Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Horror Movie Movements

Just for fun, let's look at the horror movie movements that revived the genre from the 80s slasher bubble collapse. These unfortunately didn't accompany horror fiction revivals. I'm just a movie aficionado. I watch a lot of them, but I don't read about them and have never studied film or anything. So there's your disclaimer.

These aren't in order, except for #1, which I felt finally brought horror as a whole instead of a one-off horror success back into the mainstream.

1. The Hip, Sexy Slasher
Scream started this. These movies are self-conscious vehicles for hip, attractive young actors. Unfortunately, none came even close to living up to Scream, especially Scream's sequels. Scream was so freaking smart it's scary. It inspired the parody series Scary Movie, but here's the thing: parodies of Scream were unnecessary. Scream was already the perfect post-modern parody that was also a perfect slasher. Scream also changed how killers move in horror movies, abandoning the slow stalk for frenetic insanity, taken up by such movies as Urban Legends. Unfortunately, movies like I Know What You Did Last Summer took everything but the smarts. I suspect that the residual hate-on some of the horror community has for Scream is that it let the popular kids into our little weird basement club. I understand the feeling, but the movie is awesome. The very beginning of the second is also great, the scene with Jada Pinkett and Omar Epps at the opening of Stab. The rest of the movie sucked, but that is one of the most disturbing scenes in all of horror.

The most recent movie of this type that I enjoyed was Cry Wolf. An unlikeable group of characters and cast (except Jon Bon), but a good writer and a really inventive plot. Yeah, it falls apart under close scrutiny, but it's still enjoyable. The Final Destination movies are also notable, though growing less so (actually, I thought the third was much better than the second, but the fourth suuuucked).

2. The Gritty Remake
This started with Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The only movies that even come close to attaining the success of this trendsetter are Rob Zombie's Halloweens, the first for its accuracy and the second for its imagination, and Dawn of the Dead. In my opinion, Texas Chainsaw Massacre ushered in the era of the dark, serious, modern horror movie. No low jokes. No humorous kills. It gets away with taking itself seriously because the cinematography is beautiful. Most remakes--Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Black Christmas, My Bloody Valentine--are so forgettable that almost everyone has literally forgotten them. I had high hopes for Nightmare on Elmstreet, but it turned out to be one of those movies that's much better as a trailer. Remember when the kid has been awake so long that he's having micro-dreams, and he's standing in the grocery store and the aisle of food keeps getting replaced with an image of Kruger in one of his industrial hallways? The first time I saw that scene in the trailer it gave me chills.

3. Torture Porn
Funny enough, I think the movie that launched the gritty remake into popularity did the same for torture porn: Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The other funny thing is that TCM isn't actually that bloody of a movie. It's so gritty and real feeling that the violence is very disturbing, but the kills are tame compared to Friday the 13th. Still, Roger Ebert gave it zero stars and said that he walked out of the theater desperate for sunshine, which was exactly how I knew I had to see it. But, I gotta admit that I've never seen the Hostels and I'm not really a fan of torture movies. That's just me.

4. Asian Remakes
The Ring obviously started this. And it's the only one of these movies where the American version is better than the Asian version. It was a really odd experience having American versions announced within a year of having watched all these Asian horror movies. We went from Japan to South Korea to Thailand in search of ever-more authentic ghosts. It's probably the fact that these spiritual beliefs seem to either still be held or having recently been held by their cultures that really makes the movies scary. Our versions have mostly run from adequate (The Grudge) to unbelievably terrible (Pulse). Anyway, in almost every case I'm glad I saw the originals first. If you haven't seen the original Pulse, check it out. It's a weird, sprawling horror epic that doesn't seem to care if you understand what's going on.

5. Zombies
I think 28 Days Later kicked this off. While Resident Evil came first and helped turn a one-off into a true trend, I don't think it would have done it alone, while I think 28 Days Later probably would have. Then the Dawn of the Dead remake and Shaun of the Dead came along and cemented the revival.

* Movies Where They Don't Know They're Dead
It just sounds like a plot device, but really it became its own sub-genre with its own conventions. Okay, it's not really a revival because you find it mostly in straight-to-DVD flicks, but I wanted to talk about it anyway. That's why it gets a "*" instead of a number. The first movie I saw with this device was Jacob's Ladder, which blew my young mind! The second was The Sixth Sense, which I think it's easy to forget was a pretty disturbing movie the first time you saw it. Remember when the kid was trapped in his chair fort with the girl who couldn't stop puking. Yikes! I'm not sure if The Sixth Sense started this trend or not, because the movies that came after didn't try to emulate it, but shortly after The Sixth Sense came out about a third of straight to video horror movies used the device that the characters died and didn't know it. I don't know if the film makers thought they were fooling us, but they weren't. My wife and I used to make a game of calling the moment where the characters all died. I don't want to spoil a bunch of movies for you in case you're more easily fooled than we are, or don't watch as many horror movies. Anyway, thankfully the trend seems to be over.

This list of horror movie revivals might not be in chronological order, but it is exhaustive. If you think of another, you're wrong. I'd love to hear about how wrong you are in the comments.


  1. I love horror flicks! My comment is probably going to be as long as your post! I won't rebut your revival arguments, I just feel like babbling about horror movies. Lucky you!

    Scream I liked. A lot of horror buffs claim to not dig it, but I think they are fooling themselves, or haven't really watched it. The sequels were definitely forgettable.

    Actually, I know I said I wasn't going to argue about your revival picks, but I can't believe you didn't mention Halloween up there somewhere with the slashers!

    I couldn't finish Hostel. It definitely crosses the line into torture porn, for me at least. Just pointlessly brutal to no real effect.

    I never saw either of the Chainsaw Massacre movies. I never got why hillbillies were supposed to be scary, I guess? I haven't seen any of those remakes you listed either, because I liked the campy originals and I think I'd be horribly scarred by them.

    The Ring scared me a lot more than anything in recent memory. I guess it was the sort of self-referential thing that did it. I only saw the American version though. The Grudge, not so much. I guess I kept expecting Buffy to kick the ghost's asses or something. *shrug*

    Zombie movies are my guilty pleasure. I adore them. I long for the Zombiepocalypse. I've seen all the ones you mention, but I think 28 Days is my favorite. Although I can't believe you didn't mention Zombieland. If you haven't seen it you definitely should. It's great. :)

    I actually don't think I've seen any of the "dead and didn't know it" movies aside from The Sixth Sense. Hmmm. I enjoyed the Sixth Sense, but I really think it doesn't have much value as a re-watch.

    Actually, that's an interesting point. I'll make that the point of my comment, since I didn't really have one. What do you think about re-watching horror movies? Mostly it seems like there's little value in it. You know all the parts that will make you jump and such, just takes the thrill out, for me at least. The one exception to this would be the zombie movies. I own them all, and re-watch them quite a lot.

    And... what the hell, Alan, where's the freaking vampire movies? You definitely dropped the ball on that one. Salem's Lot anyone? Terrifying! The late 90's Vampires with James Woods was a great one too. Oh, one I saw recently that I can't believe I missed in the 80's was Near Dark. Cheesy as all get out, but good fun.

  2. Okay, this calls for a methodical approach:

    Halloween - I didn't make it clear that the movements I was talking about are after the bubble burst on the 80s slasher flicks. So these are all revivals from that collapse. It's like, I said it in my head, but it didn't make it into the intro, so I just edited it in. Halloween is one of my favorite movies of all time and has been since I first saw it. It's absolutely brilliant. I've seen it so many times that now I study it or meditate on it more than watch it. It was the original, but for some reason all of its spawn went for low comedy instead of it's artistic beauty. It's got it's little flaws, but in my mind it makes only one big mistake, one kill wrong. This is going to be a post.
    But I did include the remakes in the remake section.

    Hillbillies - They're our savages, I guess. I'm pretty much with you in that I don't find them scary and I don't like many movies with inbred country folk as the antagonists. The remake of TCM was an exception, but mostly because of its gritty and incredibly kinetic cinematography. It's a beautiful movie, and Leatherface is one savage who scares me.

    The Grudge has an undeservedly high place in the Asian remake totem for 3 reasons: it came out not long after The Ring, it was comparable in quality to the original, which wasn't that great of a Japanese horror movie, and it had an actual star, Buffy. I'm not an Asian horror expert, so I guess I just saw the most popular ones, which was why they then got remade as American movies. The original The Eye and The Eye 2 are fantastic. The Thai version of Shutter is, too.

    Love Zombieland, for sure. It makes me happy when people get creative with zombies. You've probably seen the mockumentary Quarantine or it's spanish original, but if you haven't, check it out. 28 Days Later is brilliant and I love the screenwriter Alex Garland for that, Sunshine, and the novel Tesseract. Have you seen Dead Alive by Peter Jackson? OMG, most amazingly, hilariously gory zombie movie ever.

    I think Sixth Sense has one of the highest second-watch values of any movie, but beyond that, I guess it depends on how much you enjoy other aspects than the twist. I like the pacing, I'm a huge Bruce Willis fan, and I think Haley Joel Osment was a prodigy at that age, so I like rewatching it every so often.

  3. cont.

    I'm gonna have to disagree on the vampire one. I think vampires have regularly had successful movies since horror movies started, but I don't think there was a real post-80s vampire trend, just a slow, steady stream as before. Maybe, just maybe a small one started with Interview with the Vampire, but I'm not sure, because there was then Vampire$, Dracula 2000, Jonathan Lipnicki's The Little Vampire... But I'm not certain those came out at a faster rate than vamp movies had in the past.
    Near Dark is amazing. You said you stay away from remakes. You going to avoid the remake of Fright Night?

    One revival that I should have mentioned even though it seemed to fizzle was interest in Spanish horror after Pan's Labyrinth. In my opinion, The Devil's Backbone was overhyped, but The Orphanage is one of the most perfect horror movies ever. Timecrimes is fucking awesome if you forgive the one big flaw most movies of its type have (don't want to spoil it). If Spanish horror spawned English-language remakes, though, I haven't seen them. I'm surprised, though. Since you're a vamp fan, you should check out Cronos if you haven't seen it. It's the first movie Guillermo del Torro directed. Pretty weird. You can stream it on netflix.

    I think we agree on the rewatch value. My wife and I love horror movies because even if they're bad, they're going to be entertaining. But that's the first time. Any that rely solely on jumpouts and creative kills are duller than watching paint dry upon a second viewing. But I think the smart ones or the beautiful ones have as much replay value as any smart, beautiful movies.

  4. Ahh, I get what you were trying for now. I still think you're wrong about the vampire flicks. There was a long drought of good vamp movies in the late 80s/early 90s. Unfortunately, I think we do have Anne Rice to thank for the resurgence, though that movie was awful.

    The Orphanage I keep meaning to watch. We wanted to get it for our Halloween scary movie marathon last year, but the Best Buy near us was out. I will have to make a note to pick it up.

    I'm not sure about Fright Night. I've been on the fence about it. The original is one of my favorite vampire movies and the idea that they are remaking it without Roddy McDowall sets my teeth on edge. And Colin Farrel? Really? I think I have to stop talking about this before I nerd rage or something.

  5. How about the "found footage" horror? Might be a stretch to call it a "revival" but worth a nod anyway...

    Barry Napier

  6. Coral - I typically don't like Colin Farrel because there's always something so sleazy about him, but that same quality makes me wonder if he'll do okay in Fright Night.

    Barry - I think that's a good one. The only weird thing about it is that, as far as I can remember, the next one came years after Blair Witch Project. Hell, they didn't even do it in their sequel, did they? But then Cloverfield, [rec]/Quarantine, Paranormal Activities 1 and 2 and some clones... Were there any between BWP and Cloverfield?