Saturday, 21 March 2015

Feature - The Death of Horror? - Part 5

Part 5

Just a quick one this time as we look at the curse of:

Mobile Phones

In the past, it was so much easier. If your victim was in a house, cut the phone line. If they were outside, in a wood perhaps, then no worries (unless there was a phone box knocking about, which can be dealt with easily).

Both solutions to old world phone problems are pleasantly visual: the villain, wearing murdering gloves obviously, snips at a wire to cut off his victim from the rest of humanity (both literally and symbolically), or the smashed, vandalised phone box that was all too common in the seventies and eighties. Dead easy.

Now, with the advent of these new fangled mobile phones, things are a bit trickier for the screenwriter. Maybe the battery has run out, or there isn't a signal, or maybe the foolish victim drops their phone down a toilet. Sadly, most of the solutions consist of technobabble that wouldn't be out of place in Star Trek, with a severe lack of visual stimulation. (Granted, the toilet solution is visual but how many times can it be used in films? Plus, it's stupid.)

It's something else that makes me groan in modern horrors. The moment of mobile phone exposition always brings me straight out of a film and I'm glad when it's gone. The House of the Devil had a good solution, set the film in the past. Although it is good for a few films, I don't want every horror I watch to be set in a time that is pre-mobile.

What we should do is have a horror film convention that mobile phones don't exist. All horror films are set in an alternative reality where the pesky devices were never invented. Problem solved. Okay, sometimes the writer might want to include a mobile as a plot point. Well, as soon as a mobile is shown that would mean that the film is set in our reality. Fine.

Over the coming months, as I watch a few more horror films than usual, I will document the reasons given for why the machete fodder's phones don't work. Hopefully, there will be some crackers.


Related Reading:
Intermission - Retro Phones

Friday, 13 March 2015

Feature - The Death of Horror? - Part 4

Part 4

This time we'll look at something that is not a problem in itself, but it has certainly caused some major problems in recent times:


Film-making technology is now affordable to pretty much anyone. A DSLR and relatively cheap (£200) editing software like Final Cut Pro are all you need to get started. This is great stuff as it mean that anyone can put their vision up on the big screen. On the flip side, it's bad because anyone can put their vision up on the big screen.

There have been some great low-budget horror films over the years. In fact, many of the very best have had small budgets. The Evil Dead and Bad Taste were full of creativity, Halloween had great music and a relentless villain and Zombie Flesh Eaters had a filmic look that is way beyond many of today's horrors. I often think that these films had to be creative because of their smaller budgets, they couldn't just throw money at a problem.

In recent times we've had The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, both effective, which have led to a plethora of found footage films. With mixed success. Rec is a pretty good zombie chiller, and... erm... can't really think of many more. As for bad examples, I could go on and on. In general, I don't read the back covers of DVDs because I want to be surprised by the contents of the film. This has its downfalls. Every time it turns out to be a found footage film, I audibly groan. Please, no more.

Examples of other low budget films that fall into the shocking category are Dead Genesis, Laid to Rest and Scarce. These are three films that I thought that I'd give a try and yet I didn't even make it past the ten minute mark when I tried to watch them. I'm not saying that they shouldn't have been made, just that they shouldn't have been released. The film distributors should exercise some quality control.

In the days of VHS I was always disappointed by the size of the horror sections in shops. But it didn't stop me from poring through their offerings and maybe even purchasing one or two. Now I walk into HMV and they've got a stupendously massive horror selection, something that I would have coveted like my neighbour's ox in ye olde days. But I quickly walk past without a glance and head into the anime, sci-fi and world sections. All of the films look so rubbish. They give them a glossy photoshopped cover and expect that to be enough. There may be some gems in there but I can't be bothered to sift through them. I've been disappointed too many times. We're back to the quality control issue again.

Modern low-budget zombie films? Serious quality control issue, yet again.

This isn't to say that films should have a more sizeable budget either. Look at The Conjuring, Sinister and World War Z: all completely terrible. You would think that film-makers with a larger budget would spend more time and money at the script stage getting it right before they even start filming anything. The evidence doesn't support this.

But when a larger budget is used well it can produce some rather special work. I watched The Colony recently which was set in a frozen landscape. That looked really cheap. Compare that with how great The Thing (1982) looks. It feels like a serious, quality film. The Colony feels more like a cut-scene from a PS3 game.

So really the budget doesn't matter. It's the talent of the film-makers that's important and how they use the budget available to them. If they made good films regardless of the budget - and from the examples above it is possible - then I would be very happy and watch more horror films. As it is, if they keep flooding the market with substandard products, only because someone has bothered to make them, I'll continue to lose interest and for me horror will indeed be dead.


Related Reading:
Review - The Evil Dead
Review - Halloween
Review - Zombie Flesh Eaters
Review - Rec

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Feature - The Death of Horror? - Part 3

Part 3

Here we go then with the third instalment of our horror feature and this time we'll have a look at:

The Nastiness Factor

This isn't about whether a film was on the most prestigious Nasties list which elevated films to a must-see status (some rightly so, others, well... maybe not, Zombie Creeping Flesh anyone?). No, this third part of our Death of Horror feature is all about films that, when the credits roll, leave a nasty taste in the mouth.

I was rewatching Big Bad Wolves last night and it struck me how light-hearted a film about torturing a potential paedophile can be. The tone is spot on throughout and despite numerous scenes of rough torture it is always balanced by very dark touches of humour. Because it is not clear until the end whether the poor fellow is a paedophile or not, the viewer is never put in a position where there are being asked to enjoy the torture. For the majority of the film I was asking the question, but what if he's not guilty? It's a great example of a possibly nasty film ending up as an enjoyable slice of horror.

Other films that walk the fine line between nastiness and entertaining are Martyrs (some may say it falls on the nasty side but I think that it manages not to... just), I Spit on your Grave (2010) and The Woman (although the guy in the clip below may disagree). So there are fine examples of modern films that get the fact that horror films should be entertaining and leave the viewer satisfied, even if it's in a bleak, devastated way (The Mist, we're looking at you).

I seem to have watched quite a few horrors over recent years that fall foul of the nastiness factor. The Hills Have Eyes (2006) was gruesome and upsetting but was entirely watchable. The sequel meanwhile was generally unpleasant and completely got the tone wrong, especially towards the end. It's a grubby little film that I'd like to forget. 

As with the above example it's the bad treatment of women (or animals) that can lead to this nastiness. (I know, the three films mentioned earlier as shining examples all contain the mistreatment of women, but they all are constructed to get the viewer firmly on the side of the women, hence the reason why they're shining examples.) Big Tits Zombie (do I need to say any more?) is a cynical and dirty grubby little film that revels in its portrayal of women as sex objects. Surprisingly it has made it into the top ten posts on this very blog. I don't know why I bother writing all this stuff, maybe I should just post pictures of semi-clad ladies being worried by badly made-up zombies and have done with it.

There are other examples such as Snowtown, the dire SawDonkey Punch (possibly more of a thriller than a horror but nasty nonetheless) and Bare Behind Bars, but the worst surely has to be Zombie 108. The role of the female actors is to walk around in hot pants and be abused. Their lack of character means that the viewer isn't being asked by the film-makers to be empathetic. In fact, it feels more as if the director wants you to enjoy it. Filthy sweaty dirty grubby unsanitary little film.

So why do they make films like this. I think that it's a combination of lack of budget, imagination and talent. It's hard to make a well crafted horror film that covers all of the bases I'm writing about in these features, so I think that some film-makers substitute quality horror for being as nasty as they can with a cynical eye on the money making potential of these products. Also, you have to wonder about what sort of person would make a film like Zombie 108. A filthy sweaty dirty grubby unsanitary little person, possibly?

Film-makers, I want to enjoy your films, I really do. I want to see film after film that entertain me, make me laugh, or maybe even horrify me. Just don't send me away wanting to scrub my mind with some industrial strength vintage Jif.


Related Reading:Review - Zombie Creeping Flesh
Review - Big Bad Wolves
Review - Martyrs (Doccortex review)
Review - Martyrs (My review)
Review - I Spit on your Grave
Review - The Woman
Review - The Mist
Review - Big Tits Zombie
Review - Snowtown
Review - Donkey Punch
Review - Bare Behind Bars
Review - Zombie 108