I would imagine that having a close friend (such as myself) with a healthy horror-film addiction is rather a pain. Having to constantly admit that you don’t have the balls to endure 90 minutes of harmless fiction is a real bummer, and my heart goes out to you. It really does. So, grab your helmet and strap in – I’m about to turn you girls into men, and explain why scary movies are good for the soul.
First, set your time machines to 1896, the year of release of Georges Méliès’ silent short-film ‘Le Manoir du Diable‘, often quoted as the first scary movie ever made. However, I would opine that the broader audience would acknowledge that the first ‘true’ widely-distributed horrors were those directed by ‘Master of Suspense’ Alfred Hitchcock during the mid-1900’s, with the most famous being ‘Dial “M” for Murder‘ (1954), ‘Pyscho‘ (1960) and ‘The Birds‘ (1963). There is something devastatingly elegant about sauntering around ones Manhattan apartment in a silk dressing gown, glass of Pinot Noir in hand, with one of Hitchcock’s finest playing in black and white in the background. The older horrors are far more adept than most of their more recent counterparts at tactfully integrating sex, violence and suspense into the storyline, almost removing the element of fear from the situation altogether. It’s all very Holly Golightly.
Now, I acknowledge that there are some really shit horror movies out there. Some so awful that watching them makes otherwise cumbersome tasks like laundry and spin class suddenly appear exciting and urgent. Please see below for my highly scientific graph depicting the distribution of quality of films across key genres.
Although this makes it fundamentally harder to smoke out a toe-curlingly awesome horror, it also means there are some total rocket ships out there too. The most difficult to get right of all the subsectors, I think, are those based on the supernatural (your standard ghosts, monsters, zombies, etc.). Producing a film with these themes is a well-blazed path, with very few new releases actually managing to cover untrodden ground. However, sticking with it until Netflix yields a stonker is well worth it; special effects are usually incredible and some of the most critically acclaimed horrors have fallen in this subcategory (‘The Exorcist‘, ‘28 Days Later‘, ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street‘). My must-watches from the lesser-known titles include ‘The Cabin in The Woods‘ (don’t be fooled by the ‘teens in the woods’ standard template, watch for the twist at the end), ‘The Descent‘ (babes in a cave, shit goes down) and ‘Insidious‘ (exorcism, but with an interesting storyline).
Okay, hands up who likes slashers. It’s been a tough crowd in these parts ever since the deranged ‘philanthropist’ John Kramer graced our screens as the serial killer (and, apparently, highly skilled engineer) in the ‘Saw‘ franchise. The compelling and well developed storyline (only breaking down at episode 5 of 7, which is commendable) was more symbolic of a high quality psychological thriller in my mind, and the gore throughout was (and still is) second to none. Symbiotic with the mention of series such as ‘Saw’ and ‘Hostel‘ amongst critics is the label ‘torture porn‘, which I fundamentally disagree with; appreciating a cinematic representation of (extreme) events as a means of escapism is, to me, something quite different (and much more wholesome) than the label implies. A pleasing number of recent releases have introduced new initiatives to diversify away from the (increasingly more tired) pack, with key standouts being ‘All the Boys Love Mandy Lane‘ (teen splatter with a brilliantly executed twist), ‘I Spit on Your Grave‘ (health warning – this one is particularly graphic, only for the soul-less) and ‘Wolf Creek‘ (bogun Aussie kills annoying tourists).
I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the low-budget guys – did you know that ‘Saw’, ‘The Evil Dead‘, ‘The Grudge’, ‘The Purge‘, ‘Night of the Living Dead‘ and many more actually started out as short films/low-budge? In today’s world of talentless trust-fund entrepreneurs and obnoxious producers, for independent films to even make it to the point where you, the unsuspecting illegal-online-streamer, would have access to it, it needs to be really really REALLY ace. The Spanish science-fiction-esque feature ‘Timecrimes‘ is ridiculously unique, with an indulgently deep, psychologically-damaging storyline. Often these movies tend to lean to the extremes in order to define themselves; for the horror-fans out there who believe there is no longer anything that can shock you, check out ‘Antiviral‘ and await my ridicule as you sway back and forth in your white-padded cell. If I may, I would like to say a few words on the Asian offering here also – ‘Battle Royale‘, ‘Ring‘ and ‘Old Boy‘ is the vibe if you fancy not sleeping for the next century.
The last box to tick is a particular obsession of mine, and also happens to be the newest sub-genre within the horrors – found footage. This refers to the capture of the film as if it had been recorded by one of the movie’s protagonists, such as in ‘The Blair Witch Project‘, putting you, the viewer, right in the middle of some pretty believable, fucked up shenanigans – and that’s totally fine with me. In saying that, I don’t know how many times I had to watch ‘V/H/S‘ before I managed to have my eyes open at least once for each scene – the film is an anthology of six highly proprietary short films, and is without a doubt the best (for lack of a better phrase) horror-think-pieces I’ve seen that I still mull over two years after first viewing (you can make up your own mind about whether this means the film is good, or my life is boring). ‘REC‘ is a fabulous twist on the zombie/exorcism theme (but note that the subsequent episodes are awful) and ‘Cloverfield‘, whilst frustratingly obtuse, is a refreshing rehash of the Godzilla franchise. I am chomping at the bit for ‘Unfriended‘ (thoughtfully suggested to me by the boy, let’s call him…Sergey) due to be released April 2015, which I am hoping will open the door to a new genre of ‘social media horrors’.
It’s unclear to me as to whether I will have managed to convince any horror-haters with this post (if you need more convincing, Nerdist posts some eloquently written, insightfully excellent horror reviews), but know this – there isn’t a better reality check than watching Sidney Prescott flee from a masked killer in her own home after the graphic murder of her boyfriend to make yourself take a good, hard look in the mirror and say of your own problems – ‘Yeah, well I guess it could be worse’.