Random notes on horror

Ten years ago I wrote a screenplay- a horror movie called The Resurrectionist. I wanted to write a movie I would actually want to go see. At the time, horror movies had fallen into the dismal state of self-parody brought about by the Scream franchise, and no one was really making the kinds of films that made me a fan of the genre to begin with: films like The Exorcist, The Omen, Rosemary's Baby, Black ChristmasDawn of the Dead, etc. So I set to writing an old-school horror flick- which to me meant interesting characters with a heavy dose of dread and gore. There wasn't a single joke in it, though there were a few nods and winks.

This was before Saw, Hostel and House of 1000 Corpses. When I sent it out to be read, the most common response I received was "It's too dark." After hearing that a few times (and being completely broke) I got a job and later worked on a different project for a bit, called Drop, which proved to be a bit much to take on with everything else clamoring for my attention and I set that aside, too. Then came Saw, followed by the slew of 70's horror remakes, and I realized I was just a bit ahead of the curve on this one and I should make another attempt to get The Resurrectionist off the ground. It didn't happen for myriad reasons, many of which you can discern in this blog. Now that dark tide seems to have subsided a bit and horror is taking another turn, even bleaker, with movies like Martyrs, Inside and of course A Serbian Film. The bonds have been broken and the genre, at its most extreme edge has entered nihilistic territory far beyond what Wes Craven started with the original Last House on the Left (a remake of Bergmans's Virgin Spring) and Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. If you believe, as I do, that horror films only reflect the anxieties and fears of the era in which they're made (hence the many fun but empty, vapid films of the 90's), then these recent films make a lot of sense, disturbing as they are.

Lately, I've been spending a lot of time with Isabella, who's made some films of her own, and I finally gave her the script wondering what she would think of it. Her initial feedback was encouraging and got us into a discussion of the genre, where she revealed a fondness for the funny stuff, which dismayed me a bit. Don't get me wrong, there are some great classic horror movies which are extremely funny, but with the exception of Evil Dead Part II  and Re-Animator, these are only good films in my opinion, not classics.

I was half-jokingly trying to persuade her to see Human Centipede II, which she thought was a porn film, and we were having an animated discussion about it when I told her we could see the first one on Netflix via streaming and we should watch it. She declined, though she agreed to watch Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, which I haven't seen since its initial release more than 20 years ago.

Revisiting Henry, what surprised me is how well it holds up. But the key elements for any great horror film are right there: interesting characters, a pervading sense of dread, and the two male leads are strong actors. I had forgotten how transgressive it was, and remains, and watching it again made me think about how the taboos so willingly smashed in A Serbian Film aren't necessarily new, they're being just pushed further out in a film that's much better executed on every other level as well (and yes, yes, I know, please don't bring up Salo as exhibit A in the "been there, done that" argument- Salo lacks interesting characters and dread- it's just a feast for fetishists).

Anyway, the gist of this is I think the time has come to start working on scripts again, beginning with a re-write of The Resurrectionist- if you have a friend at Lionsgate, can you introduce me?

On a side note, it appears Netflix has decided not to carry A Serbian Film, which has been slightly cut for its upcoming U.S. DVD release- I noticed it's recently been removed from my queue. The DVD hits store on October 25th, though you may want to think twice before viewing it. If you decide to watch it I strongly recommend not reading any reviews containing spoilers beforehand- the less you know about what you're going to see, the better- if you're willing to watch it in the first place. My review of the original version is here.