The Resurrection of Horror
By: Pat Bird
Around this time of year I see countless lists of suggested Halloween movies in an attempt to foster the spirit of this holiday. What I find irksome about these lists is that, more often than not, they are simply an accumulation of movies that have something related to Halloween in them. Whether that be a ghost, a demon, a possession, or simply blood and gore, these films are fun – but I think there is something missing.
I find these general horror movies immensely fun and I watch my fair share, but very seldom do these films really terrify. They may startle you, with sudden shocks and jumps, but I don’t really find myself looking over my shoulder after them. They may prey upon basic fears, those of the dark, or the disturbing, or the basement – on and on they go. But the truly terrifying films strike a deeper cord of fear. Basic human truths that will never go away. Michael Myers is an enigma that will never stop coming after you. Freddy Krueger preys upon you in your sleep, a place you may never fully escape. However, if we step away from the redefining of horror during the ’80s and examine contemporary films, we can see many examples of ‘startling’ movies, and if you’re lucky a sincerely scary movie.
To do this, we’ll focus on one director that has specific examples of the evolution of horror throughout his legacy. Director Rob Zombie may be loved or hated, but it is hard to deny that his films have something about them. That something may be hard to define, but I propose that it changes from film to film. His existing career illustrates the general shift that horror should take to maintain its fear factor, instead of a focus on gross out effects.
His first film, “House of 1000 Corpses” is undoubtedly a cult film, with a select audience. But the method of approach, script and even filming technique define this as a popcorn munching B-movie. The story follows a carload of teens driving cross-country to write about sideshow attractions. On their way they stop for gas and meet the iconic Captain Spaulding, the owner of a gas station/curio shop/murder ride. There, they learn about the local legend of Dr. Satan and decide to investigate. The film then descends into cult-level spectacles of gore and bizarre characters. His camera work, sets and even costumes are rooted in a certain modesty – the film knows what it is. It acknowledges that it is a B-status film and uses that identification to its advantage.
What followed that film was an extreme departure. “The Devil’s Rejects” was a decidedly more realistic departure into the horror genre. Taking members of the Firefly family from “House of 1000 Corpses”, he puts them on the run, much like “Bonnie and Clyde”, with an ever growing trail of blood behind them. The gritty realism in this film is impressive, in addition to an over-the-top yet absolutely vital use of gore and violence. As opposed to movies like the “Saw” franchise, where ‘gore-for-the-sake-of-gore’ seems a sacred mantra, “The Devil’s Rejects” uses its gore to reach a sort of realism. It is true that movies such as “Hostel” allow us to see a level of violence that we normally can’t, but it is of such over-the-top nature that is beyond relation. Not only is this evident in “The Devil’s Rejects”, but it becomes a Zombie trademark for his films – an alarming attention to making violence as realistic as possible. Not to say that certain attacks or torture scenes aren’t over-the-top, they certainly are – but they’re approached in such a rationalized way that one can’t help but cringe involuntarily.
After dipping into ‘realistic’ serial killers with “The Devil’s Rejects”, he moves to the canon and attempts to tackle Mike Myers. I say attempt because even still this seems to be up for debate. I believe he succeeded in and even surpassed measuring up to the originals for many reasons. The first being, Mike was actually scary in these. I understand and appreciate the fear and terror in the originals, but they are somewhat sterile. Zombie adds an entire coating of grisly, dark realism to his take on the legend. Not to mention how he continued Mike’s legacy, compared to the earlier franchise.
Zombie’s “Halloween II” focused on the survivors of the first film, dealing with their broken psyches and strained relationships. Instead of moving on to a new group of people to terrorize with a cameo or two from original cast, Zombie delves further into the shattered world created by the trauma of Mike’s attacks.
His scripts have been ever progressing, growing to reach a more and more fully realized world each time. The filming techniques have improved dramatically with each film. His use of a familiar ensemble of actors allows him to work comfortably with those he knows will deliver success. I eagerly await his newest endeavor,”The Lords Of Salem”, which has hit a few snags with distributors, but is on its way nonetheless. Reports and interviews claim that he goes back to horror roots, using Kubrickian (“The Shining”) framing and camera movements, coupled with a truly mind-boggling plot. “The Lords of Salem” is sure to be further evidence of a director who has a firm grasp on what his genre is, with an extensive knowledge of the history of his field and keen eyes toward the future, Zombie is the horror director that gets to the heart of horror films.
Needless to say, I highly suggest watching his collection of films, in order if you can.
So, the following movies are ones that I think capture something about the essence of Halloween. Whether it’s the tried-and-true cult horror films or a more cerebral approach to terror. They’ll also range in terms of their nature – if they’re fantastical or more rooted in reality. However odd this collection may seem, I feel that there’s something about the list that gets back to the terror filled nature of Halloween – not this over-saturated gore-porn that runs rampant these days. These films bring a well-needed dose of originality to the dwindling Halloween spirit of present:
“Hellraiser II: Hellbound”
“Army of Darkness”
“Drag Me To Hell”
“The Thing” (New and Old)
“The Last Exorcism”
“Don’t be Afraid of the Dark”
“Nightmare on Elm Street” (New and Old)
“Shaun of the Dead”
“Behind The Mask”
“I Sell the Dead”
“The Amityville Horror”
“30 Days of Night”
“The Rocky Horror Picture Show”
“House of 1000 Corpses”
“The Devil’s Rejects”
“Halloween” – Directed by Rob Zombie
“Halloween II” – Directed by Rob Zombie
“The Ninth Gate”
“Interview with a Vampire”