Horror Films: Impact and Staying Power

Discussion in 'General' started by SaviniFan, Jan 3, 2017.

  1. SaviniFan

    SaviniFan I Have A Fetish

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    I was just thinking lately as I've watched what many consider classic films by the likes of Argento, Fulci, or the numerous well known slashers that have been a horror staple over the years amongst fans, that I feel some of these have lost the edge they once had. Stylistically many of these still hold up today and I can still enjoy them to some level, but many of these films from the 70's, and especially the 80's were held in high regard or sought after in their uncut form because of the crack down on gore and violence in that era.

    Many of us can remember the "video nasty" days, or how brutal the MPAA was to low budget horror, forcing drastic cuts to gore and violence for studios to get that "R" rating so they can get theatrical releases. It was like finding a pot of gold when you came across a bootleg or even a legit release of these films in their true uncut form. Move forward to today now though where most films have all the gore and violence remain intact and still get the "R" rating, or you have even popular television shows that exceed in bloodletting beyond those old giallos or slashers.

    My point I'm trying to get at is as I watch many of these old horror classics, they seem to fall apart and even at times become boring because of the reliance on the shock factor of the kills, and they can be considered tame to what we have in horror films now. Combine that with nothing but thin plots or run of the mill horror cliches and I have a hard time watching what I used to consider classics as the wow factor is no longer there.
     
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  2. Workshed

    Workshed a.k.a. Villyan Shit

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    You raise fair points. Times change, and storytelling changes with time. You can see this in books and comics as well. Sure, there were great ideas in comics in the 1960s and 70s, but try reading 22 pages of an X-Men comic from 1966; it's overstuffed with dialogue, and every sentence ends with an exclamation mark. Every! Sentence! (Yes, yes, I am aware of the legend that 'periods' didn't print as clearly as exclamation marks back in the day). Now try reading that same comic the same number of times you've seen a certain Fulci flick. It can get wearisome. Doesn't mean the cultural/artistic impact is lessened, of course.

    Once the 'thrill' of an original viewing wears off, the viewer relies on the nuances of a film to continue that rush ('Oh, look at that mistake!' Or, 'Listen to the score in this certain scene.') Once you've explored the nuances of a film, well....they are no longer as fresh, and their cracks (be it storytelling, gender depictions, racial tropes, etc.), when compared to today's films, begin to show. This isn't to say that newer films are better, rather, they are simply newer and thus have more opportunity to be explored at a very basic level, because of recency. At some point in time (perhaps even sooner, given how quickly we are progressing through technology), this will happen to the films we hold in high regard from 2017.

    I do think it's interesting the number of remakes that fail to recapture or reinvent their source material to a satisfying degree (meaning, outside of box office). Clearly, there's still gold in them hills, but maybe we've been staring at a few gems for so long that they've lost their luster.

    (Of course, there are outlier films that defy all of this.)
     
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  3. The Joker

    The Joker Well-Known Member

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    Totally understand what you're saying. I think part of the problem is the desensitization of society. Social media allows us to see atrocities from around the world instantly, and on a daily basis. Things that used to make us go "oh shit!" in the 80s are now considered tame in comparison to everything else we're exposed to. It's almost like watching precode films from the early 30s and seeing what they deemed explicit versus the movies of today where we can see borderline porn. Those 30s films are now like watching a children's show.
     
  4. dave13

    dave13 Well-Known Member

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    I know a lot of people are able to watch the same movie again and again. This becomes especially apparent around the October viewing thread...some people have movies that they begin or end the season with. I couldn't do that, for the reasons described above. I tend to go several years between viewings of films, because I really want them to be fresh when I watch them.

    That said, I totally get watching a film and enjoying it solely due to comfort. Appreciating the same elements, again and again, the same way you can listen to a great song over and over and it never gets old. When I watch something like The Exorcist, I'm not really scared by it anymore. But I can still appreciate it the whole way through, and am never bored. Films that don't have quite the same level of objective quality are more like junk food....good in small doses. I don't know if I could watch The Beyond (no matter how much I may love it) over and over again.
     
  5. Angelman

    Angelman OCD Blu Ray Collector

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    I agree, but it is all in the eyes of the beholder. I think we are seeing a fundamental change in the way we perceive storytelling - I just saw LION and so much of the story is told with the aide of an observational camera, fluid, kind of suggesting things unobtrusively putting the viewer intimately close to the subject. It is more the way the real world works. Maybe influenced by reality TV or iPhones?

    By comparison, modern films with static shots and conventional story telling seem rather stiff to me at times, the way I saw old black and white films when I was young.

    As an adult I can watch any movie from any era and absorb and enjoy it in context. So I can watch the original '30s Dracula and be mesmerized, or Citizen Kane, say, and I can watch Back to the Future and I can watch Lion and enjoy them all. But it's with the knowledge they were the product of a particular era.

    Point being, I do not watch the Mutilator bummed that it isn't Human Centipede. I watch the Mutilator to watch a fun 80s slasher.

    Context is everything.
     
  6. DVD-fanatic-9

    DVD-fanatic-9 And the Next Morning, When the Campers Woke Up...

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    But, when did the change really happen? I'm pretty sure that in the majority of my life, the heavy-hitters of the 70's and 80's never did much of a number on the mainstream audiences. I mean: there were people who paid to see the never-ending sequels and the few originals that created the splatter reputation. But then when everyone went to work or school the next day, suddenly horror was a weird "dirty" word. Even though the horror section in any video store was pretty well-stocked, you'd always get strange looks from people if you stopped to browse the tapes there. Meanwhile, Siskel & Ebert or Entertainment Tonight would be raving about the box office intake of the latest Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th. (Or, for most of us here on this board, likely Silence of the Lambs, Misery, Candyman, or Scream.)

    Most of us got into horror when VHS became popular. The video and cable eras are really interesting in that they changed the way people discovered the genre. Before that, whole generations were seeing the same movies together at the same time through drive-ins and actual theaters unless they had projectors at their homes and rented films in canisters. A lot of the Masters of Horror who made their names in the 60's, 70's, 80's, and early 90's grew up with the shared experiences of the Universal monster movies, the sci-fi invasion films of the 50's, Hammer, AIP, Amicus, Val Lewton, Vincent Price, Ray Harryhausen, Peter Lorre, etc. They were teens in the 60's and 70's. They went to drive-ins and theaters.

    We all pretty much grew up in the era where we all have different stories. I'll bet most of those involve our friends or older siblings or maybe our parents letting us watch "scary" movies with them, and almost all of them on VHS or DVD. Very few of us if any probably went to see Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Hershell Gordon Lewis films at the drive-in or Basket Case, Maniac, Pieces, The Burning, etc pre-video at an actual grindhouse or the 42nd Street theater(s).

    Most of us grew up in an era where Arnold Schwarzenegger movies like Total Recall, Predator, and yes Kindergarten Cop were controversial for being too violent. Patrick Swayze was ripping people's throats out. Bruce Willis was mowing people down like grass in hails of gunfire. Hell- as a kid, one of my most traumatizing movie moments was the chestburster...re-creation scene in Mel Brooks' Spaceballs. I'm pretty sure that most of our youth was marked by much more violent action films. Rambo. Lethal Weapon. The Terminator. Jean Claude Van Damme's oeuvre. And all their sequels. Most of which snuck by the ratings' boards with R or PG-13 ratings and never had to fight to keep themselves from being trimmed down.

    So... I actually believe most of the masses would have laughed most of horror's offerings off the screen at almost any time. If an extra edge is needed, usually one has to pick up a film knowing there will be a rape scene (Re-Animator, Silent Night Deadly Night, Tombs of the Blind Dead, Martin, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, The Evil Dead) or just a load of generic sleaze (Night of the Demons, The Burning, etc) if they want to get a reaction out of people post-the decade of excess.

    As for whether I think horror of decades past falls apart... Sure. As I said (yesterday?) about Child's Play and have thought for years about Pumpkinhead, Silver Bullet, Re-Animator, Cujo, My Bloody Valentine, Lifeforce, etc- what did people ever see in them? But not the great ones. Not the ones that rely on art. Not the ones which have great stories, great characters, great ambition, and something to say about the world we live in.
     
  7. Anaestheus

    Anaestheus Well-Known Member

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    I get where you are coming from, but this is a bit of a rant that I've been kicking around in my head for a while. So, here goes.

    The main reason that I have and continue to love horror films is that of all the genres (outside of art cinema) it has the greatest sense of cinematic poetry to it. A large part of that comes from the psychological way that horror films work. Most of the best horror films work heavily in metaphor or symbolism to define some sense of cultural or personal dread. The imagery from horror films sticks when it can resonate deeply within our psyches and give us a symbol that we can use to help place a fear that plagues us even if we can't completely define it ourselves.

    Part of the reason why vampires and zombies have had such longevity is that they work as easy to understand metaphors for contemporary fears and their symbolism is strong enough that they can easily be updated to factor in current events and social climates. The vampires of the 30s-50s tended to draw heavily on the fear of foreigners while the vampires of the 60s through 80s took on a more sexual nature in response to the sexual revolution and the repercussions from that period.

    Furthermore, horror has always been one of the cornerstones of cinema due to the fact that it plays perfectly to the strengths of cinema as an art form and can separate film (a bit, at least) from previous medium, particularly theater and literature. So, many of the best horror films are the ones that play the most with ALL of the aspects of cinema from composition, lighting, score, sound design. A truly successful horror film tends to rely on strengths in all of those areas. And, I think that's why many of us can get to a point where we can overlook things like bad performances and narrative inconsistencies when the other aspects are so strong. That's what we define as that elusive "atmosphere" that we all love to mention.

    So, when it comes to the films that I consider to be the greats, it usually is because there is some sort of meat to get into with them. Cronenberg may have relied heavily on some spectacular effects at the time and maybe they have not aged that well for some. But, they almost always had a meaning behind them that makes the imagery still worth investing in. Likewise, while I don't think that Argento could tell a knock knock joke without messing up the timing, at his peak, he worked with such a sharp visual and sonic acumen that his best films will always be worth revisiting as there is always something to study there. Texas Chainsaw Massacre may pale in the effects and pacing departments compared to modern films, but the film is such an amazingly crafted cinematic assault on the senses combined with a pretty fantastic metaphor about the deterioration of "The American Dream" that, for me, it is always worth revisiting. And since horror has almost always existed in the lower budget of film making endeavors, there are also the filmmakers, like early Raimi and Jackson, who can win me over through sheer imagination and spirit.

    But, due to the ease of production and the consistent high return on investment, more horror films tend to be made than any other genre. And that is where the shock factor tends to become prevalent. A lot of filmmakers don't have anything interesting to say with the genre, they simply want to scare the audience. And there is certainly nothing wrong with that. But, in many cases, those filmmakers lack the imagination necessary to make something worth re-investing in. Again, there is nothing wrong with going after that. They usually make for fun rides. But, they are usually working in an area where the technology is limited by the times and will always become outdated. So, when a film serves mainly as a method of presenting the best that special effects has to offer, it will easily be outpaced by time. There are numerous films more gory and violent than Night of the Living Dead. But, for me at least, that one will always have the longevity because the violence and gore are presented more effectively due to the use of strong cinematic techniques. That's what makes the shower scene in Psycho still so powerful to this day. Yes, it may have lost some of its power due to familiarity, derivation, and repetition. But, as a cinematic force it is still hard to surpass.

    So, what I would say has likely changed is that over time, is that we begin to recognize that the shock factor of good effects or a well timed jump scare can only go so far. Those are meant to be cheap or quick thrills. And, they served their purpose in the past. But they often don't merit the effort to revisit because there are contemporaries who have upped that game. But, the real gems are the ones that do have something else, be it interesting characters, inimitable style or craft, engaging stories, or just plain good old solid metaphor that can remain relevant.

    Sorry if that got rambly. It's late and I really should have been asleep hours ago.
     
  8. SaviniFan

    SaviniFan I Have A Fetish

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    Not rambly at all. That was a great read Anastheus. I like the different takes in this thread while still tackling my initial point.
     
  9. Natas

    Natas ....on the warm side of the dooooooor

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    "I like movies with tits and blood"
     
  10. wago70

    wago70 Surviving on nostalgia

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    I say if a film entertains you, then you will always love it to some degree or other as time goes on.
    Reminds me of a friend who asked me what is the best horror movie ever made - I said "The Exorcist" (which I feel is) but I never watched it. Just because it's the best doesn't mean I like it.
    Loving a film for being the best is far different than loving a film that has connected with you. I strongly feel those are the films you should never toss away just because they don't jive with ones current tastes. One example, I never cared for the "stinger/jump scare" thing but I just adore so many films that have those and I'll always love them because of their other elements have endeared themselves to my heart.
     
  11. Harry Warden

    Harry Warden Well-Known Member

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    Very well said. A truly great post. I couldn't agree more. The greatest films of any genre never rely on one aspect of cinema. The best example, IMO , is The Exorcist. That film is timeless and incorporates everything that you spoke about in your post. NOTLD is another excellent example as is the original Texas Chainsaw. Another few examples that I would include are Jaws and The Shining.
     
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  12. DVD-fanatic-9

    DVD-fanatic-9 And the Next Morning, When the Campers Woke Up...

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    No film is timeless.

    I saw very specific 1973isms in The Exorcist. One only need know what to look for.
     
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2017
  13. Harry Warden

    Harry Warden Well-Known Member

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    Timeless in the basic story of good vs. evil. Not necessarily with speech or phrases, or even set design or continuity. For me, The Exorcist leaves me with such a psychological state of fear and trembling, that's why it's timeless for me. It never ceases to have an impact on me. The funny thing is, I'm not Catholic nor am I particularly religious, but nevertheless, it scares the shit out of me.
     
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  14. Natas

    Natas ....on the warm side of the dooooooor

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    Couldn't agree more. Exorcist is the definition of timeless. Does it have the same impact on people viewing it for the first time NOW than it did 40 years ago? No. But the subject matter is just as relevant.
     
  15. DVD-fanatic-9

    DVD-fanatic-9 And the Next Morning, When the Campers Woke Up...

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    HOLY SHIT, where is that from? (Sleepaway Camp III?)
     
  16. buck135

    buck135 Kanamit

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    You've obviously never seen The Ice Pirates. :p
     
  17. DVD-fanatic-9

    DVD-fanatic-9 And the Next Morning, When the Campers Woke Up...

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    No, but now I'm intrigued.
     
  18. Natas

    Natas ....on the warm side of the dooooooor

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    True story, cous.
     
  19. buck135

    buck135 Kanamit

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    Don't be. It's dreadful.
     
  20. DVD-fanatic-9

    DVD-fanatic-9 And the Next Morning, When the Campers Woke Up...

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    Damn. Isn't that always the way?
     

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