Horror film consumption is both a personal and social experience. While the genre has the unflattering (but maybe not undeserved) reputation for camp, horror films can be powerful cultural indicators. Individually we may enjoy a film's titillating shock value, but scary movies offer us something more. When a horror film is successful, it is due in large part to its ability to tap into our current societal fears. Take our current obsession with Zombies. Keep in mind that zombies were once you and me. Or well, if we're the protagonists, our neighbors and friends. Here our punishment is not death, but the transformation into the "living" and very much not thinking dead. Contrast this with the influx of alien flicks in the 50s and 60s. Aliens are not us, but appear to be us, like in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Popularity of such films skyrocketed because people were afraid of Communists: those that appear to be us, but are intrinsically Other. Likewise, I guess I'll argue that films like Halloween and Friday the 13th of the 80s exposed the failings of child-rearing in the ME generation. Most of the films during this era focused on one psychotic (always with a justifying backstory) that went on murderous rampages against scantily clad teens (weak, I know. I'll work on it). And finally, our current love for Zombies has probably got a lot to do with the economy. Zombie outbreaks signify a dramatic change in lifestyle for the living, read: end of life as we know it. Hmm...with the failure of the dollar and the Never Ending Story of Recession, with republicans, democrats and tea partiers alike accusing the others of mindless adherence to their respective political cults, seems like we've got a full-on proverbial zombie outbreak on our hands right now. I'll close with one last little treat, my current list of the five best Horror films (I've ever seen). Post with your favorites if you disagree!
Top 5 Best Horror Films in no particular order:
I'm no Argento scholar. But two out of two Argento movies I've seen are on this list, and he is certainly a visionary when it comes to murder. I appreciate his innovative approach to the role of women in horror films, especially since your typical giallo at worst romanticizes rape and at best stars bodacious but helpless babes. Suspiria is almost entirely centered on women--set in a super creepy ballet school with both pro- and an-tagonist sporting ovaries. Deep Red isn't wholly lady-centric but one of the best scenes features lovely Daria Nicolodi (Argento's longtime life partner) besting our lead male at arm wrestling. While Deep Red does feature another Evil murderess, Argento manages to offer us far more female faces than just your typical virgin/whore good/bad dichotomy. These two films are made a trilogy with his 2007 release, Mother of Tears, starring his daughter Asia. Having so loved the first two films in his "Three Mothers" trilogy I'm sure to watch the third, but I have to say I'm a little nervous I'll be disappointed. Part of the charm of these two is the incredibly beautiful 70s styling and clever cinematographic tricks. Since Mother of Tears came out in the 2000s I just hope he doesn't Jar-Jar Binks it all and substitute cinematic innovation for high-budget glitz and computer animation. Oh, and it won't have a Goblins soundtrack like the other two, which is reason enough alone to love these two films.
The first time I saw The Shining I was alone, lights out, at night. I think it was the first horror film that scared me since watching Poltergeist at 4 or 5 and Chuckie at 6. I thought in my adolescence I'd lost the skill to fear film, but Kubrick's Shining made me feel like a kid again. Why is this film so great? Maybe because it actually makes sense, because the plot wasn't an afterthought to the blood and gore. Maybe because Jack Nicholson is so convincingly dangerous you wonder if you really are about to watch a boy and his mother take a nice long bloody nap. Or maybe it's because, like the two aforementioned Argento films, the music is so eerie, perfect and scary, and that coupled with the hallucinations/ghosts of the hotel, it creates a perfectly scary setting. I read today that Stephen King is writing a sequel to the Shining. I don't care. Well, the book is so laughable, I guess I am a little curious to see what he comes up with this time. Stephen King hated Kubrick's inspired retelling of his mediocre story. Probably because it was so far superior. Remember the hedge maze in the movie, the one that makes so much sense and is symbolic of mental illness and Jack's decent into madness? Well, in the book Danny battles EVIL TOPIARIES. Wonder what that symbolizes in society--fear of yard work?
My best friend Amanda was the first to recommend this film to me. Her initial attempt at its screening was unsuccessful; let's just say Blockbuster only carries a film by this name starring Snoop. But, she made the investment on Amazon and we watched it, appropriately, in my new apartment. This is a great film, all opinions of Polanski aside, for fans of the Shining. Another psychological mystery, the film is twisted and stylish and has the creep factor turned up to 11.
5.A Tale of Two Sisters
This film's got heart. And I'm not afraid to say I cried, in between biting my nails and peeking through my fingers. Sweet and mysterious, creepy and cruel, A Tale of Two Sisters is one of the best films I've seen period. The cinematography is gorgeous: featuring saturated, Amelie-like color and imaginative set design. All three female leads are fabulous actors, inspiring appropriate amounts of sympathy and disgust for their complicated characters. The story is not at once obvious, and like so many of my favorite Korean films, is unimaginably tragic without seeming gratuitous and manipulative.
Honorable Mention: Rosemary's Baby, Candyman, Poltergeist, Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead
So there's my list, and I'm surprised not a single Zombie flick made it. Now, if you'll excuse me, it's time to watch the next episode of The Walking Dead.