I feel old. Not the kind of old that makes you wait in line at Wal-Mart with a bargain priced package of Depends tucked under your wrinkled arm, mind you. But the kind of old that makes one feel disconnected to today’s youth generation. When it comes to horror, and based upon its current climate and trends, I especially become aware of my age and the passage of time. Furthermore, I frequently become appalled by younger fans being oblivious to its past. For it is critical to know where we came from in order to progress. If you watched The Texas Chain Saw Massacreor The Amityville Horrorremakes and thought they were effective beyond their flashy kills, then this article begs your attention. Before you take a seat at the next Platinum Goons money grab, might I suggest supporting older films that offer something I like to call originality?
Up until 1968’s successful Night Of The Living Dead(a low budget zombie picture you may have heard of), horror films rarely merited serious critical analysis. However, when George Romero brought the gray face of fear into our living rooms, it was a turning point. Suddenly things were not going to end well; the hero might not get the girl in the end (or even survive, for that matter); love doesn’t conquer all; and bad things will happen to good people. The intelligence of the film could not be denied, and its graphic content raised many a conservative eye.
Here there was no sanctuary, the monsters were everywhere. Outside our windows, but more alarmingly, staring back at us from the mirror. Romero didn’t actually intend to usher in a new sense of social awareness and realism by way of the fantastic, he had just wanted to scare us; but he unconsciously legitimized the genre by touching a primal nerve in both audiences and critics. The majors found themselves at a loss for what the public wanted. This disillusion offered film makers more artistic freedom to indulge their obsessions. Taboos would be broken left and right in the underground by artists exploiting the changing climate, and many would turn a considerable profit. Welcome to the Seventies, man.
Nicolas Roeg would construct one of the most chilling psychological thrillers in the genre with Don’t Look Now(1973). Combining classic suspense with art-house flourishes, it weaves its tale of deceit deliberately with a compelling script, exceptional acting, superior photography and editing, and an ending that leaves you breathless. The film certainly brings into question our perceptions of reality. Time, sight, memory, and even our belief in the supernatural are all up for debate. Ironically, Don’t Look Nowbegs you to do exactly the opposite.
Bob Clark would celebrate a Black Christmas(1974), and set a benchmark for the modern slasher. Look no further for your pioneering template: a holiday celebration gone awry, check; sorority house, check; lone female heroine, check; POV from the killer’s perspective (then, still a novel idea), check; total ambiguity of the monster, his motive, and his next move, check and mate! The film never panders to the audience like so many of its cut-throat cousins; it’s concise and tightly directed with a thick and hearty atmosphere. If you ask me, John Carpenter was taking notes.
David Cronenberg became known for manipulating the concept of body horror, literally “fleshing out” our sexual, societal, and technological anxieties. His debut proper,Shivers(1975), proffers parasites designed to replace damaged human organs escaping into an apartment block. Their hosts then suffer from uncontrollable desire. The passionless urban landscape becomes infected with unbridled sexuality in this disturbing and clinical dissection of the times. Rabid(1977) and The Brood(1979) would get under our skin next.
Romero would return to suck the life out of vampire lore with his emotional character study, Martin(1977). Here, he fashions a fangless tale of bloodletting that remains one of his most stylish, and arguably, densest works. Further exploiting our fears by effectively diffusing them, Romero proves again that there is a thin mask between man and monster. One of the most beautiful and sympathetic horror films ever made. A year later he was headed for the mall to chew on the cud of consumerism.
Hippies were all about peace and love, right? Guess again. After The Last House On The Left(1972) had its way with us and set an uncomfortable benchmark for brutality, degradation and madness would take directions to The Last House On Dead End Street(1977). This bleak, hateful exploitation film is the real deal, horror on the fringe. A fed up porno director uses his dysfunctional associates to make a genuine snuff film. The clincher being, that they are the unsuspecting stars. Director Roger Watkins plays the lead and shows frightening commitment to his warped vision. Drug fueled, lewd, and rude. And where else are you going to see some gratuitous deer-hoof fellatio?
And that’s just a small sampling of the diversity of quality product we were afforded.
Do I even need to mention Texas Chain Saw Massacre’s southern-fried frights; The Exorcistturning heads and vomiting forth endless knockoffs; or Jawstaking such a bankable bite out of the box office that we’re still being fed its derivative scraps? No. I thought not.
When I read a glowing review for the latest uninspired remake, or the next big tent extravaganza to milk some cash-cow’s tired teat, I immediately see the value in the Ludovico Technique portrayed in A Clockwork Orange(1971). I want to tie them to a chair and force them to watch the real “horror-show”, Seventies style. Unshackled by convention and breaking boundaries. A time when horror went beyond entertainment to wrestle personal demons; a time for experimentation and decadence; a time for flexibility of form; a time when reinterpretation went beyond bigger budgets and prettier faces; a time of unparalleled progression and visceral extremes; a Golden Age of giants. Film makers are still trying to excavate the bones of many of these dinosaurs. It was a time that will never be replicated, although Hollywood hasn’t gotten the hint yet. Stop supporting an inferior product. Dig it.
deadicated to my muse, MovieMaven.