Horror: An Idiot’s Guide

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In case you weren’t already aware, I’m a little partial to horror. It has been a lifelong obsession and shows no signs of slowing up as I rocket toward forty. Thus I have decided, in my infinite wisdom, to wax a little about some of my experiences as a horror buff. I’ve seen a lot of ‘best of’ compilations over the years and, on the whole, it is the usual suspects which grab all the plaudits. I could pretty much recall from memory how they pan out. Ordinarily the top ten would read something like this: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Shining, The Evil Dead, Halloween, The Exorcist, Alien(s), Dawn of the Dead, Jaws, The Thing, The Wicker Man/Witchfinder General interchangeable. No particular order but these are the films considered the crème de la crème.

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I must point out that this is admittedly a most formidable checklist and there’s not a dud in sight. However, it gets tiring reading the same ten again and again and there is so much more to the genre than these admittedly outstanding genre examples. One stellar example would be William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist III. On its release it was met with indifference across the board and many still haven’t extended it more than a cursory glance twenty-five years on but it is an utterly absorbing piece of high-brow horror which makes a grand companion piece to the original. Three really is the magic number as attested by Tommy Lee Wallace’s Halloween III: Season of the Witch. There was widespread disgust and disbelief when this emerged and many considered it a tactless cash in. From a marketing point of view perhaps this is correct but unlike most franchises which pump out their annual offerings to chime the tills, this is actually a true bona-fide classic in its own right.

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If a film is largely considered a turkey then it can be easy for folk to discard it before even viewing it on their terms. This saddens me as critics have a rather exclusive obligation to inform but so many of them find it impossible to operate outside of the box from time-to-time. Take a mess like William Friedkin’s The Guardian. This was served up for thanksgiving dinner and admittedly is preposterous in the extreme. However, should you lose yourself in its ominous world for just a minute then it will root itself deep in your psyche and bear a number of previously concealed fruits. Nevertheless it didn’t tick enough boxes to be considered anything other than a pretentious piece of drivel and has long since been consigned to the forgotten droves.

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If you asked me my personal darling of George A Romero’s Dead enigma I would respond with no stutter that Day is my fondest entry. Critics had no idea what to make of it upon its release and many vilified it for its hateful protagonists and excessive cursing. These silly rabbits completely misinterpreted its social context and these were the same bozos praising Dawn for its glorious expose on consumerism. I have appraised both films and a perfect score was never in doubt for either. However, on an intimate level, I found Day more insular, more streamlined and, of course, more gruesome. I was still ten when I saw the light of Day and Savini’s work had already become an infatuation of mine so his FX work for the 1985 film alone ensured it resonated. I know where my allegiances lie and will never be culpable of bowing to consensus.

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If public opinion says potato then I will also say potato but I may well mean it more than most. Friday the 13th is a landmark slasher but The Burning is, in my opinion, the better film. To me it is the daddy cool of slasher and for a myriad of reasons. If I’m sounding conspicuously like a whore to Savini at this point that is because I’m the filthiest slut alive where this guy is concerned. His work on both films was majestic but The Burning would be the first I would refer to when introducing his art. Maybe if Kevin Bacon had been taking that nap on the raft when Cropsey stymied five unhappy campers in one fell swoop, then it would be different. On a more earthy level, its affable protagonists were far more investable, Rick Wakeman’s magnificent score much more disheartening and its scope much vaster yet it failed to enthuse and those grue-sodden garden shears were packed up in perpetual storage.

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If I was asked the best horror film I have ever seen then it would be an entirely different proposition to being asked favorite. Harry Bromley Davenport’s Xtro is a lot of things, all of which are utterly glorious, but the best of anything sure ain’t one of them. Actually, scrap that, it has the best full-grown man-birth and the best reason to clean your bathroom thoroughly before taking that twilight soak. If I were to suggest this as ‘one of the finest’ then I would be promptly removed from society and shot like a thoroughbred with a twisted ankle. If I were asked the best horror film I have ever seen then there would be no standout candidate as different movies achieve perfection in their own ways and to suggest one over the other would be nothing more than one subjective standpoint. If asked which horror has resonated most my reply would be far more calculable. Dario Argento’s Suspiria and Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre. no quibbles, qualms or quandary. Both traversed deep and never vacated their spots under my skin.

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Once you grow older it is too easy to become jaded in your stance. Nothing is ever as good as it was back then, it can only ever pale in comparison. If that is the case then what the fuck is Fede Alvarez’ Evil Dead? Last time I checked it was possibly the most gargantuan modern reboot ever to snag the cabin keys. Comparing it with Sam Raimi’s seminal original would be like pitting Arnold and Willis together in the pole vault. An insult to both, a waste of everybody’s fucking time. I love my rose-colored spectacles as much as the next man but at some point you have to pay the opticians a visit. Case in point; favorite Psycho movie. No question, Psycho II. Norman Bates had reached his apex by the time he had reached middle-age and Richard Franklin’s masterpiece was both leaner and meaner. I don’t wish Alfred Hitchcock to be turning in his tomb and I’m fully aware of its time and place but I never really desired being one of the sheep and I’m sure he would appreciate that at least.

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What about the real stink-fingers? Phillipe Mora’s Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf is as good a place to start as any. It’s hard to argue against it being lampoonery of gargantuan proportions but, as much as that could be a damning indictment on one hand, it’s a hearty recommendation on the other and it has Christopher Lee in it so what else could you possibly desire? Horror is in rather an exclusive position with regards to quality control. It needn’t be curtains if your film script is devised by gibbons or if it looks like it was shot for $100 and a hand-job. There is such a thing as a film being so-bad-its-good and that’s why tripe like Troll 2 actually matures with age. Go into it expecting a delicious slab of dark fantasy and you may well prolapse regardless of age or gender. However, expect it to be a bucket of congealed goose-phlegm and you may have yourself a new guilty pleasure. Time, the great healer.

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The real offenders are the motion pictures which cite indifference. Nobody wants to be the bland nondescript with nothing remarkable about them. I’d rather be Rocky Dennis than Mr. Average any day of the week as long as I knew some blind chicks. The Friday the 13th remake committed a cardinal sin as far as Keeper is concerned. It was just so painfully ‘meh’. I would rather it had gone out in a blaze of glory à la Jason Like Manhattan than offering such a neutered vision of blandness. Was it a dreadful film? No, and I despise it for that reason entirely. Of course, it could’ve gone one better and been breathtaking but, after years of slurping from the teat of this dried-up cash cow that may have been a bridge too far. If I were resurrecting a franchise which I knew folk would have their knives sharpened for, I would make it rock or suck but never pitch it in between.

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Preconception is the real guilty party here. We’re all culpable of letting our outlandish aspirations get the better of us from time-to-time and often a flick will be cut no slack for failing to meet our lofty expectations. I read a lot of ‘reviews’ for Prometheus after scribing my appraisal and they fluctuated wildly. It was easy to see who had their panties in a bunch from the offset. Anyone accusing Ridley Scott’s film of being an epic fail can only be presumed as being off their rickshaws. Bars of expectation are set abnormally high for works such as this and they’re set up to fail at conception. Some nihilistic naysayers get a kick out of knocking a piece of fine art. These dodos do so because they will never create their own. It’s just sour grapes.

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Having spent over thirty years massaging the macabre I can honestly say that little has changed. If I want a dynamic screenplay I’ll watch a Coen Brothers movie. If I want to be thoroughly entertained and doused in crude practical grue for eighty minutes then a piece of trashy B-movie schlock like Galaxy of Terror becomes my Constant Gardener. If in doubt, throw in some titties and ladle on the red sauce, that will do me dandy as I’m not fussy. Not every film has to resonate on some deep intellectual level; if it did then there would be no real fun to be had. My advice would be this; when you sit down to watch any horror movie, check the running time. Then expect it to be a film of equivalent duration to said prophecy and leave other baggage at the door. That’s what I do and I’m rarely disappointed nowadays. Just keeping it real.

Read Aficionado: Journal of a Gruehead 

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Truly, Clearly, Really, Sincerely,

Keeper of the Crimson Quill

Copyright: Crimson Quill: Savage Vault Enterprises 2014

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2 Comments

  1. I very rarely read wright ups on anything mainstream & I don’t always read things you tag me in… BUT I do always retweet you because you have a way with words!

    I LOVE Asian horror & exploitation… you knock up reviews quick time! If you ever take requests on more obscure films I have a list that I would love you to cast your eye over.

    “Late Bloomer” would be one & your thoughts on “Snake & Whip” I would love to read as well.

    Keep doing what you do & keep throwing down your great reviews!

  2. Thank you massively for your comment. I will absolutely track down both of those films post-haste and check them out.

    I too love Asian horror & exploitation, they have such wonderfully warped minds and their films are far more visceral than any others.

    I appreciate your words my friend. Truly.

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