Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Double-Edged Sword That Is The Love Of Horror Film (March 2006)

As I write my beloved Vituperatem, I mention from time to time that on my site, 'passable' is 70%, above 85% is 'recommendable' and 90% or better is 'must see', while anything under 60% just isn't safe.
That's my scale, it's like grades on a report card, it's simple.
However from time to time I'll explain how although a film isn't suited for the 'good' pile, I still loved it. Someone mentioned to me that this typically occurs when reviewing a horror movie. They opined that obviously it must be one of my favorite genres to be so forgiving. They then asked the following question:

What is it about Horror you like?

I will go so far as to buy, before I watch, Indy garbage F-Grade Horror Kitch like Ankle Biters and Hood of the Living Dead, or waste my time with tragic big budget Uwe Boll Productions like Alone in the Dark or rehashed-umpteen-time flicks like AVP: Alien Vs. Predator, knowing full well that I won't be able to recommend any of these to anyone.

Rather, it seems that I genuinely enjoy basking in the glow of having gone out of my way to see something pitiful. For the same reason you chew tinfoil or scratch your nails on a blackboard, sometimes you must suffer for the things you love, in hopes that maybe, just maybe, it's super-terrific and unappreciated, like the poorly rated, yet beloved Killer Klowns from Outer Space and Bad Taste. This is what sets the fan apart from the fanatic... Pain.

So I will take a moment to answer the above question. I'll tell you why I love horror and what makes horror so damn good. I can whittle it down to three things:

Survival Plots: I love a good Man Vs Whatever story, and with Horror you have options, all of which are pushed to the extreme: failure is death, and odds are there might be failure. Man Vs. Nature can manifest into spirits, natural forces, animals or monsters, and usually in a place where you're all alone. Creepy. Man Vs. Society can manifest into evil automaton robots, unseen G-Men or unbidden genetic monstrosities, or best of all: Zombies. My favorite of the bunch though (ooo, but zombies...) is Man Vs. Man. From pyschotic killers to the unrequited sweet sixteen stalker to toothless territorial rednecks, when people are thrust into nigh-impossible situations and trying to survive, it really gets my goat, but in a good way.

My Evil Goat

In all cases, be it a medieval setting or sci-fi, Horror prides itself in fear and special effects. Even the lowest budget can afford corn syrup and red dye #12. An original kill can change an entire film. Final Destination 3 for example, is an artless piece of predictable tripe (seen right), but the whole movie is about death. All that matters is the set up and the originality of the kill, and this movie, like most Horror is salvaged when it's soaked in high-budget blood. Zombies go a step further, not only dismembering and maiming their victims slowly, but eating them. This is scary stuff, think about it. But what do I LIKE about gore? You don't see people getting beheaded by panes of glass everyday, so it's rare, it's slowing down for an accident, it's learning about anatomy without having to go to war, it's violence without hurting anyone. It's messy!

Pure Kitch: Finally and most importantly, the forgiveness factor. The previous two categories clearly state a love of genuinely enjoyable things. For this last one, yes, I must admit the generational, childhood memorabilia of the 80s Horror flick is most of what holds the rest of a movie together. Some films will go out of their way to be corny or 'punny' or even funny, but there's something to be said about characters with bulletholes through 'em standing up defiantly and going after the Mummy, or whatever. Stupid dialogue and comic book heroics and invulnerabilities can solidify the terribleness of a film, though knowing they're going for that redeems it, definitely.

Well at this stage I guess I have to conclude with a few suggestions of tremendously good horror, which illustrates these points I've mentioned. Fine. Here they are:

High Tension - 92% - Not only is this a long-term survival plot, but it's also out in the middle of nowhere. Add to this the fact that this is well acted, and you have yourself a memorable film rife with edge-of-your-seat horror.

The Devil's Rejects - 84% - This is also a survival plot but it also centers on the family of outlaws that runs around committing these gory crimes, and what happens when the law tries to turn the tables on them. This is also a tribute to 70s Southwest Horror and its kitsch value is rather high.

Land of the Dead - 80% - Who better to tribute the zombie kitsch of the heyday than its greatest champion, George R. Romero! The gore incorporates classic latex but adds top quality CGI for maximum graphic dismemberment. The survival plot is rich with failure and vindication, and on top of everything else, zombies include butcher, gas station attendant and filthy killer clown.

Allow me to add that these movies are genuinely good in their own right and aren't simply recommended because they fit my mold. This stuff is great because it's just plain good... and violent... and scary... and gory...

That's it, time for Halloween...