Every film genre takes skill to realize. A good drama is just as hard to make as a good comedy, convincing sci-fi as difficult as exciting action. Nowhere is this more true than in the realm of horror. Frightening people, like making them laugh or sing along, is an individualized and rare commodity. Doing it consistently means you’ve not only cracked that particularly difficult nut, but you’ve found that elusive skill of worming your way into people’s exceedingly jaded and cynical psyche time and time again. It is only then when you can be called a true horror maestro, one of the few fear manufacturers who the devoted rely on to deliver the goods time and time again. Sure, there are anomalies here and there, but for the most part, their reliability overcomes the occasional lapse.
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Whenever the calendar rolls over to a certain 31 October, fright fans break out their opinions and wax poetic about the best and worst horror films ever made. While it may seem like nothing more than a rabid fanboy pastime, that fact is that it’s not an easy task. Like comedy, terror is in the heart of the beholder, too personal to be easily agreed upon. What some find frightening gives others a case of the uncontrollable giggles and it’s rare when fear can be universally applied. As a result, making any list of yeas and nays allows for lots of second guessing and subjective stipulations, especially in the arena of b-a-d. Many can’t get past the numerous nonsensical sequels that endlessly pour out of the studio system, pointing to franchises gone god-awful as their primary examples of tepid terror. For others, the offerings of the past, the low budget efforts of dollar driven distributors that did little except waste 80 minutes of the drive-in owners or matinee movie audience’s running time.
Hollywood loves a remake. From the earliest days of the artform, studios have sifted through previous hits (and a few near misses) to reformulate and resell the same stuff to audiences who don’t seem to care about the subterfuge. Over and over again, similarity has struggled against individuality for celluloid recognition. For example, Love Affair, the 1994 Warren Beatty/Annette Bening vehicle was actually an update of the Cary Grant/Deborah Kerr weeper An Affair to Remember, which itself was a take on 1939’s Love Affair. There have been several A Star Is Borns and dozens of Draculas. In fact, horror seems to stoke the fires of reconfiguration more than any other genre. Go down a list of classic fright films and you’ll see a smattering of originals and a whole lot of reduxes.
It’s October again with only a few more weeks of marketing mandated terror to go. With cable channels and the Internet working overtime telling you what’s fright and what’s wrong, it seems like every angle of All Hallow’s Eve is covered, except, like any regulated holiday, the same of scares seem to be offered up. After all, how many times can you watch The Exorcist or The Evil Dead? Is there an expiration date on Halloween and its far too many sequels, or the various fleeting subgenres such as torture porn and J-horror? Indeed, if this particular celebration is all about delivering the shivers, how can something so well known provide said dread?
Dracula was a blood drinking warrior whose legend was turned into an allegory for Elizabethan sexual awakening. The wolfman was a combination of ancient folklore and a variation on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Frankenstein was a young girl’s attempt to win a bet among her literary peers while zombies seem to have erupted from ancient religions and slave mythology. Indeed, all horrors have origins, from restless sleep to real life experiences extrapolated down to their cautionary tale basics. Ghosts are former members of the living lost in the afterworld while demons and devils come from Hell’s half-acre. Whether roasted over a campfire or cooked up in the fertile brain of a writer, these creatures come from somewhere, and our affinity for terror is glad that they did.