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Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

The Horrific State Of The Horror Film

Like most cinephiles, I have a fondness in my heart for horror movies.  I would not go so far as to say that it is my favorite genre, but I find horror films to be the most visceral experience one can have in a movie theater.  When we see something on screen that scares us, we react physically by either screaming or jumping or getting goosebumps.  It’s one of the few interactive genres, where you producing a certain response is a key to how effective the film plays.

My favorite horror film is The Shining but I’m a fan of all types of horror films, from the more cerebral like The Shining or Eyes Without a Face to the more inane, campy horror films of Night of the Demons or Sleepaway Camp.  I enjoy all the classics of the genre like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho, Friday the 13th and of course, The Shining, which brings to mind’ the impending release of Rob Zombie’s Halloween.

Most horror films I watch today don’t scare me as a whole, instead I’ll have to look for bits and pieces that were original or at least different.  For instance, the chase scene across the field in the opening minutes 28 Weeks Later or that terrifying air-raid siren that repeats in the exquisitely shot Silent Hill or the monster coming to feed in The Host.  Those three films were by no means perfect, and in some cases they were downright bad, but I’ve had to settle for mere moments that gave me the slightest bit of a chill.

Perhaps it’s my fault, perhaps I’ve become too jaded and I can’t stand to see the conventional horror films anymore, but I don’t think that’s the case.  I think that the filmmakers are just too in love with the genre and its conventions to be able to add anything to the horror lexicon.

The last horror film that truly scared me to the point of haunting my dreams was Brad Anderson’s Session 9 and that was six years ago.  For those who haven’t had the pleasure of viewing it, Session 9 is a terrifying film about five asbestos workers trying to clean up an abandoned mental institution.  That’s it, that’s the plot.  It’s not trying to reinvent the wheel, it was just a scary idea executed in an interesting way with characters that we cared about or at least sympathized with.  There was a noticeable absence of gore – although there were certainly scenes with a good amount of blood – but it was just the mere idea of going crazy inside a building where so many others had lost their minds.  It wasn’t a movie so much about what happened to these guys, but about what could drive a person crazy and how you could defend against that.

Now, I’m all for a good, fun, gory flick.  Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive is one of my favorites, but it’s not the least bit scary.  It’s basically a comedy with a good deal of gore thrown into it.  But lately, there have been a crop of movies that have broken through to the multiplexes and the media have taken to calling them “torture porn” movies.  The big franchises are, of course,Saw and Hostel.

I don’t think it’s a blight on humanity that these films are being given the green light.  However, my problem with these films is this: they aren’t scary.  None of them.  Saw 1, 2, 3? Not scary.  Hostel, Hostel II, Captivity?  Not scary.

I’m not going to waste my time defending these movies against the claims that they are sexist or hateful because they’re not worth defending.  I will say that most horror films depict slutty women in tight t-shirts being chased around by a man with a hatchet or chainsaw, and that has been a convention of the genre for almost fifty years.  Janet Leigh stole money, had an affair and the second she gets naked in the shower, it’s time for her to die.  Like I said, though, if you disagree with that and still find these movies particularly hateful or disgusting, that’s your prerogative and I won’t spend my time arguing with you.  These films simply aren’t good enough.

Eli Roth and James Wan are talented filmmakers, to be sure.  Eli Roth, in particular, has become the leader and spokesperson for these “torture porn” flicks and has defended his right to make them, which I don’t begrudge him.  Roth made a fun horror flick called Cabin Feverand the hilarious short Thanksgiving for Grindhouse, so he’s obviously got some talent.  However, he seems to be forgetting one of the principle rules of horror flicks; to imagine someone getting their fingers chopped off is horrifying, to see it is gross.  What I’m saying is that there is nothing scary about watching somebody being tortured or watching them lose a limb.  Scary is, “What’s behind that door?” not “Wow, that would probably hurt.” For me, watching Hostel and its sequel is to say to myself, “This does not look like fun” when I want a horror film to make me say, “Oh my lord, someone help me.”  In Hostel, the characters express that latter thought as dialogue way too much for me to be scared.  Watching people scream and being scared makes me less scared.  I want to watch people who have no idea how scared they should be.

The scariest film I’ve seen in the last few years?  Jesus Camp. And that is the problem with horror films today; the reality of what is going on in the world is far scarier than someone getting their throat slit with a chainsaw.  Rather than remaking the already perfect Halloween, Rob Zombie and other horror filmmakers should be wondering how to make a horror film that reflects where we are now.  Movies like The Hills Have Eyes II are too on-the-nose, we need something that can really haunt our dreams.  We need something that gives us those scares that we so long for.  We cannot just sit back and let these filmmakers rest on their laurels.  As much as we might be fans of horror, we cannot line up for a film just because it would sit on that shelf at Blockbuster.  The message needs to be sent that we want to be scared.

So what will be the next film that scares us?  What will be the next Blair Witch Project?  Will it be Kevin Smith’s Red State?  Will it be Eli Roth’s Cell?  Will it be Miike’s next flick?  I’ll be seeing them all, hoping to be frightened just like you, but chances are that none of those films will be as scary as the world we live in.

– Noah Forrest
August 14, 2007

Noah Forrest is a 24 year old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writers and do not neccessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon