Is a Horror Movie always Art?


So as I was looking for my next Retro Rewatch selection, I came across a list featuring a nice compilation of horror films that were categorized by the year of their release.   After spending a little bit of time glancing at the list, I noticed that the entire year was filled with some very similar films.  It’s wasn’t the typical, “well this is popular now, so let’s make a movie about it” similar that you may think that I am referencing.  I mean that these films were similar in the way that they made me feel.  They weren’t necessarily bad (well some were) and they certainly weren’t worth any critical acclaim (maybe some were) but at the end of the day, each one of these movies was a piece of art that I will always find interesting. 

First off, I would like to mention that most of the films released in 1998 were just Scream clones that came out to appeal to the masses by making unimaginative studios a few dollars.  A few of the notable major studio releases of the year were Urban Legend (Dir: Jamie Brinks), The Faculty (Dir: Robert Rodriguez), Phantoms (Joe Chappelle) and Disturbing Behavior (Dir: David Nutter).  Looking back at all of these films, they are all pretty forgettable.  Maybe one day we might be watching a Robert Rodriguez film introspective and The Faculty might make the list, but I wouldn’t really hold my breath about that one.  At this point, you are probably asking yourself “so why are you even bothering writing about these movies Poppascotch?”  That’s an excellent question from inside my head and the answer is pretty simple.  I love them.  They aren’t critically significant, but they are all pieces of art that I absolutely love.

All critics of any artistic medium are also fans of the pieces that they review.  Everyone has their favorites as well as the exhibits that they hate for no real reason.  When we’re talking about the horror film genre, I feel that the line between fandom and critical appreciation is more blurred than anywhere else.  I personally believe that people who take anything more than a passing interest in horror have to be fans just to be entertained by the spectacle.  Other critics may try and ride their critical high horse while the movie is playing, but the truth is that they are entertained by the experience.  The problem is where they try to pass off the movie as some sort of disposable piece of entertainment and nothing more.  What I hope to here is shed some light on what people perceive as the difference between a work of art and a form of mindless entertainment.

There have been pieces written left and right about professionalism in the field of “film critic” and the respect and honor that such a position holds so I’m not going to sit here and lecture you on what I feel makes the best critic or what the difference is between a critic and a blogger.  Those have all been written about in more eloquent ways than I could ever spew forth onto my monitor.  This is more about trying to explain my feelings that every film is a piece of art.  It’s the moving image jam packed with smoke, mirrors, and tomfoolery and when it all comes together uniformly it’s a beautiful thing.

Take for example the movie Phantoms.  It was a movie that casted a then up and coming actor named Ben Affleck and shoved him into a starring role that he doesn’t appear to have had all that much preparation for.  Rose McGowen is also in the film as well as Peter O’Toole and Sabertooth (Liev Schreiber) and somehow it was still not that great of a movie but something about it resonated with me.  I loved the idea of mass disappearances and when I actually looked into the phenomena, it turned out to even more exhilarating than I ever thought it could be.  Actual accounts of a large number of people being wiped of the earth with little to no explanation was not just interesting but it freaked me out a little bit too.  Maybe my academic interest in the subject inflated the movie a bit more than it should have been but I loved it anyway.  As the years went on I realized that the movie wasn’t very “good”.  The acting wasn’t great, the story was a bit formulaic, and the ending seemed way too upbeat for my tastes.  I don’t really care though, I still like the movie and I realized that for all these years I saw it as something more than a film.  Phantoms is a piece of art.  Even if it isn’t the deepest, the brightest, or the most carefully meditated work in the museums, it still meant something to me.  I have my own interpretations of what I saw and it’s all deeply personal.

To think about a movie as more than a piece of mindless entertainment is in and of itself extremely difficult, especially when the filmmakers and studios come out and say “it’s only entertainment” because it (the movie) isn’t that easily simplified.  It’s never only entertainment.  Something else is going on behind the shot you are seeing and standing aside from the performance you are watching.  It was in the mind of the filmmaking somewhere and they either consciously or subconsciously put it on screen and it’s our job to make wild accusations to try and back up our arguments.  I believe that once a filmmaker finishes their movie and puts it out into the public, it no longer belongs to them.  Sure they are responsible for it and history will always see it that way, but it’s not theirs to keep and hold on to and tell me what to think and feel about it.  I don’t really care what the director or the writer says a movie is “really about” because I am going to see the movie and make my own interpretation because that is what you do with art.  And every movie no matter how big, small, gory, inappropriate, beautiful, and disgusting they are: they are all works of art.  Some pieces just say more than others.

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