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The Death of the American Horror Film

#1 User is offline   Matt PNiewski 

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Posted 23 July 2010 - 12:18 AM

I gave Drag Me To Hell two and a half stars. Perhaps it deserves the other half, because the thrills and chills of the Sam Raimi opus has stayed with me since I saw the premiere. Yes, it has a terrible ending. An ending that is shrugged off by fans of the genre, who tell me what I wanted was the typical "Hollywood Ending." That ending, the one where a person is triumphant, has not been 'typical' in horror films for ages. The end twist, which I can only guess was created to shock an audience that was cleverly deceived into believing that all is well, has become a cliche in and of itself. Now, audiences go to these films expecting them.

Still, Drag Me to Hell managed to keep me on edge, and it's colorful aesthetic and its off the wall, fast moving camera work brought me back to Raimi's earlier "Army of Darkness." Army of Darkness being a film vastly superior to the other Evil Dead films, as it managed to turn the franchise on its head. The first film might as well have been a Night of the Living Dead remake, this time with trees and zombies working together. It was boring, unoriginal, and worked on shock alone. The series took a comic turn in the next two films, and the franchise became the cult phenomena it is today.

Regardless of the success of the first film, the success of the franchise is based heavily on the vastly superior sequels. What makes these films superior? They are funny. They are somewhat original, despite the sources they draw from, and the manage to get you more involved in the character's struggle, rather than putting a bunch of lambs up for the slaughter.

What is the classic American Horror film? I like to think of a whole slew of classic b-films. Low Budget, youth oriented travesties with giant insects or ancient mummies. I know others will think of the classic Universal horror films. There is no right answer, but there are plenty of wrong ones. Ever since the emergence of the Slasher genre, every horror film in our outside of it seemed to follow the same basic outline. Somebody who witnessed or took part in something tragic in the past goes on a killing spree years later. Also, now he is invincible. Scream parodied this, in one of the most entertaining horror comedies I've watched. By Scream 3, however, it was another one of these movies.

Nightmare on Elm Street had a new twist. He's a killer, but he has the ability to stalk you in your dreams (can the Dream Police please get on this one already). By the end, however, his origin was so convoluted director Wes Craven didn't even understand what was going on. The movie gained more acclaim than other Slasher films, probably because the young teens in peril actually had names.

Halloween, the classic example, followed the same path. The story got complicated, convoluted, and then just plain silly. The first film is generally regarded as a classic. The first film was nothing but set up for a terrifying final act. The characters were fully fleshed out, so it meant something when they died. It was terrifying. In Halloween Four, that gasp of terror became cheering and laughter. Not that there is anything wrong with laughter in this genre. Laughter is the release of tension, so it goes well with horror (somebody please inform Dario Argento of this). However, we've missed the mark when we are cheering for the killer, and not the hero.

Halloween, like Nightmare, became complicated, convoluted, and reboot. I have to say, I found the remake to be a breath of fresh air in the tired genre. It was as much the same as it was different from the original. Rob Zombie said the issue with characters like Michael Myers or Jason Vorhees was that we get used to them. We know what they are going to do. He tried a different approach in a film that is far from a classic, but a valiant attempt and putting credibility back in the horror film.

I am not one to fight the trend of sequels and remakes in the genre. They've always been around. No use fighting it. The same rules for a sequel or remake apply. Just try to make a decent flick out of it. What I don't want to see is the same flick, again and again. Most of the Friday the Thirteenth series is interchangeable, yet people were spiteful about the very idea of a remake anyway. I remember watching the first one, and wondering how the franchise became what it was any way. There is no way any of the films should have been in the least bit successful.

Fighting the trend of sequels, remakes, and the new trend of remaking popular Japanese horror films is Adam Green. He promised "Old School American Horror" with a poster that proudly proclaimed that his film 'Hatchet' is not a sequel, remake, or based on a Japanese film. He called it a return, but it was an exercise in everything that has destroyed the horror film. The story was terrible, the film served as nothing but a bunch of references for fans of the genre, and it became another movie about sacrificial lambs. People dying simply for the enjoyment of others. No real terror, no horror, just violence and cliches. His 'return' of the American horror film was a fitting example of why the genre died in the first place.
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#2 User is offline   Keiichi-chan 

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Posted 23 July 2010 - 01:51 AM

title pun intended?

#3 User is offline   sentinel28a 

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Posted 23 July 2010 - 02:11 AM

It could be simply that people have run out of ideas. Halloween, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street...all were, in their day, terrifying. But there's only so many ways a slasher/evil demon slasher can kill people before it starts getting boring, or more outlandish--Jason X was horrible, but it was made simply because the directors/producers/writers/whatever couldn't come up with any other way for Jason to creatively kill people.

Another thing is, probably because the market was oversaturated with horror flicks, we have a more jaded audience. The original Nightmare on Elm Street, when I first saw it when I was 14, scared the crap out of me. (Specifically the scene where Johnny Depp gets killed.) I've since, as an adult, watched the rest of the series. It became pretty much MST3K material. This ties into the first "they're out of ideas" theory. How many times can Freddy kill someone? And with what?

I think that's why we're getting so much of what Debbie Schussel calls "torture porn" (I may not agree with her on a lot of things, but that's a damn good moniker for the Saw movies). It's just how to shock the audience. Japanese horror flicks at least had, for awhile, the virtue of being original.

What horror directors have forgotten is a trick Hitchcock knew well: it's what you don't see that scares you. This is why Blair Witch worked so well. You didn't know what was out there. Your imagination had a chance to run away with you. It's why, IMHO, the first 20 minutes of 28 Days Later worked so well. There was nothing out there. You knew something was going to happen, but you never knew when or how. It's called suspense, and I think a lot of directors have lost that ability, or never had it to begin with.

I'm looking forward to when and if World War Z gets made. I love a good zombie flick: properly done, like Romero's classics (not his new stuff, which is crap) or the remake of Dawn of the Dead (hey, it actually scared me), it can be downright terrifying.

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#4 User is offline   Cherry_Wolf 

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Posted 23 July 2010 - 07:57 AM

I agree that a lot of American Horror films have lost their... originality. But as much as I love horror films, I primarily love old cheesy horror films. So I guess I wouldn't know good horror even if it bit me on the butt.

C'mon, who can watch BrainDead and not let out a chuckle at how ridiculously awesome it is?
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#5 User is offline   Voxx 

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Posted 23 July 2010 - 12:56 PM

I tend to stay away from new horror films because they are just full of gore and nudity now. It is just gross and distasteful rather than frightening. We need movies like Alien and The Host. Movies that actually make you wonder and they follow a story instead of just naked bodies, sex, torture, and dismemberment. I think the last horror film that I liked but thought it was going to suck was the Crazies even though I totally called everything, but it was still enjoyable to watch. Other than that, I can't think of any others that have come out recently that I liked. With the Saw movies I didn't like them, but I did find the background interesting, like how he started his "games" and whatnot. If they made the movies into just one and made it more of a psychological thriller instead of plain gore I would like those movie, but they aren't. >.<
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#6 User is offline   stringcheese 

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Posted 23 July 2010 - 11:41 PM

I'll tend to agree with the general consensus of this thread, that American Horror Films of this day in age are truly pathetic. While I do agree with the poster who said "It's what you don't see, that scares you." I think I'd take it a bit farther and say "It's what you don't UNDERSTAND, that scares you." Some of the most terrifying films I have seen, have not been classified as "horror" films, but as "surrealism."

Dreams (more specifically nightmares), can shake us to the point where we wake up in cold sweats, throwing ourselves out of bed gasping for air or worse. The worst nightmare I ever had, I ended up being paralyzed for a good 2 minutes after I woke up and then broke down sobbing. So to me, it takes someone with a remarkable imagination to take a "dream-like sequence" and make it into a film. David Lynch is one of those people. The most terrifying scene in film I have ever witnessed his from Lynch's film "Mullholand Drive." where a man explains his nightmare to his friend, and then they end up acting out his nightmare immediately after. His films Eraserhead and Inland Empire are also quite scary in the fact that they are so bizarre and surreal, that you start to question what you just experienced.

However, each of these films have a key defining feature that really pushes them into realm of nightmarish.


Music I think is probably the most key defining feature that a great horror film will have. It's what made the Shining so scary and great. Example: All work and no play makes Jack a Dull Boy. Imagine if the music wasn't as effective in that scene as it is. Would we remember still remember it to this day?

In fact, I'll go ahead and say that the music from The Shining is scarier than the actual film itself. Here's the actual piece of music that The Shining took samples from: Threnody For The Victims of Hiroshima (Composed by Krzysztof Penderecki)
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#7 User is offline   redwalkyrie 

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Posted 26 July 2010 - 04:26 PM

I agree with all of you.
When i want to actually see something "original", I turn to foreign movies (French and Asian mostly)
If you haven't seen them i urge you to watch "inside", "they", "High tension", "irreversible", "sheitan", "a tale of 2 sisters" amongst so many others

#8 User is offline   Wergulz 

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Posted 04 August 2010 - 06:28 PM

'A Tale of 2 Sisters' still creeps the bejeezus out of me. Epic movie right there!

Seriously, though, can't help but agree with you all. Sadly, it seems like American filmmakers aren't quite getting that their "original" ideas aren't really all that original...and they're going to keep making the same movies over and over again for a long, long time :(
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#9 User is offline   Krystal 

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Posted 17 August 2010 - 10:57 PM

The Nightmare on Elm street movies is are my favorite movies of all time!

^_^ 1, and 3-5 were pretty 80's epic.
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Posted 18 August 2010 - 01:48 PM

Only movies with Bruce Cambell are good
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