When I was asked to write something for Hallowzine my mind when into overdrive over the possible subject, films, genre's, sub-genres, themes and icons that I could tap. And then as quickly as it revved up it shut down. Horror is too wide and varied a topic for me to suddenly drop anchor in one particular area. So I had to think. What about horror is it that I love? The stories, the characters, the effects, the gore, the directing, the acting? But the answer was obvious. It's scary. Or at least it's meant to be. It hit me that I couldn't remember the last time I was truly scared by a horror film. That's not to say I haven't enjoyed many. Sinister, The Purge, Cabin in the Woods, The Guest, The Babadook. All solid films. But not a single one lingered in my psyche for much longer than the credits. I didn't go home and find myself looking over my shoulder after turning of the lights to go to bed. Or avoiding the small window that leads to the garden. And these are the good films. I'm not going to waste words on the hundreds of bad ones that spill out into the world like the guts of human sacrifice on the alter of a satanic despot. And I so I came to the conclusion that whilst I love horror not a lot of it is done very well. Horror should change the way you see the world. You should wander around feeling the razors edge a little more. Going to bed should have a frisson of terror. A walk in the countryside should feel just a little bit like it could be your last walk ever. Going in the water sshould make you at least wonder about the lurking terrors slithering beneath the surface. And this brings me to the first film that caused me to question the safety of the world in which we live. JAWS. An obvious and commonly referenced film. But that only goes to show the power of it. As many of you will also know, going in the water after seeing Jaws (and Jaws 2, which is also great) became a much more terror filled prospect. Such was the impact of Jaws on my imagination that the older I get the worse I get. So much so that I can now no longer go into any natural body of water past my knees.
I had a similarly visceral reaction to what has been called the Australian Jaws. Razorback. Razorback is the tale of a small town in the Australian outback that is being terrorised by a giant and seemingly indestructable wild boar. As a youngster is scared the hell out of me and for a time all I could see in the dark were huge boar tusks. Fortunately since I have no desire to go to the Australian outback the film hasn't impinged on my ability to have fun in the same way as Jaws did. But the memory of my first watch has stayed with me since. And after revisiting it not so long ago I saw that it was a wonderfully made film. Stunning cinematography, an iconic beast kept in the shadows by director Russell Mulcahy until the tension was appropriately ramped up and characters you could root for and care about. So a lot like Jaws. And this commonality of quality filmmaking transferred to many other of the films that I would call classic horrors. A select few are An American Werewolf in London, The Descent, The Omen, Martyrs and Eden Lake. All of those films in there own individual way have there their claw marks in my psyche. And all without exception are excellent examples of cinema in any genre. Unlike so many horror films they have memorable characters, good and evil, that are three dimensional. And these parts are played by great actors. The list is a who's who of old greats, future stars and amazing character actors such as Gregory Peck, Griffin Dunne, Jack O'Connell, Michael Fassbender, Roy Scheider too name but a few. And the perhaps most importantly they have directors who are at the top of their game but in the majority of cases not predominantly horror directors. Spielberg has thrown his genius at every genre going. Landis' heart seemed to lie in comedy, Donner is a premiere action director. Only Neil Marshall could be classed as a true horror director. Pascal Vaugier may end up on that list but Martyrs was so unique that it is hard to tell where his career might go. But if his debut American film 'The Tall Man' is anything to go by he should stay in Europe where he clearly has more creative freedom. And Mulcahy peaked with Highlander and has been jobbing in low end genre pieces since (Someone give the man a great script and budget please).
So what point am I making? I think it is that horror needn't be the trashy, exploitative and unimaginative money making machine that studios seem to think it is. It is a serious business that has attracted the likes of Kubrick, Rob Reiner, Coppola and more. Jaws was nominated for Best Picture. Razorback won the Aussie Oscar for Best Cinematography. The Omen has Oscar, BAFTA and Grammy nominations coming out of its satanic behind but we'll go for Billie Whitelaws BAFTA nom for Best Supporting Actress. An American Werewolf had a whole new award category invented for it for God's sake. You can't imagine Saw 9, another remake of Texas Chainsaw or any one of the hundreds of Mega-Cockney's vs Zombiestrippersaurus' getting anything more than a Razzie or worse, an MTV award. People say horror is in good health but good box office does not mean good films. I say horror is falling into laziness again. There is hope in some of the new wave such as It Follows (pure Carpenter although I do agree with Tarantino that it breaks it's own rules too much) and Borderlands (one of the best endings in years). But as most of these films are made by first time directors who's to say that they will continue in the gnre at all. Horror is still the best way to break into the industry for a new filmmaker as it always sells. It is a well trodden path walked by many a legend but most of them step on it once and then veer off to make more heavy weight dramatic fayre. But horror can be heavy weight. It can be dramatic. It just needs to be taken seriously.