Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Hard And R

I have really been enjoying all of the online discussion and disagreements on Eli Roth's upcoming HOSTEL 2 and the state of horror in general as of late. I have been amazed to see the wide ranging and strong opinions film fans seem to have on Roth and this so called 'Torture Porn' phrase that is being thrown around so much in the media these days.
I would be seeing HOSTEL 2 no matter what just because of the casting of the legendary Edwige Fenech. I would like to throw my two cents in on the subject though and say that I would be seeing, and looking forward to, the film even without the iconic Fenech's presence.
I was more than a bit cold on Roth's debut film CABIN FEVER. I just didn't understand the hype but I admired the first HOSTEL very much and felt that his THANKSGIVING trailer was among the best thing I have seen this year. Roth seems to be very consciously following the lead of a handful of directors, such as Fulci, Deodato, Craven, Martino and others, who believed the horror film has the capability to truly shock and disturb. It is this very primal, and at times almost oppressively dark, feeling that horror films lost in the nineties and that a handful of young directors have been trying to reclaim this decade.
I have always found it ironic that it was Wes Craven, who at his prime delivered some of the most truly unsettling and visceral horror films ever, would have been the guy who helmed the film that more than any other would turn the genre into a self referential, humorous and ultimately extremely sanitized form. I liked, and still like, SCREAM and SCREAM 2 but they created a winking and back patting breed that would give birth to a seemingly endless succession of safe and typically very bland films. I saw many of these films throughout the mid to late 90's...some were okay, most were very bad. I noticed that each one seemed to be a little safer and a little more meaningless than the last. These weren't films about anything other than pushing a lousy soundtrack of trendy songs and giving roles to forgettable teen tv actors. These seemed to be films designed for the PG13 rating, show us as little as possible and suggest something perhaps even less.
Obviously there have always films that combine humor and horror and I'm not suggesting that horror films always need to be graphic. What I am saying is that a key element to the horror film is to take us, and yes show us, places that are typically unseen and locked away. The so called horror films of the late 90s stopped doing that, they just began showing us television versions of things we had seen in countless other better films.

I really began to miss the extreme horror films of my childhood in this period. Films like DAWN OF THE DEAD and the original HILLS HAVE EYES became something more than just films that I loved from my youth. They became prime examples of everything that I loved in cinema that modern culture, and specifically the opening weekend gross watchers, had taken away. It's no coincidence that it was in the mid 90s that I started to obsessively hunt down and collect Italian horror films. Here were films that I hadn't known as a child that I could discover as new. The importance and greatness of a film as extreme as CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST seemed overwhelming to me, and it felt like we would never be allowed to see anything quite so graphic and disturbing as that powerhouse again.

One of the most exciting experiences I have had in a theater this decade was seeing Alexandre Aja's 2003 French film HAUTE TENSION (HIGH TENSION). There had been rumblings of a change in the horror landscape in the early part of the decade but here was a film so unrelenting, so bleak and so truly disturbing, that it felt to me like it was at times literally shaking the screen. HIGH TENSION seemed to open a floodgate of angry, and at times nihilistic, films that have given us some of the most extreme violence cinema has seen since the late seventies.

Not many of the films have been great, but for all their failings I admire pictures like WOLF CREEK, HOSTEL, SAW and Aja's HILLS HAVE EYES remake more than most 'great' horror films of the last 15 years. These films and filmmakers are trying to make horror dangerous again...to take the darker aspects of society that are continually thrown at us in the media and turn them into something we can properly internalize and hopefully understand.

"Torture Porn" is the most ridiculous media created term since "Punk" became "New Wave". It feels like a term made up and jumped on by people who not only don't know anything of the history of horror films, but plain just don't like them. A film like Rob Zombie's THE DEVIL'S REJECTS, which I loved, has been grouped in with this so called genre but the themes and images from it are decades old. I doubt very seriously the critics who use phrases like "Torture Porn" even know who Lucio Fulci or Ruggero Deodato are...sometimes I wonder if they even know who Sam Peckinpah is.

So I will be at HOSTEL 2 opening weekend and I hope it is as twisted and graphic as possible. Horror films should cause a reaction...they should make us feel and see things that hopefully we don't have to in our everyday life. A lot of people do not like these extreme images these films are promising and that is perfectly fine. Don't buy a ticket...it is a as simple as that. I fear though that 2008 will bring a landslide against the return of the extreme horror film and that the studios will once again start playing it safe. As a rule I try not to get political on this blog at all but I find the idea that both presidential parties might again try to deflect attention from the real issues with a battle against artistic expression to be the most horrifying thought of all.


Rogue Spy 007 said...

I just posted a comment over at Cinebeats about "Hostel." I mentioned that I was disappointed in the first one. I loved the whole concept and setting of the movie. It was very intriguing. I was let down though by the movie. I guess I didn't care much for the first part that seemed more like a fratboy comedy than a horror film. I couldn't have cared less for any of the characters. I sure didn't shed a tear over what happened to them. I also thought that when the horror came that it was too little. I know they can't go out all, but I still felt like it was more of a tease at times. I do admire Eli Roth. He's at least trying to do something different and more fascinating that most of the crap that is called horror these days. I'm tired of all these PG-13 horror movies starring no talent himbos and bimbos from the CW Network. I want to be shocked, terrified, and disgusted.

The French are doing some of my favorite things in horror. I loved "High Tension." It is such a very dark and cold movie. It shows how cruel and merciless this world truly is most of the time. It blew me away. I think Aja is a great filmmaker. I loved his remake of "The Hills Have Eyes." It was awesome. It was much better than when Wes Craven got his hands on the sequel. He mucked it up like most in Hollywood do. I have been very disappointed with his career. After some promising movies over the years, such as "Last House on the Left," "Nightmare on Elm Street," and "Scream," he has also done a lot of crap. I did enjoy the first "Scream," but couldn't have cared less for the second two.

I much prefer the horror films of my youth. I remember hearing about all these horror movies of the 70's. We got our first VCR when I was like 14 in the mid-80's, I went about renting all these awesome movies. I still love movies like "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," "Dawn of the Dead," "I Spit On Your Grave," "Blood Sucking Freaks," "The Hills Have Eyes," "Cannibal Holocaust," and so many more. These guys were more daring and innovative. They didn't have to have pretty faces and large budgets to make a great horror movie.

I just wish the studios of today would learn what true horror is. They won't though. It's not about artistic quality anymore, but about making money. That's why Hollywood churns out all these remakes and PG-13 horror movies.


Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the whole Hard R and "torture porn" topic. It seems to really divide audiences and critics and I'm not sure why at this point.

I think it might have something to do with younger audiences who grew up with the watered down thoughtless horror films made in the conservative 80s and 90s who are now just coming of age and finding a voice. Like Eli Roth, we grew up with stuff like Zombie, Torso, Cannibal Holocaust, etc. and so we're used to real nasty visceral scares. The younger generation is not.

At the same time I find that a lot of modern professional film critics also write a hell of lot about what they don't know (such as horror films) and their authoritative voices add a lot of uninformed debate into the mix.

While I don't think Roth has reached the levels of the great European horror auteurs yet, he has lots of potential and I hope he sticks to his guns and grows as a filmmaker. He's really young still and I'm sure he has lots to learn, but I think he's off to a good start.

As I've mentioned before, I think the French are doing great things in modern horror which are superior to anything happening in the US. I feel the same way about Asia (in particular Japan and Korea).

Haute Tension was also one of my favorite horror films from recent years and it seems to divide audiences and critics as well. French filmmakers like Alexandre Aja, Gaspar Noe, Christophe Gans, Fabrice Du Welz and Marina de Van are all doing really interesting things within the horror medium.

Anyway, I enjoyed reading your thoughts about the topic and I'm glad you shared them in your blog. I think this will become an increasingly important topic as the year rolls on. I worry that we're going to be subject to the continuing trend of conservatism that's been sweeping the US since the 80s unless some people start fighting back against the growing wave of conservative thinking.


Just wanted to add - It's not just conservative thinking that's a problem. I think it's the "politically correct" PC thinking as well that came out of the 80s.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks to you both for your very well thought out and detailed responses. Glad to see so much love for Aja as I think he is one of the most promising young directors around.
Rogue Spy, I agree with you about Craven. He made some of my favorite films in the seventies and eighties but since "Scream" his work has been really spotty and frustrating.

Kimberly, I think you make a great point about younger audiences who have grown up with just sanitized horror films. I am constantly amazed by younger fans who are treating images of gore and hard violence as something new.
Also agree with you about mainstream critics writing on what they don't know. I find that happening more and more as 'capsule' reviews have really taken over. Plus there is nothing worse than these older bland and snobbish wanna be intellectuals who look down on anything even remotely horror related.
Reading your comment I realized I should have mentioned some of the amazing, and sometimes extreme horror, coming out of Asia. Several of my favorite films of the decade would fall in with those.
That overly conservative and oppresive PC thinkers will I think definately be raising their judgemental heads in the next year with the election. I'm not looking forward to it and I hope the backlash against the return of the extreme horror film doesn't grow any larger.

Thanks again for both your thoughts.