From an early age I liked all things spooky. Even as I was growing up, my poster next to Debbie Harry in thigh-length boots was a skeleton on a motorbike. And then there was my Air-fix collection on top of my wardrobe. Instead of aeroplanes I had glow in the dark, Dracula, The Wolf-Man and The Mummy. I would stay up late to watch these monsters on the Saturday night double bill. I liked the old black and white films, but it was the Hammer House of Horror films, that I really liked. Films like The Devil Rides Out and The Wicker man that really haunted me.
By the late 70’s slasher movies like, Halloween, Friday the 13th, Happy Birthday to Me, My Bloody Valentine and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre hit the cinemas and much to my delight, broke all the rules, What made these films frightening was the monsters didn’t come from some far off land, but actually lived next door, or use to live next door, got given a bad deal and then came back to hack and slash their revenge against some pot smoking teens and the odd cop. These slasher film where more horrifying than scary; although the early films had a plot, it was the mass body count that really made them famous, leaving these Hammer House of Horror monsters eating dust.
Other studios saw how cheap and easy these films were to make and so began saturating the market with their own poor imitations, each pushing the boundaries, of just how nasty they could be, along with the good, Dead and Buried, Evil Dead, came the bad, Driller Killer, The Burning, and the downright ugly, I Spit on Your Grave, Cannibal Holocaust. These latter films although had a passable plot, became more infamous for their violence, particularly against women. What followed were a whole host of extremely poor imitators to this new genre, including title like, Don’t go in the house/ Basement/Park/Woods/…cinema, where the same predicable thin plot would unravel like an X-rated episode from Scooby-Doo.
Thankfully the horror genre was given a vital boost with creative writers, Clive Barker, Hellraiser, Candyman and Stephen King, Misery, IT, pumping some much need adrenaline back into the horror plot. Wes Craven also came back with the, disturbing for its time, child killer Freddy vehicle, A Nightmare on Elm Street. Unfortunately the same disease slipped into horror films either with lazy film makers rehashing the same formula, or turning the monster into a wise cracking parody of itself; particularly the Nightmare on Elm Street sequels, a rapping Freddy anyone?
Things took an interesting turn in1997 with Michael Haneke’s .Austrian film, Funny Games, which asked us to question why we like to watch horror. The film was remade frame to frame in 2008 as the director didn’t think the people who watched out and out horror films would watch a subtitled film.
Although all of the violence in Funny Games is played off screen, Haneke insures that the audience are involved in the family’s ordeal. Throughout the film the protagonist, Paul looks directly at the audience, explains how he is breaking the rules, asking direct questions and smirks when the victim discovers just how violent he is prepared to be. From here on in it was only a matter of time before film makers pushed the limits even further.
During the late 1970’s and early 80’s revenge for rape films; Straw Dogs, Deliverance, Death Wish, shocked their audiences with this subject. In 2002 Gaspar Noé wrote, directed, filmed and edited the truly disturbing and equally cleverly presented film, Irréverisble. The film is presented with two men smashing a man’s head in with a fire extinguisher. We are then taken back through the evening to understand why these two middle class, ordinary men have taken such action. What made this film so shocking was the way the camera refused to allow the viewer to escape the prolonged rape scene.
The films that followed pushed their audience even little further. Wolf Creek and Hostel played on the fears of its audience with internet claims that their tales were bases on true stories,
but it would be the drawn out torture scenes that really set these films above the rest. Just as Irréverisble had made the audience really suffer by refusing to pull the camera away, these films made the audience endure the horror of the victims as they were slowly tortured. These films were dubbed torture porn due to their excessive use of violence. Hostel went on to produce a less successful sequel, Hostel 2, but it set in motion a rash of other films, each one out goring its predecessor.
With films like saw bleeding every drop of blood from its fan base, with the totally missible Saw 7 (in 3D) bringing all the clues and hopefully the franchise to an end, there are still horror films that want to take things to the next level. One film in particular, Serbian Film, did just that, breaking every last taboo while claiming the images are metaphors for what is happening in that country, to be honest, it was just one grim shot after the other.
Most recently the BBFC have banned Tom Six’s sequel The Human Centipede 2 as:
There is little attempt to portray any of the victims in the film as anything other than objects to be brutalised, degraded and mutilated for the amusement and arousal of the central character, as well as for the pleasure of the audience.
The problem with these films is that once again a good plot is given way to just how violent they want to take things. In The Human Centipede 2 we have a man wrapping his dick in barbed wire to rape the centipede victim, while in Serbian Film, the film maker was just plain lazy, using well worn “this is for rich clients”. To see this done better, rent out Blair Witch Project or My Little Eye. Although Six (Centipede 2) is protesting against the ban of his film saying it’s just a movie. Whereas the original film had an ingenious plot, this, like all the other ‘quick cash in sequels’ that think that by trying to out gross its audience is enough. The horror films that last the test of time are ones that have memorable monsters, great storyline and some decent scares. For the next generation of horror, what they need is a strong engaging plot to to soak up the gore and fear.