Off and on over the next few months I’m going to take a look at the state of film fandom. This examination is based on the realization that many people today simply aren’t watching old movies. With so many channels on TV full of reality TV shows and series reruns, and an endless supply of new low budget films people are turning away from the old stuff. I’m going to look at what this may mean to the future of film both as something we create and as something we watch. And part of that is going to be a look at the state of horror.
This desire to explore the topic comes from a couple of places. The first was a comment I ran across that said that Vincent Price was passe. It wasn't so much that the person didn't like Price, it was that the person doing the writing felt that Price's work, and the old school horror films, were no longer relevant and really didn't matter. In reading the post on some horror message board it became clear that the person writing it had no clue about the history of film, or of horror films specifically. Whomever was doing the writing only really knew the films of the past 20 years or so. I dismissed the comment and then continued looking for whatever it was I was looking for and kind of forgot about it.
And then a week or so later I finally saw The Lords of Salem and I decided to read up on the film and it's reaction, and I instantly ran into many people who hated the film because the film wasn't like other modern horror films with blood and gore and a shock a minute. It was clear that many people are only watching one type of horror film, the modern day gore fests.
Shocked and bewildered I thought back on the Price comment and I realized that people really don't know their film history, or even films past the last 20 years. While I completely understand why it is, I still don't like it.This is why over the next few months I'm going to try and pull together a couple of essays that will examine various topics with the hope that more than just throwing good old film titles at people we can change the unadventurous enough that they will go back and look at old films.(I'm also hoping to pull a couple of weeks together where I highlight the work of various actors and actresses who are known for one thing but have done sterling work in other genres- say Christopher Lee, who has made more non-genre films than genre films)
Consider what follows the opening salvo in this examination of new brains not noticing old film. This was cut from the review I ran earlier today of The Lords of Salem. That original piece ran twice as long as that review and this piece combined. I hacked away at it, kept what I think is some good stuff, and added a little more sweetening.
I saw the Lords of Salem on import DVD. The film premiered at Toronto last year and was knocking around the world before it was dumped unceremoniously into American theaters in mid-April. It then staggered around for a bit before disappearing. I was kind of at a loss to explain it since Zombie's earlier films were big to dos, and from my limited perspective Zombie's film kind of came and went (granted I was too busy with Tribeca to notice). Looking at IMDB I saw the film is only being rated at around 5.5, were these people seeing the same film I was? Apparently.
I could be wrong but it appears that neither whoever released Lords to US theaters nor the audiences who have seen it know what to make of the film. Zombie’s shift away from splatter and into the realm of “artsy fartsy’ Euro horror disappointed them. It looks like either they were disappointed that Zombie didn’t repeat himself or they couldn't or wouldn't go with him into a purely visceral place. I find this odd since the last half hour of Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses goes into the same territory, just with more blood.
What I think the real problem at work here is that even with the relative ease that we can get films from around the world, most film fans are not going back and looking at older films. I’m sure many horror fans know the name of Dario Argento, but how many of them have seen any of his films, or more than some of the recent films he turned out? How many have actually watched the work of other Italian and European directors who have worked during Argento's 45+ year career? I don’t think many. I also don’t think, despite the growing proliferation of subtitle readers, that most people really are watching foreign films, horror included, accept occasionally. I suspect that the rise of Spanish horror films in the US is geared in large part not to their quality (which is considerable) rather because there is a large audience of Spanish speaking people in the US who want to see a film in their native tongue (That however is a topic for another time)
Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that the cool US reaction to the film is due, and this is just my wild speculation, to the film not being what audiences expected after Zombie’s previous films as well it not being something that they are familiar with because they don’t know their film history. Both of these points are a shame since The Lords of Salem is actually one of the better horror films of the last couple of years… or more specifically this year.
2013 has so far been a very good year for horror. What is making the year so impressive to me is that it’s a a year where the cream of the crop is subverting the status quo. So far this year we’ve had Neil Jordan rethinking the vampire genre with Byzantium, Richard Raaphorst overcoming the limitations of the found footage genre to make one of the best monster films in Frankenstein’s Army, and now Rob Zombie going off into a completely different and unexpected direction with The Lords of Salem. What makes the films so special is that their directors do know their film history and know how to subvert all of the conventions of the genre. Most impressive of all is we have James Wan, the man who made the blood and guts first Saw film make throw back to horror before the gore films with The Conjuring. That The Conjuring has been a huge hit speaks volumes about whether blood really is required to have a hit.
While the success of The Conjuring is satisfying it also has come across as a bit troubling. Its troubling because in it's wake I've been party to a conversation where some film-goers I know were discussing the film as if it was a trick and how despite it being a good film they hope any sequel is a bit more bloody like the best horror films. I reminded them that this was a throw back to older films. Their attitude was that they didn't like older films because they weren't bloody, weren't always in color and the effects were poor.
Yes, I know there is no accounting for taste but it simply reveals that many people don't like older films...I mean outside of Turner Classic Films and a few other specialty stations most channels don't run old films. Films past say the last 20 years are pretty much gone from most TV stations. Its a sad state of affairs that is stunting our cultural heritage.
While we at Unseen have tried to highlight the good from literally every decade of film history, reviews are just not doing it. We have to do more, so, as I said about we'll be turning out some longer pieces which I hope will drive the more reluctant of you to see more films from times gone by. I know I'm probably just preaching to the converted but to those of you who read Unseen and don't watch older films, you really don't know what you're missing...however in a short time you will....
Since Halloween is Thursday we’ll be running horror movie reviews all week. The original plan was just to have the regular daily movie being a horror film, but with Lincoln Center’s Scary Movies starting Thursday as well I’ve got extra reviews looking at some of the older films that are playing the festival. With a bunch of us heading to Lincoln Center to catch some of the films expect to see more reviews during the course of the series.