Horror fans (and I of course am one) are often unfairly maligned by the rest of cinema-viewing society. Because for some reason, we can’t seem to get enough of our beloved genre. The good, the bad, and everything in between, we need it—we need to consume it; and we do, in voracious, uncontrollable amounts. We have conventions and television channels and entire clothing lines; comic books and websites and collectible figures; and every single DVD release of Halloween that’s come down the pike (five so far). We live for it. To quote from "Millennium" (hey, a horror show!), this is who we are. And people notice this, and think us weird. Because, c’mon, who in their right mind walks around in a Freddy Krueger shirt? Who has the Tubular Bells as a ring tone? Who will actually wait two hours in line just to meet the guy who played a bit part in John Carpenter’s The Fog?
We do. Because we’re horror fans.
No one’s going to conventions for romantic comedies. No one has t-shirts dedicated to The Notebook or any of Tyler Perry’s nonsense. And sure as shit is no one waiting in line to meet Rob Schneider—that much I can guarantee you.
Horror, much like life itself, is cyclical. Fads come, we relish in them, we get sick of them, and then they go. After Halloween, we got sick of slasher movies. After Scream, we got sick of teen-casted, pop culture-centered, self-aware who-done-its. After The Ring, we got sick of wet ghost girls crawling out of wells and up walls and across ceilings. After the truly anemic Saw series, we got tired of seeing someone strapped to a table while their fingernails were removed. And could it be…after the poor box office performances of Let Me In, Fright Night, and The Thing…are we finally sick of remakes? (Some would argue that they were sick of them ever since Platinum Dunes saw fit to give us their take on The Texas Chain Saw Massacre back in ‘03, but horror fans’ opinions on message boards are not adhered to as much as they would like to think—it’s the wallets of the mainstream audience that speak volumes.) And sure, while remakes are bad ideas in general, and have only illuminated just how idea-bankrupt Hollywood has become, some of them are just fine. Like that Texas Chain Saw Massacre remake I spoke of earlier. It ain’t half bad. And neither is Zack Snyder’s take on Dawn of the Dead. Sure, your fiercely protective horror fans will lambaste them in some misguided sense of loyalty, and I can understand that. But as far as both of these remakes are concerned, audiences and critics agreed, and the two movies were rightly considered successes. (Entertainment Weekly gave Dawn an A-! Entertainment Weekly! A zombie movie! An A-!)
But what about the other hundreds of remakes and sequels that have come out? Did the world really need Rob Zombie’s truly abhorrent take on Halloween (2007)? Did we really need to find out the back-story of Billy in Black Christmas (2006)? And my goodness, how do you fuck up Friday the 13th (2009) so badly? We’re not talking Shakespeare here, people—we’re talking Voorhees. It’s a pretty cut-and-dried concept, and yet these tepid filmmakers managed to produce a movie filled with annoying characters, boring deaths, and the lazy presence of an iconic figure whose own myth was underrated and disrespected. I’d rather have seen a sequel to the truly ridiculous Jason X than this mess. And speaking of sequels, did you know that with the recent release of the by-all-accounts-terrible Hellraiser: Revelations, there are now more Hellraiser entries that went direct-to-video than were released in theaters? Did you know there are now TEN Children of the Corn movies? Fucking ten! (One of them being a big budget remake in the hands of Dimension Films.) Who the fuck is still renting Children of the Corn ??
So why am I railing on this genre I so claim to love, you ask? What does this have to do with anything? Because I have a problem with horror fans. A huge problem. I love them all, and I count myself as one amongst their flock, but they are a very persnickety bunch. Though they consume every subgenre of horror in bulldozer-sized chunks, they are constantly begging for something new and different; and yet, when something new and different finally comes their way, they ignore it. They claim to desire something fresh and unique, and not just a rehash of everything that has come before, but at the end of the day, they’re sell outs—the same they accuse their beloved filmmakers Carpenter, Romero, and Craven of being for selling off the rights to their film properties for many of the ill-advised remakes that have assaulted our community (and in most cases were not even owned by the filmmakers in the first place). Horror fans speak loudly, but do not carry a big stick. They stay home. They download Hostel 2. They fight on IMDB. But they do not support the original horror that needs to be supported. They instead rent Hellraisers 6, 7, and 8, which has now led us to 9. Those movies are garbage, and they know they are. And while they claim to want more, they simply don't deliver. Why do they eagerly pony up their money to go see bullshit like The Hitcher (2007), in some cases more than once, but let something like the brilliant Zodiac fall by the wayside (which was released the same god damn year)?
Before finally coming to the end of my rant, allow me to explain what a horror fan is, first, in order to help mend fences: We’re the ones who stick by all the bullshit that gets released. We’re the ones keeping the candle lit for further (pure) adventures in Haddonfield, Springwood, and Crystal Lake. We’re the ones who (used to, anyway, while they still existed) sifted through the bargain bins of mom-and-pop video stores looking for an unheralded little gem to thrill us for 90 minutes. We’re the ones who ultimately ended up dipping into European cinema to grab at their take on the zombie subgenre, whose levels of gore and violence blew our own out of the water. We’re the ones who grin and bear it through tedious franchise pictures (looking at you, Child’s Play ) in hopes that the next installment will actually be good. (We know it’s possible; there have been high points in long-running franchises: Halloween 4 for one, The Exorcist III: Legion, another, and even Freddy vs. Jason—yeah, I said it.) We’re even the ones who every once in a while actually have a bit of power and help shape a movie like, say, Snakes on a Plane. (Sorry about that one, by the way.) And sure, sometimes those “other” people—read: mainstream audiences—dip their toes into our pool and walk away with a Paranormal Activity, a Silence of the Lambs, or a Seven. And good for them. But we remain behind, like ever-loyal soldiers. We suffer through horseshit like One Missed Call and the Resident Evil movies, and my goodness, Prom Night (2009). Because it’s our genre. It’s our family, and like family, you take the good with the bad. For every fun Cousin Dave, there’s a thousand creepy Uncle Chesters with whom you’ve got no choice but to co-exist, and we’ve made our peace with that. Like wedding vows between a bride and groom, we’ve signed on for the long haul—through good and bad, health and sickness, [REC] and Quarantine. For every Dracula, there’s a thousand Twilights. But horror fans need to be more discerning. You want to rent one of the rip-offs produced by the Asylum? Fine. I can't tell you any different. But why not keep an eye out for the movies actually worth your time? Why not keep an eye on message boards, or any of the top horror movie websites out there (ShockTillYouDrop.com, DreadCentral.com)? Except for radical misfires every so often (people love Repo: The Genetic Opera? Really?), these guys are on the money, and they know their shit.
Horror shapes the world—it’s a part of our history, our culture, and our subconscious. Fear is our most primal emotion. As John Carpenter states, we’re born afraid. We die afraid. It’s the only emotion we’re guaranteed to feel as human beings. It’s the first and last emotion we’ll ever experience.
The very first narrative film is believed to be Edison’s take on Frankenstein. To date, there have been more books written about Jack the Ripper than Abraham Lincoln. In fifty years, no one will be talking about The Social Network, "NCIS," or even Snooki. They’ll be talking about Michael Myers, "The Twilight Zone," and George Romero. They won’t be breaking down the events of "House" or "Big Love," but they’ll still be analyzing "Twin Peaks" and "The X-Files."
The horror genre is staggering—it’s an aphrodisiac. It has the power to stay with you long after you leave the theater. It’s that palpable force that makes you cautious to turn off the light—that makes you check your backseat, or gives you pause before flashing your high beams at a passing car whose own headlights are off.
Every once in a while, a genuinely great horror movie—one that would rightfully be considered a classic, had it gotten more exposure and love at the box office—makes an appearance. It comes, no one notices, and it goes. But movies like this are important. They need to be treasured and remembered. If intelligent, original horror is supported, then that's what we'll begin to receive, in droves. We need to make these movies a part of the legendary genre we hold so dear. Because these are the unsung horrors. These are the movies that should have been successful, but were instead ignored. They should be rightfully praised for the freshness and intelligence and craft that they have contributed to our genre forevermore.
So, better late than never, we’re going to celebrate them now…one at a time.
Part one: Lake Mungo. Coming soon.