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April 25th, 2018

Scared Stiff: The State of Horror

For as long as I can remember I have been a fan of horror films. Sure, when I was younger my tastes were watered down and ignorant, I might have enjoyed Hollywood diluted releases much like many of the J-horror remakes, but I was also terrified as a kid by films like FRIDAY THE 13th, HALLOWEEN and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. I know I’m not committing blasphemy by saying that theatrical horror releases just don’t have the bite that films released back in their heyday did or any of the work coming out of the foreign markets. I sincerely doubt that many of the films released now will be remembered as timeless classics. I believe the one that might still be talked about is the SAW series, which is disappointing because after the first two I feel the series is extremely lackluster. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY might be a possible exception, but given the advancement in technology and the balls to the wall foreign films, it’s only a matter of time someone finds a way to best even that super low budget spooker, and that’s coming from someone that LOVES the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies.

Last month I compiled a list of my favorite horror movies of the year so far [Top 10 Best Horror Movies of 2010 So Far], and while I stand behind that list, I have to admit that many of the films that compile the top of it (FROZEN, BURIED, SHUTTER ISLAND), fall more into the realm of thrillers than they do straight out horror. I happen to think of thrillers as a branch of horror, but when I think of straight out horror I am referring to the classic types of movie monsters like vampires and werewolves, supernatural beings like ghosts, slashers and so on. In the past few years there have been a few gems such as TRICK R’ TREAT, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, and THE DESCENT, just to name a few, and one thing that many of my favorite horror movies as of late have in common is that they have had extremely lackluster releases. Ninety percent of the time the horror movies I look forward to the most play in festival circuits; I’ve never attended a film festival, and when their festival runs have culminated they sit and collect dust on the shelves, play overseas or are dumped straight to DVD. As much as I enjoy getting to see something I’ve looked forward to for a long time even on DVD, I find that these direct to DVD releases sometimes take an incredibly long time to find its way to the shelves. Over the years it has become a chore to keep tabs on the horror movies I look forward to the most; their quality often reaches far beyond the Hollywood remakes and even original properties that get wide theatrical releases.

When you take a look at how most horror movies perform at the box office, for fans, it’s extremely worrying because if the horror movies they make do not make decent money at the box office there is a good chance they’ll abandon the genre and work in a more lucrative genre, one that is the gleam in audience’s eyes. Horror movies flourish in the month of October and surrounding months while Halloween is still somewhat on the radar, but it is not a genre that works ONLY at that time of year. Like any other genre, horror can be enjoyed all year round and remains as effective no matter the season. Now the problem around Halloween if the name of your movie isn’t SAW or PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, it’s likely any other horror movie won’t be sitting atop the box office. The problem with the other 11 months of the year is that big budget action blockbusters or popular sequels are often diminishing the box office numbers for most horror movies looking to make an impact. Horror movies are at a disadvantage since the wide variety of them that get released get an R rating which already cuts the audience old enough to buy tickets down considerably, and many PG-13 affairs don’t offer quite enough bite for certain horror fans. Evidence of horror’s declining presence can be found in recent box office bombs like LET ME IN and MY SOUL TO TAKE; the latter having the worst opening weekend for a 3D movie ever, which is deserved as the film was terrible [Top 5 Worst Horror Movies of 2010 So Far], but discouraging because it’s just another example of the downward slope of theatrically release horror movies.

At the end of the year I have no doubt that there will be top ten lists full of solid horror films, but how many of them will be films released direct to video, or have slack limited releases. There have been several films in the last few years that studios have dumped in less than maybe 10 theaters and sometimes right into discount theaters, as was the fate of the decent MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN. This year there have even been filmmakers trying to do the impossible by releasing unrated horror in limited theaters only to have them pulled altogether as with Adam Green’s HATCHET II and the remake of I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE. It is encouraging to see filmmakers committing to the genre in that way but again at the same time depressing that theaters won’t give the audiences the privilege or the right to be able to decide what we want to see or how we want to see it.

The real fresh air coming into the genre is the work going on in the foreign market. Over the last few years we’ve gotten solid horror releases such as INSIDE, MARTYRS and LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. Yet most if not all the foreign films do not see theatrical release here in the states, instead we catch them if and when they make it to the DVD shelves, sometimes not making it there years after completion and festival screenings. Over the last three years or more I look forward to and follow foreign horror movies far more than what is shoved into theaters. I still see the horror movies that get released; I just don’t look forward to them as much as I would a foreign movie. A perfect example of what I’m referring to is an Australian film that’s made several film festivals and has been released in Australia and as a UK DVD release is THE LOVED ONES. This is a film I have followed and anticipated for nearly two years or more and has hit such a level for me that I haven’t felt since I first saw THE DARK KNIGHT trailer nearly a year before its release. Not all foreign horror films touch on fresh material but the unencumbered way that they present the material is far more daring than what American theater audiences are used to. They often push the envelope in ways that really challenge the viewers with their content.

I am not lobbying for every single horror movie to get shoved into theaters, or that I expect the genre to become so popular that each of them starts making AVATAR and THE DARK KNIGHT level box office numbers. I simply wish that the quality of the horror that is released not be tailored for the audiences with less discerning tastes and more for the fans that actually love the genre. Horror is an extremely divisive genre with fans with very different tastes and preferences so not everything is going to get unconditional praise. Yet for fans they don’t expect Oscar worthy performances, but don’t discourage them either, they just want material that is going to entertain and challenge them in a way that is worthwhile and satisfying. A win in the genre for me would be to be able to take a trip to the theaters and be given the opportunity to see a film like MARTYRS or A SERBIAN FILM if I so felt inclined to do so. The current rating system and rules makes it impossible for films like that to be shown as they are intended. As it stands now horror fans are forced to pay to see movies they don’t necessarily want to see in order to support the genre and endure long amounts of time to see stuff they would rather give their hard earned money to.

For the most part I wanted to be able to look back and examine my thoughts about what horror has become the last few years. In my opinion the life of a decent horror film only thrives once it hits DVD because as mentioned before the vast majority sink fast in the theaters. It isn’t always the studio to blame because when they do take chances they often are not rewarded as the horror community only represents a small portion of the audience attending movies, so general audience’s tastes have evolved to a point that horror has not become the most lucrative genre of film to work in for filmmakers.

If we are to end up watching decent horror films on DVD rather than in theaters, then my hope is that it doesn’t take so long for them to find their way to the DVD shelves in order for us to see them. To wrap up my thoughts I wanted to throw in a short list of horror films that I have personally been following for a good amount of time and have yet to be released. I will explain why I’ve been looking forward to it along with any actual release info I can dig up. Please feel free to leave any feedback regarding your thoughts on the state of the horror genre as well as any films you’ve been looking forward to seeing.

The Loved Ones – as I mentioned before I have been following and anticipating THE LOVED ONES for nearly two years if not a little more. It follows a young high school girl, Lola, who is rejected by classmate, Brent, when she asks him to the prom. Her dad then determined to give his little girl what she wants kidnaps Brent and ties him up. The two then torture and subject Brent to horrors beyond his imagination. It has played at several film festivals and has gotten lots of positive buzz swirling around it. When the trailer for the film was finally released I was left feeling a level of anticipation that I haven’t felt since I first saw the initial trailer for THE DARK KNIGHT. As of now there is no release date for the states theatrically or DVD; it has already been released theatrically in Australia and has had a UK release back at the beginning of October.

The Horde – I anticipate just about every French horror that I find out about anymore since the release of both INSIDE and MARTYRS. Zombie movies are nothing new, but I cannot wait to see what the French can do with them. THE HORDE is about a group of cops moving in on a group of criminals in an old building; when inside the two groups must work together to survive a horde of zombies that attack the building. The concept doesn’t sound incredibly fresh, but again once I saw the trailer for the film I was completely sold. THE HORDE played around at several film festivals to mixed reception and finally will see DVD release on December 21, 2010, just in time for Christmas.

The Pack – Another French film to make the list; after I fell in love with INSIDE and had a chance to check out MARTYRS every time I heard about a French horror film being made or released I automatically made a note and tried to stay up with any kind of release news. THE PACK was no different and even just the basic premise was released I was super excited. THE PACK is about a woman who gets stuck in the middle of nowhere with a woman intent on feeding her to her kids, who happen to be a pack of bloodthirsty ghouls. I haven’t been following this one near as long as THE LOVED ONES or THE HORDE but if my memory serves I’ve been keeping track of it for close to a year now. Like the first two it has seen release at a few film festivals and has picked up a distributor for a US release of some sort but no details have been released yet.

The Silent House – This is probably the only film on the list that I don’t know too much about. I have been keeping an eye out for it though for almost a year now solely because of the basic plot and the fact that it is said to be film in real-time in one continuous take. THE SILENT HOUSE is a Spanish film that follows a young girl who hears a noise outside that gets louder and louder and she walks around a dark house to find out what it is. I have intentionally put myself in the dark regarding too many details about the film until I finally get a chance to see it, but I anticipate the film purely to see what a horror/thriller would be like in real time and one continuous shot. I could not dig up any news regarding a theatrical release or DVD release for the film but it as well has played a few foreign film festivals.

Red White & Blue – This one is not even a foreign film, but I’ve been waiting patiently for it for a little over a year or so. RED WHITE & BLUE follows the lives of three people that intertwine in tragic and horrifying ways. Another film with quite a bit of buzz around it, but described more as a thriller than a horror but again I’m not splitting hairs for the genre. My anticipation for this one comes mostly out of the buzz of people that have seen it at the film festivals it has played at. It also was released on September 23, 2010 extremely limited theatrically but also on select VOD markets. I have been unable to locate it, so I continue to wait patiently for a DVD release hopefully soon, as there is not one set currently.


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