludlow (see my review here), but that’s about it.  Hopefully this blog will start to attract some followers and people will start sending me screeners (Dawning and Dead Hooker in a Trunk, I'm looking at you).

4. The Horror Blogosphere – My current obsession with horror is only half about the movies themselves. There’s a thriving horror community out there that is getting the word out about the best of what’s bloody. Back in film school, it wasn’t so hard to find like-minded people who loved nothing better than to talk movies, even horror movies all day.  Since joining the workforce and moving to a low-population area that is more rest home than college town, I’ve run low on real live people to discuss my interests with.  Now all the hardcore horror heads are online and I’ve been introduced to so many great films that I want to give the whole internet a big, groping hug.

5. Availability - Back in the day, if my video store didn’t have it, I didn’t get to see it.  These days we have Netflix streaming hundreds of titles to my freakin’ videogame console.  Some indie filmmakers let you watch their films for free on the web.  Forget that no good movies ever come to my local theater, who needs ‘em? My other main source of horror films is the venerable pawn shop.  Back in 1999, I got my first DVD player, and the first movie I bought for it was John Carpenter’s Vampires.  I got it from a pawn shop for $8 (VHS tapes were $5).  These days, most pawn shops in my area have a massive selection of DVDs for $2-$3 each.  I must have bought 80 movies in the last two months.  Now all I need is the time to watch them.


  1. I think you're absolutely correct. Another factor to consider is the mainstreaming of gore. Shows like CSI and Bones routinely feature some serious blood and guts on network television. This has made for looser ratings for horror films that can get away with a lot more in an R-rated movie than they used to. While I'm very excited about the current state of horror I do mourn the ever-present use of CGI blood in favor of practical effects, but it's a reality that's not going away.
    I have a copy of [REC] and haven't gotten to it yet. I have a feeling I'll make some time for it this weekend. You've been selling it pretty hard for a while now.

  2. CGI violence done right is a beautiful thing, especially in terms of sharp objects penetrating flesh. Of course, it's damned hard to get the gore part of it right, so I think CGI and practical effects go together like flies and the undead.

  3. It can look good, but sometimes when they use CGI for stabbings and the like it looks like the knife is floating. But, you're right. It can be used effectively, but when it's not it is so disappointing.

  4. Just watched [REC] and found it enjoyable. I took your advice as put this on my Netflix queue some time ago and it finally came. I am not a big fan of the found footage phenomenon, I find it to be annoying and sloppy. But, despite the style, [REC] was really fun to watch. What sold it for me was the pacing. The movie is short, under 80 min, and it is a non stop assault. Once it gets going it just hammers you. Love the fast paced pandemonium.

  5. I'm a sucker for found footage movies, and I think [REC] is the best out there. Glad you liked it.


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