Sunday, 17 October 2010

The Ten Most Overrated Horror Films of All Time


October is the month to wax lyrical about the horror genre, a time to celebrate a misunderstood and much maligned form of cultural and cinematic expression. In the total opposite spirit of Halloween I’m proud to present The Celluloid Highway’s guide to the most grossly overrated and over-appreciated horror films in cinema history. Those films which critics, academics, and fans have convinced us over many years are essential landmarks in the development of the genre. This article is partly inspired by a recent post celebrating the most influential horror films from the 1930’s to the 1980’s by Brian over at Cool Ass Cinema, and partly by my own review of Night of the Living Dead (1968). I was finally able to get my dissatisfaction with Romero’s over rated debut film out of my system, and in so doing discovered that my dislike of this sacred cow could be joined by numerous others. If you’re one of these mentally ill people who actually get upset when a film you like is criticised you may wish to avoid this article. Or it might help you just to repeat this mantra - To avoid fainting repeat….Its only a blog post, only a blog post, only a blog post…you get the drift.

DRACULA (Tod Browning, USA, 1931)



This version of Dracula, which features a side splitting performance by Hungarian ‘actor’ Bela Lugosi is a cinematic disaster. At no point does Tod Browning’s turgid direction escape the stiff and static theatricality of the play upon which the film was based. This is a film of immobile and stagnant tableaux, with a camera that lacks the courage to do anything other than stay motionless. It also lacks the valour to explore the manner in which Dracula deals death, and in one of horror cinema’s most unforgivable decisions has Dracula vanquished off screen. The concurrent Spanish language production directed by George Medford and featuring Carlos Villarias as the bloodsucker is far superior. The only people too emerge with credibility from this incredibly dull film is Karl Freund due to his expert lighting (and who was rewarded with the direction of The Mummy (1932)), production designers John Hoffman and Herman Rosse and actor Dwight Frye who provides some distraction as Renfield.


CAT PEOPLE (Jacques Tourneur, USA, 1942)



The horror films of producer Val Lewton which were made under the auspices of RKO are amongst the most over rated films in horror history (with the honourable exception of the brilliant The Body Snatcher (1945). Cat People is an unimaginative riff on Universal’s far superior The Wolf Man (1942) and features an incomprehensible performance from Simon Simone. Lewton’s films have been much praised for their subtlety and their suspense, but they also do something which is unforgivable in the horror genre - they offer no pay off. Universal at least understood the necessity to reveal their monsters, Lewton opted to adapt to his low budget by showing precisely nothing. A balance between subtlety and show is surely the route to success in the horror genre, unless of course you’re making film noir like Lewton was.

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (George A. Romero, USA, 1968)


 
Amateurish in execution, heavy handed and juvenile in its social and political allegory, Romero’s film has become everything the director wouldn’t have expected. That the product of a handful of hippies fed up with their day jobs would be held in such high esteem must amaze these pensioners to this day. It has enabled Romero to continue making dreadful films in the name of a series of social statements made with all the style and grace of a sledgehammer. Night of the Living Dead is the final twenty minutes of Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) stretched out to feature length, and if copying one Hitchcock film wasn’t enough (Romero would probably say it was a homage), he then pilfers numerous shots and strategies from Psycho (1960). Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but I suspect Hitchcock wouldn’t have seen it that way. Almost every aspect of the film that is now used in its defence was achieved by accident - even the filmmakers have admitted that. This suggests that there was little in the way of intellect behind the production, a view borne out by Romero’s later films in the series. In a critical way the film also lacks a sense of timelessness, and is now more likely to illicit laughter rather than terror, which is the total opposite to the far superior Rosemary’s Baby which was also released in 1968.

THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (Wes Craven, USA, 1972)



This cinematic offal is the product of two perverts who shamelessly evoked the conflict in Vietnam to defend a brand of sadism they clearly hoped would turn on people as depraved as them. Craven is so self-conscious in the manner in which he tries to defend the film at a socio/political level that it is clearly something cooked up between him and producer Sean S. Cunningham. One defence might be an association with the art cinema of Ingmar Bergman and the film The Virgin Spring (1960), but I think its more likely Craven realised after he’d written this film that the plot was lifted, and instead of using his imagination too adapt his story in a more original way, decided to evoke an art film. This is the art of misogynistic sadism, and the filmmakers even see fit to mock the torment of two young women at the hands of a ridiculously cruel criminal gang with comic interludes featuring a pair of bungling cops. Those who defend the film may talk about the realism, the documentary quality, and the unflinching attitude to screen violence as though the filmmakers had a philosophical or metaphysical point on the nature of human cruelty - unfortunately they don’t. This was intended to make money, and Craven et al, obviously believed having women being ordered to piss their pants would make a quick buck - they were right!

THE EXORCIST (William Friedkin, USA, 1973)



Much of my dislike for this film centres on the man who directed it. Friedkin is a monstrous personality, an egotist of the highest order, desperate at the time to be regarded as highly as Antonioni or Godard. He used William Peter Blatty’s novel The Exorcist as his vehicle, and fills it with compositions that mindlessly evoke the Italian art cinema of the 1960’s. The subtle and impressive build up that opens the film is not to be dismissed, but at a certain point Friedkin seems to remember he is making a horror film, and then the film rushes headlong into absurdity. The patient storytelling and adherence to a sense of realism is totally assassinated by the need to include ridiculous moments such as head spinning and crucifix masturbation. The Exorcist is unusually repulsed by adolescent sexuality and seeks to make abject the female form. This is a deeply retrograde and highly conservative film which wishes to contain female sexuality within patriarchal institutions - in this case the catholic church. The threat to the status quo lies with sexualised children, the metaphor is a demon. The film was cast carefully to keep Friedkin’s ego satisfied, because he was determined to emerge from this film as the star. The hype and the gimmick’s recall the days of William Castle and confirmed that the ‘B’ movie was a viable proposition for big budget Hollywood production. Although it would take several years, The Exorcist effect ultimately led to the dissolution of low budget independent horror production in the US.

DAWN OF THE DEAD (George A. Romero, USA, 1978)



George A. Romero’s second entry in his series of zombie films is a reductive exercise in obviousness. The most successful metaphor of Night of the Living Dead was the zombie as a nightmarish (but logical) extension of a consumer driven capitalist society - one which literally begins to eat itself. Romero obviously felt that audiences hadn’t sufficiently got this message back in 1968, so he decided to conceive a statement on consumerism that literalises what existed in metaphorical fashion in his first film. Romero adjusts the racism of his first film (in which the zombies are all white) and expands the ethnic range of his zombies, although this seems as much to include an hysterical early sequence which distils immigrant tensions in a mouldy apartment block. The film drags along at the pace of an average Romero zombie, and subsequently huge pressure falls on the shoulders of Tom Savini to provide distraction with his impressive special make up effects. The narrative is so dreary that a number of cuts exist, a sure sign of the flabby egotistic hubris of the director.

FRIDAY THE 13th (Sean S. Cunningham, USA, 1980)



Not a single aspect of Friday the 13th is original yet the film is lauded as an important landmark in horror history. The only thing that was different about it, is that a major Hollywood studio (in this case Paramount) produced it. It was by no means the first slasher film, it wasn’t even the first ‘body count’ horror film, and even the ’shock’ ending is lifted from Carrie (1976) so what’s all the fuss about? This is no better or no worse than the myriad of slasher films that proliferated in the 1980’s, yet it is seen by many as being a cut above. The reason for this has never been explained to my satisfaction. I welcome anybody to explain to me the significance of this film.

INFERNO (Dario Argento, Italy, 1980)



The creative poverty of Dario Argento’s films in the 1990’s and beyond did not come as a surprise to me - it’s all there in his 1980 effort Inferno. Much of the stylistic success of Suspiria was due to the Technicolor cinematography of Luciano Tovoli, the trick doesn’t work as well the second time. The set pieces are more incomprehensible than ever, the surrealism self conscious and forced. A gallery of motiveless characters stroll around looking self important and making stupidly prophetic statements about this and that, and the music by Keith Emerson is shockingly bad (with the exception of a rousing theme at the films finale). The dialogue is worse than in a Lucio Fulci horror film, and delivered in an equally bland way. Inferno is an excessive empty headed and empty hearted film.

THE BEYOND (Lucio Fulci, Italy, 1981)



The horror productions of Lucio Fulci are almost completely unknown outside the circles of horror and cult fans, so the elevation of The Beyond is purely the result of fan worship aimed at reclaiming the status of Fulci, unfortunately this means that the majority of Fulci’s career is ignored in favour of a few cheap horror films. The Beyond’s nonsense narrative is usually defended with adjectives like ‘dream-like’ or ‘hallucinatory’, with critical assessments almost always concentrating on atmosphere and ambience at the expense of a discussion about continuity and narrative. So determined are horror and cult fans to recuperate Fulci and acclaim him as a horror ‘auteur’ that those aspects of cinematic language deemed crucial to such value judgements are flagrantly ignored. I’ve never been convinced that the illogic of The Beyond is the result of a coherent strategy, but is either down to accident or incompetence. Fulci fills his film with second rate actors giving second rate performances, characters make doom laden pronouncements and are then forgotten, set pieces exist purely for the sake of gore and violence. This is a vast improvement on the earlier City of the Living Dead (1980) which is without merit, but not a patch on Zombi 2 (1979).

HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (John McNaughton, USA, 1986)



Henry is so committed to its grim and tawdry conception of reality that it forgets to have even a basic sense of humanity. Its vision of a ghastly and alienated urban landscape is unremitting, and there is no conduit of relief from it. This film is not designed to entertain, but neither does it possess the metaphysical or philosophical narrative strategies of an art movie; in short I’ve never understood exactly what Henry is designed to do. One major intention of the film is to shock, and in placing this to the forefront of his strategy McNaughton’s earnestness to shock becomes too obvious. The performances are very committed but with an emotional blankness that leaves any attempt at identification or sympathy wasted. This is a powerful film, but the power is hamstrung somewhat by the fact there doesn’t appear to be coherent message or position within the film.

OTHER HONOURABLE MENTIONS (Not worth writing about)
Black Christmas (1974)
The Omen (1976)
Tenebre (1982)
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Army of Darkness (1993)
Scream (1996)
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
28 Days Later (2002)
The Descent (2005)

33 comments:

  1. Great piece, and I agree with you on almost all of these movies! I really do. Horror fandom needs more outliers when it comes to sacred cows like these. I love CAT PEOPLE and HENRY but your points are well-made and taken in stride. I find EXORCIST pretentious; DAWN obvious and overlong; F13 useless; LAST HOUSE ridiculous; DRACULA stilted. BEYOND cannot compare to ZOMBIE and yes, BODY SNATCHER is amazing. Well done, sir.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Shaun,
    A very interesting and well written (and well-thought out) post. While I don't share your views re: Dracula, Cat People and The Exorcist, I'm "on board" with the other films you critique. Nonetheless, one of the better Halloween movie posts I've read in quite a while. Kudos.
    r/e

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wow, Shaun, it's posts like this where comment moderation truly comes in handy!

    DRACULA, the Lugosi film, isn't a favorite of mine, but without it, there may not have been a FRANKENSTEIN and the others that followed, but I understand your point regarding the actor. I would say censorship played a role in just what and how much was to be shown in the film when taking the scene with the little girl in FRANKENSTEIN and the lost 'Spider Pit' sequence in the original KING KONG. Also, some of the TARZAN movies suffered censorship, too, if I remember correctly.

    I didn't think much of CAT PEOPLE, nor the horror-lite CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE. Simone Simon was much better as the bewitching seducer sent by the devil in THE DEVIL & DANIEL WEBSTER.

    You make an interesting point regarding THE BIRDS and NOTLD. Still, aside from the survivors barricading themselves in a house (this device has been used dozens of times since as you know and NIGHT always gets the credit for it), NOTLD feels more "real", at least to me. It still gives me the creeps and my girlfriend gets nervous when watching it in regards to the way it's shot. Personally, I don't think one need necessarily be conscious of subtext that ultimately finds its way into their movie. Incidents of the time and the way it effects the individual no doubt plays a part since the directors film is/can be an extension of how he sees the world around him at the time. It's a remarkable, yet rough around the edges horror film which I think works in its favor.

    Kudos, Shaun for doing such a list. This was a really great read. It might be condescending, but done so in a concise, professional, "respectable" manner that truly brings out an interesting counterpoint to the popular thinking horror cult film cognoscenti. I'll post my comments on the others shortly, this one response might be too long.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Regarding LAST HOUSE, the comedy is a bit jarring to me, but Craven stated he did these as a tension release to make the film not seem quite so relentless for the audience. Some versions of the film released on VHS tape back in the day were missing the comedy cop moments and personally, I think the film plays much better without them. Still, the first time I saw it as a kid, I didn't really understand it till the late 80's I guess it was. Ultimately, so many of these shock movies were made for that sole purpose and that purpose alone. There were no ulterior motives, just shock plus sensationalism equals sale. But I do think the film provides a fascinating view of civilized people reduced to the savagery of their tormentors to survive.

    THE EXORCIST I like, but again, THE OMEN did far more to scare and shock me than the Friedkin film. I don't know much about the man, but several friends saw his picture in the theater and have explained the effect the film had on them at the time. It did little to shock me aside from a few harrowing moments which I imagine were quite disturbing to audiences then.

    Not much to say about DAWN other than it's become the pattern by which all others followed at the time and continues to be the signature film all other zombie films (including Romero's) have been compared to since.

    FRIDAY THE 13TH: Right place, right time. Savini's gore effects were impressive. Manfredini's score stood out and has become as recognizable as Carpenter's HALLOWEEN cues. The title alone signifies a calender day that represents the potential for all kinds of bad things to come. Hence, dozens more holiday titled slashers with creative kills trying to outdo the one before it.

    INFERNO I didn't like at all aside from that underwater sequence. I couldn't make heads or tails of the film.

    I know what you mean by fans trying to glorify or figure out certain Fulci favorites, but THE BEYOND for me works as an extension of the very painting the warlock is working on at the outset. By the end, the survivors literally become a part of said painting. Anyone that goes into the hotel, or associated with it, die or end with some grim fate. By the conclusion, the portal to hell as been opened and the dead emerge. Still, I feel Fulci did very well with limited means, but it would have been beneficial to see what the man could have done with an actual budget.

    HENRY I think works just fine the way it is. I like movies that are honest in their brutality without any sort of relief. The element of horror has accomplished what it was supposed to in my view. I was deeply disturbed by the ending even though it was obvious what was going to happen. It's not a movie I'd recommend for easily depressed people, but I think it's likely the best representation of a serial killer on film.

    I must say I am very curious to read why you dislike BLACK CHRISTMAS, THE OMEN and THE DESCENT. Awesome post, Shaun and I had a good laugh at the last sentence at the top of the article.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks for the comments Will and Rogue. I'm glad you enjoyed the article, I didnt expect many positive responses, but your comments have justified my decision to lay down my views on these films. I know a lot of people like these films, which is why I've tried to approach them more objectively.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I should say Wow too, Brian! Thanks for the detailed reponses I really appreciate it. I should perhaps say here, that there are only a couple of films in this list of 10 I dont like. These are 'The Exorcist', 'Last House on the Left' and 'Night of the Living Dead'. The remainder are films I do admire, but believe to be held in an esteem they dont deserve. Over rated and over appreciated shouldnt be confused with like or dislike, because I understand the mystery of subjective responses. I can totally understand people liking these films (with the possible exception of 'Last House on the Left'), but within the limits of their own screen time, these films are lesser to me.

    I loved 'The Devil and Daniel Webster' that film is better than all the films on this list put together in my view. You offer sensible and intelligent defences and explanations for many of these films which I appreciate. This was largely aim with this piece, to see what people valued in a selection of films I dont value very highly myself. It's far too easy I think to use a term like 'classic' (what does this actually mean?). I've met people who have proclaimed these films without even having seen them. I showed an extract from NOTLD to a bunch of undergraduates once, and much to my surprise the major reaction was laughter. The same happened during a visit to the cinema to see 'The Exorcist', a lot of these films have just lost their power.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I agree with a lot of this, though I do think you tend to throw the baby out with the bath water a little too often. Like Stephen King once said: "If you lose your taste for good baloney, it's time to find some other line of work."

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thanks Lazlo - this isnt even good baloney!

    ReplyDelete
  9. interesting topic to address, altho it will always remain subjective due to the nature of both product and purchaser.

    one man's trash....

    ReplyDelete
  10. Very excellent post, Shaun, with thoughtful responses from most posters.
    Many fans would do themselves a service by pondering the difference between what they enjoy and what constitutes great work. I enjoy the horror genre in books and film but truly believe little of it holds up against non-genre work (I don't say this unequivocally by any means and great work transcends genre confines in any case).
    Remember: Just because you like something doesn't mean it is good/great. It seems everyone believes themselves an expert on the internet. Just ask yourself "Who am I, anyway?", I always do.

    Zombi 2, while not the greatest film, is my favorite trash horror film. For me it's the perfect zombie film; superior even to what it was so desperately aping!

    First visit here, I'll be back for more. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Apart from Cat People I agree with your list almost 100 per cent.

    I'd have added Texas Chainsaw Massacre to the list.

    ReplyDelete
  12. @ Woodside - One of my favourite films of all time is the original version of 'The Hitcher', I love the film, but also recognise it doesnt make a lot of sense, and doesnt stand up to heavy scrutiny. It's this unthinking veneration of films that irritates me. We are of like mind when it comes to 'Zombi 2', it is also my favourite zombie horror film, and in my opinion is vastly superior to anything George Romero made. I'm glad you enjoyed the post and look forward to seeing more of you.

    @ Stonerphonic - Yes this is entirely subjective, is this not the whole point of a blog?

    @ Doom - Thanks for the comment, but I have to confess I think 'Texas Chainsaw' is in my opinion probably the best horror film to come out of America in the last forty years.

    ReplyDelete
  13. As far as DAWN OF THE DEAD (1979) goes, Im gonna have to disagree with you on that one. To me that one is a total horror classic every step of the way. I mean, it comments on consumerism yeah, but it also comments on a whole bag of other things as well. I mean, one gets the feeling that society could de-evolve into chaos in five seconds if given the right circumstances. You notice how humans are more of a threat then the zombies, as is usually the case in a Romero film. To me everything was manageable, until Savini and his gang of bikers show up to mess things up. The gore is pretty high on this one as well. I dont know, I just get this feeling of dread from this one that I love...but I love DAY OF THE DEAD a little more.

    THE EXORCIST to me is a truly horrifying film. An effective horror movie, no matter what you believe in. The make up effects work is still shocking, the story, takes bits and pieces from real life exorcisms and takes it even further, completely fulfilling the things you would expect to see in an exorcism, but will probably never see. It plays with peoples expectations of what the idea of a possesion is supposed to be life. For me, that makes it a powerhouse of a horror film! Whatever Friedkins personality is like, he made some awesome movies! The French Connection being a powerful example.

    Totally agree with you on LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT! I couldnt believe people actually liked this movie when I first saw. I was like "this is the classic that everyone talks about?" It was amateurish in technical terms. It infuriated me that it was of such low quality. But thats precisely what some people enjoy about it. I will say this about it: the villains felt like real villains. I got the feeling Craven picked these guys up from the streets, these actors did a fine job as villains, but the movie itself is incredibly flawed.

    You know my thoughts on NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. I admire it, and applaud it still. I think it's still horrifying to this day.

    Agree with you on DRACULA (1931) not only is a stiff, boring film in many areas, it's not a very good adaptation of the book either. Though I will give it this: the atmosphere is thick in those scenes where we first visit Dracula's castle. And there definetely are some iconic visuals involved in the film, but as entertainment, and as a good story, it falls flat.

    I'd like to see a list of films you DO consider to be great horror films! The TOP OF THE TOP as far as Shaun Anderson goes! That would be interesting to see as well!

    ReplyDelete
  14. I was looking forward to seeing what you had to say Franco :-) My major problem with 'Dawn' is that it isnt really much of a thematic advancement on the first film. I do believe it is all their in NOTLD.I'm with you, I like 'Day of the Dead' a lot more too, I think it's the best of Romero's zombie pics.

    I think Friedkin's personality is essential to an understanding of 'The Exorcist' as a stylistic and aesthetic exercise. This was his love letter to the 'auteur', 60's art cinema. I think Friedkin's motivations for making the film were quite different to William Peter Blatty's.

    Do you really think NOTLD is still horrifying? I think it is unlikely to horrify a modern audience. That is part of its problem, it is of its time and has not progressed with the ages. Isnt that the whole reason for Romero returning to the 'Dead' series every 10 years or so, to keep it relevant.

    My top 10 horror films of all time - you've given me an idea there...watch this space. Thanks for the comments buddy!

    ReplyDelete
  15. Strange thing! I wrote a lengthier reply, but my comments on the other films dissapeare when I hit that "post comment" button! I hate it when that happens!

    As for Night of the Living Dead, yeah, I still it still works. To me its all about the black and white, it makes it scarier somehow. In fact, the fact that its al old film, makes it scarier to me. There are some scenes when Barbara and her brother first arrive to the cemetary in the opening sequences of the film that have this really strange sort of aura to them. ITs day time, yet it looks creepy still.

    In the post that dissapeared, I'd written something defending THE BEYOND, cause I think its Fulci's best. Essentially, I agree with you in saying that it doesnt make sense at times, but the real strength of the film is in three things: the heavy atmosphere, which to me is an essential thing in horror films and Fulci achieves to perfection on this one. Then there is the gore, which is plentiful and memorable! That scene with the girl getting her brains blow off! Wow! And then theres the way the film looks. I just love it.

    I agree with you about INFERNO being a completely incoherent mess, but some people seem to love exactly that about it. I like this two. Plus the film has its moments, like the underwater living room with all the dead people in it. I heard Bava directed that scene...

    And about HENRY, I think its ultimate purpose is to let you know that there are people like this walking about the city, in the real world! It is horrifying for that alone, because the film is partially made up of real life stories. Just to think about wackos like that walking the streets and walking past them every day is a scary notion. Plus, its just so well acted.

    Looking forward to you TOP TEN!

    ReplyDelete
  16. I bet Kwaidan is one of Shaun's favorites. Is that a still from it up there on your title pic? It's a great film! Talk about atmosphere. I totally agree with your taste from the snippets I've gathered & what you've said here so far. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is among my top (20?) horror films. Perhaps, my all time favorite is "The Shining" stylistically, cast-wise, everything...pretty much the perfect horror film, for me, anyway. Though, I really like monsters. Jack will do! The version King prefers is so bad "it beggars belief" (say it like Dean Learner on "Dark Place") but "it is more faithful to the boooook!" *whine*.
    Kubrick is the one who deliberately fucks with the audience and it just "seems" to be an error in his judgement/editing - the "pasta/wine scene" in A Clockwork Orange, an horrific scene in itself, & the "bear/boar suite ghost blow job scene" both come readily to mind here. In a word: disorientation at the height of the tension. As much as I enjoy Fulci's living dead films, and some of his others (his kid's movies and giallos are pretty great as those go, though Bava's giallos are better imo), I believe he was getting fashionably sloppy by the time he made them (dead films) -See "Argento" and other Italian commercial productions both horror and non of the time to refute that this is the case) I'm not the mad Kubrick fan I used to be when I was discovering films when I was 16 (Kubrick imo is a great place to start) however, I consider him somewhat of a rigorous master of terror, suspense and iconic imagery. In fact, there is little that isn't horror in Kubrick's oeuvre to be honest.
    All the best.
    Ps. directly@Shaun: I also can't wait to see that top 10! Get on that!

    ReplyDelete
  17. Agree, Shaun, DEVIL & DANIEL WEBSTER is one beautifully made feature rich with atmosphere and a playfully evil ambiance about it. I first found it discussed in this big book on horror called 'Classics of the Horror Film'. I was in third grade and this other kid had it. Well I had about a dozen 'Famous Monsters of Filmland' magazines and seeing this big book of horror flicks I couldn't resist so I traded my FMOF mags for it. Regretted it later, but to an eight year old at the time, I'd never seen such a book before.

    Fran, NOTLD still gets under my skin as well. There's definitely a creepy aura about it that I connect with.

    LAST HOUSE the same way. Craven freely admits they didn't know what they were doing. So many filmmakers of the time were the same way. And I feel because of this spontaneity, we got some choice exploitation movies from that. To me, it's a brutal, uncompromising piece of guerrilla filmmaking. Without it, there's a lot of other interesting movies we wouldn't likely have gotten.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Kudos for the article, it's rare that the flaws of so many "classic" films are mentioned. When we put aside our rosy colored memories is when we realise that "the emperor has no clothes".
    I of course disagree on some films, but as another response stated, there's a difference between being very fond of a movie and said movie being any good, much less a classic of the genre. Things like continuity, logic, and just bad directing are overlooked because the genre tells fantastic stories and as such cannot be bothered by anything as trivial as a coherent narration (that means you, Argento and Fulci) so we wrongly forgive those flaws.

    ReplyDelete
  19. @ Woodside - That is indeed a still from 'Kwaidan' well spotted, and yes it is a favourite. I couldnt agree more on 'The Shining', the King scripted mini series was dire. I think what King ultimately objected too, is that Kubrick made 'The Shining' his own. The film resonates in the popular consciousness far more than the book, that probably pisses King off.

    @ Venom - I picked up 'The Devil and Daniel Webster' a couple of years back when it was released as part of Eureka's 'Masters of Cinema' range (a great DVD btw, which also includes the short story). It's a great dissection of the American dream.

    @ Luis - thanks for stopping by. I think you're right, its far too easy to fall back on this argument of the dream like or illogical narrative nature of horror. If you have a story to tell, tell it. When you dress it up too much, you run risk of pretension and self-consciousness. It's a very a hard balancing act. I think Argento got it spot on with 'Suspiria', but missed the mark with 'Inferno' - Fulci's horror films never got it right for me...his best is the straightforward 'Zombi 2'

    ReplyDelete
  20. Right on in making the "Kubrick making the material his own" observation & that rubbing King the wrong way. Incidentally, Kubrick practically does this "visionary hi-jacking" (I don't mean this pejoratively) in every one of his films right up to "Eyes Wide Shut", based on Schnitzler's "Dream Story", a short book well worth seeking out.

    I must add though that King's "The Shining" is a serviceable horror/ghost book and it's tightly plotted and enjoyable to read. Early work but one of his better efforts.

    I usually revisit Kubrick's "The Shining", on average, about once a year. A good example of films meeting or exceeding excellent source material and we all know how little that occurs with the book to film (or visa versa) conversion. All the best, WSS.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Looks like I'm a bit late weighing in on the comments for this one, but hey, better late than never...

    I'm going to have to respectfully disagree with you on the Romero films, Shaun - I think they're incredible, Night OTLD remains the ur-text of all modern horror cinema, etc etc...

    ...but that aside, I think you're spot on for the most part!

    I've deliberately avoided seeing "Last House On The Left", and reading some stuff recently about Wes Craven's original intentions & script ideas made me want to watch it even less (god, I hate that guy).

    I've never understood how/why so many people take "The Omen" seriously - dumb, overcooked Hollywood potboiler rubbish with an icky born-again xtian agenda, surely..?

    Never much cared for "Ther Exorcist" either, but to save space I won't go into that here.

    I've never had much time for serial killer/slasher shtick unless there's some artistry or interest to go with it, so "Friday The 13th" and "Henry" mean nothing to me (does anyone actually rate the former on a cinematic level anyway..?)

    "Cat People" is a pretty brave and unusual film I think, and one that certainly deserves some kudos for approaching the horror genre from a completely new angle, but you're right, it's certainly not the untouchable masterpiece people usually present it as - if we're picking a Val Lewton film to canonise, I think "I Walked With A Zombie" stands up a lot better.

    I will go to bat for "The Beyond" however - everything you say about it is true, but I think all its obvious flaws are part of what makes it so effective. Much like the rambling, incoherent narratives and flat characters of a Lovecraft or Clark Ashton Smith story, it is the crazed, illogical weirdness of Fulci's best films that help give them a genuine feeling of fear and unease that 90% of more 'sensible' horror films lack. In fact I'd point to "The Beyond" as a perfect example of how the best horror films/stories usually benefit from seeming like the product of a deranged mind...

    ReplyDelete
  22. Hi there Ben - thanks for taking the time out to share your thoughts. I'm greatful for your views. I agree about the weirdness of 'The Beyond' - my point is though to what extent is it a strategy on the filmmakers part? I'm not convinced that it is at all. Therefore if I follow that line of logic I cant proclaim Fulci. In Fulci's horror films, the evidence of incompetence is overwhelming in my view. People separate those three 'Living Dead' flicks, because it supports an 'auteur' driven argument. The reality is the majority of Fulci's horror films are simply dreadful. I think NOTLD reputation as heraldic of modern horror is overrated. Fans seems to neglect 'Rosemary's Baby', 'Repulsion', 'Peeping Tom', 'Eyes Without a Face'...all films that predate NOTLD and can be described as modern.

    @ Woodside - I'm not keen on the novel. I think Kubrick's film is far superior. I havent read 'Dream Story', and am unlikely too, because I found 'Eyes Wide Shut' incredibly dull. I tend to revisit 'The Shining' quite often as well.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Zoinks!! I love the kick in the knees to these (most of 'em, at least) sacred cows. I agree with a lot of your criticisms, especially of Last House and The Beyond. Although I was startled by Last House, and was impressed with Hess' performance, I couldn't forgive the obvious joy the filmmakers were taking with the cruelty. And The Beyond... yaaaaawwwwwnnnnn...

    Henry, I need to defend. I was blown away by this film when I first saw it, and continue to be impressed. It came at a time when horror movies were simply bad. I've been a life long fan of horror, and I hated the trend of "funny" monsters/killers after the success of Nightmare on Elm Street (which I hated, and cntinue to despise -- talk about over rated!). Henry was the perfect antidote. Grisly, terrible and very scary. Horror films, although I enjoy the hell out of them, don't often really "scare" me. Henry did -- and I was in my mid-twenties when I saw it! I agree about the lack of humanity in the film, but there were hints here and there, and mostly demonstrated in the world that surrounded Henry. Nonetheless, I don't see a problem with the relentlessness of it. It wasn't made to entertain, like you mentioned, but to scare the shit outa you. If a film can disturb me that much, I just have to admire.

    The Exorcist, I like, still. But, it was a downer to see the re-release of it a few years back. I sat in an audience of mostly teens and 20somethings, and was in misery that they were laughing through all the creepy parts. I couldn't quite tell if it was because it was now so dated, or if it was because there is such a different expectancy out of horror for the younger audiences (again back to the funny biz). Either way, I think your criticism was more with the director (who, yes, is an egotistical ass) than with the movie.

    The most startling thing about your list, for me at least, was the bonus inclusion of Black Christmas -- probably my most favorite of the modern horror movies. Yes, I know it gets trivial accolades for having its crown stolen by Halloween as the first slasher flick (which we all know, neither one was "first"). But that aside, I thought it a brilliant suspense flick with highly interesting characters and situations... and the absolutely creepiest phone caller ever. I'd really love to hear why you felt it should be included on your over rated list!!

    Great stuff.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Dang. I missed the conversation earlier lol.. Where to jump in...

    I have some obvious grievances with some of the titles on there, but I completely agree on Dracula without question. So many of the other films are due a certain amount of praise for their importance and historical context within the genre.

    As I will mention in my response to Night of the Demon, Shaun, relates to Cat People as well. Where Tourneur was heading (at least I believe he was) was in a completely psychological direction devoid of any supernatural elements. Neither the lycanthropic cat people nor the fire demon ever really existed, though Tourneur planned to allow enough room for skepticism in both films where the viewer would be the final determining factor in deciding whether or not that was true based solely on the psychology of the film. I love this aspect of each of the films, and though I do appreciate a great monster, these were not the same case as we had in Alien. Alien held back the monster to maximize impact, but there was never any question whether or not the monster ever existed. This is part of the fun of the Tourneur films IMO =D

    ReplyDelete
  25. You raise a good point Carl, and its one of the best defences for 'Cat People' I've seen. I have no qualms with 'Night of the Demon' - its an excellent film, but I understand you extending the point in response to my comment on your review. 'Cat People' pretty much stood in for all of the Val Lewton horror pictures (except 'The Body Snatcher') and I could just as easily have chosen 'I Walked with a Zombie', another film I believe to be underrated. I'm not so sure that the motivations for the stylistic decisions of Lewton's productions were in service of an artisic imperative. These were very cheap films, and in some cases, horribly studio bound. Were the motivation for the subtlety and lack of show purely in service of a psychological dimension then all credit, however I think there were other variables that determined this stylistic choice...cheers buddy :-)

    ReplyDelete
  26. I can 100% agree on that point, we will never know for certain whether the studios imposed the decisions to include the monsters or not in either NotD or Cat People, which will leave a mystique around the films to be debated for years. The two interpretations can almost be reviewed entirely separately from one another, since the Cat People as a monster film and the Cat People as a psychological thriller almost stand as two separate films. Makes for great talking points though!

    ReplyDelete
  27. Great post, although I agree whole heartedly on more than one choice! If I were ballsy enough to make a list like this, I'd have to include "House of the Devil", "Rocky Horror Picture Show", and "The Shining". Oops, now I've done it. I'll probably be drummed out of the Monster Squad now. SORRY GUYS!

    Anyway, I wanted to let you know that I chose this as one of the best posts of October at my blog. Here's a LINK, if you're interested in checking it out.

    --J/Metro

    ReplyDelete
  28. Thanks for stopping by Jonny - I love 'The Shining', probably because it was one of my earliest encounters with cinematic horror. However I'd love to read an informed review that tried to tear it apart! - there is plenty in 'The Shining' to be criticised. Thanks very much for rating this amongst the best October posts, I appreciate it greatly.

    ReplyDelete
  29. This post started off on the right foot by including Dracula- then fell apart when you added Dawn of the Dead and Black Christmas.

    Whenever somebody accuses Dawn of the Dead of being overrated, I always wonder why they can't stomach the focus being on the characters instead of the gore.

    ReplyDelete
  30. I assume you haven't read why I thought DAWN OF THE DEAD was overrated? My reasons are nothing to do with the film being character driven. Also you shouldn't assume everyones motive for saying a film is overrated is the same...many thanks for the comment though.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Well well - I like that you're brave enough to call out The Exorcist, but I don't see it as horrified of female sexuality as much as about the dissolve of the patriarchy, with the true villain being Father Karras (his neglect of his mother, etc.) the good thing about that film--and most all of these--is that you can read something into it. I also love every Lewton film in his horror series EXCEPT Body Snatcher, and Bedlam, and don't like Witchfinder General much --but I hate pre 19th century period pieces, period. I think you should see some of these movies a few times to get their full effect - both 'Dead' films get better with each viewing. I believe you on Last House tho, and have yet to see it -- and agree on Friday the 13th... once was three times too many.

    ReplyDelete
  32. jervaise brooke hamster30 August 2012 at 02:40

    Shaun, great to see that you trashed "28 Days later" and "The Descent", they were just more ludicrously over-rated British made garbage.

    ReplyDelete
  33. That's fair enough. To each their own.

    ReplyDelete

Related Posts with Thumbnails