Film

Who Are the Next Horror Movie Maestros?

Perhaps it's too soon in the career arc to write off some of these wannabes as less than meaningful maestros. As we wait, however, the void continues to grow...and grow...

What happens when we lose a Wes Craven? Who will take the place of a Sam Raimi or a Dario Argento? Is there a talent bank of horror maestros waiting around somewhere, their penchant for terror untapped and underutilized? It's an intriguing question, especially for those of us who worship at the vault of evil's baroque doors. As we move into the next decade of the new millennium, it looks like there are less and less genius genre filmmakers around. Go back 30 years and you can argue over the impressive oeuvre of creepshow kingpins like George Romero, John Carpenter, and Lucio Fulci. Fast forward to 2010 and...the void is frightening - more frightening than some of the macabre titles coming out of the sloppy cinematic machine known as Hollywood.

Granted, we have lost some of the mavericks through categorical attrition. While one assumes he would go back tomorrow and deliver another devastating operatic bio-dread masterpiece as he did with The Fly, David Cronenberg has found much more success (and consistent work) as a manufacturer of more mainstream fare. Similarly, Peter Jackson's love of all things splatter got sidetracked with a stint in Middle Earth - and with his return there more than likely, we won't be seeing his gore-laden laughfests anytime soon. Indeed, it seems that many of the new experts of eerie are walking a fine line between their roots and career reality. Many want to champion the films they loved as fans. The problem is, finding an available outlet for such shivers.

Take Guillermo Del Toro, for example. There is no bigger horror geek in all of cinema. This is a man who can name check obscure foreign classic, standard '50s schlock, and a library of links to seminal '70s series like Kolchak: The Night Stalker and the ABC Movie of the Week. Yet he's best known for combining fear with the fanciful, using his adaptations of the comic book character Hellboy and his allegorical war stories (The Devil's Backbone, Pan's Labyrinth) to explore as much of the dark half as professionally possible. Only first films Cronos and Mimic argue for what he can do playing the straight up scare game. Hopefully, the James Cameron produced, HP Lovecraft inspired At the Mountains of Madness will bring him back to the fright fold for a while.

Or what about Alexandre Aja? Listen to the commentary track on any one of his films and you'll hear an acknowledged horror nerd. Along with pal and collaborator Grégory Levasseur, he has parlayed his preference for old school shock into expert horror homages like High Tension and interesting combo creations like Mirrors. Oddly enough, he seems to have been lured away from the meaningful and directly into the commercial, tackling the interesting remake of The Hills Have Eyes and the oddball gross out gratuity of Piranha 3D. Unfortunately, is looks like he will abandon horror all together for his next project - an adaptation of the manga Space Adventure Cobra.

Perhaps the best example of someone still slumming outside the realm they really excel in is Marcus Nispel. After almost a decade making music videos for artist such as C&C Music Factory, Janet Jackson, No Doubt, and Mariah Carey, the German-born director got a chance to move into film thanks to Michael Bay and his classic redux factory Platinum Dunes. Looking for someone to take the reins of their proposed Texas Chainsaw Massacre update, newcomer Nispel got the nod. While many in Messageboard Nation went hysterical over the prospect of some flashy MTV-inspired hack reinterpreting their favorite power tool project, Nispel actually delivered one of the best horror remakes ever. He did the same for his far more serious (and nasty) reinvention of Friday the 13th.

So where is he now? Where is the man who, arguably, should have helmed the Nightmare on Elm Street makeover and be first on the list for the proposed Hellraiser reboot? Why, he's tackling the character Conan the Barbarian, what he call his "dream job." Indeed, this is the sad thing about today's potential horror mavens. Apparently, they aren't really 100% interested in forwarding the art of fear. Some, like Nispel and Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead) use the genre as a stepping stone to "bigger and better" things. Others, like Del Toro and Aja, seem hemmed in by an industry that has the scary movie pegged as a teen scream single weekend dice roll. Should the gamble pay off, they will plow the field for more frights. Should it underperform...well, there's always the RomCom and the animated/family film category to further destabilize.

Eli Roth creates Cabin Fever and the post-modern masterwork Hostel and he's tagged as a terrifying torture porn expert. Of course, now it doesn't really matter as he's too busy paling around with Quentin Tarantino to take his possible maestro position seriously. Rob Zombie would kill to be the next Bava or Deodato and yet he is so locked into his rock and roll revisionist mindset that his most successful film - the disturbing Devil's Rejects - is more brilliant '70s drive-in exploitation recreation than actual all out nightmare. Sure, James Wan and Darren Lynn Bousman parlayed their time creating and catering to the Saw films to forward their individual agendas, but how many in the macabre fanbase were eager to see their follow-ups (Dead Silence and Repo: The Genetic Opera, respectively).

With names like Adam Green (Frozen, Hatchet, and Hatchet II), Jaume Balagueró (REC, REC2, and the little seen Fragile), and Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity) percolating beneath the surface and a string of proposed projects all waiting for holiday-oriented release dates - or worse, 3D conversion - horror is not going away any time soon. Oh course, this still doesn't answer the bigger question - why? Why are there no real maestros left...or at the very least, stepping up to be noticed? The answer, of course, is technology. Today, any genre lover with a camcorder and a gallon or two of red-tinted Kayro syrup can call themselves a scary movie director. As long as they can rape the legacy of the zombie, vampire, serial killer, or ghost and get some of their buddies to play the part, they can throw together a terror turd and fling it at the direct to DVD audience like an angry chimp in a monkey house.

Even worse, very few of these filmmakers want a legitimate career making fright films for the masses. They are almost all using the genre as a quick fix calling card, a resume builder toward the previously alluded to "bigger and better" things. Four decades ago, horror was considered a good way in as well - but it was also supported for its own inherent value. Today, thanks to a glut of garbage in the marketplace and a revolving door interchangeability in the perception of what makes a professional, few are opting for a life of terror. Sure, maybe one or two films, but there is this dream graphic novel adaptation /biopic they've always been interested in pursuing...

Obviously, the lack of new horror maestros stems from a cruel combination of categorical overkill, limited screen space, rollercoaster market placement, and an exhausting of the genre itself. If every new scarefest was The Exorcist in both effectiveness and critical acclaim, there would be artists lining up to recreate its classicism. But where are the names who want to make horror their sole business? Of course, the clever could argue that all of the past masters also abandoned the category (Music of the Heart, Knightriders, For the Love of the Game, Starman...just to name a few) to test their talents and comfort zone. But they always seemed to gravitate back to the genre that made them legend. Perhaps it's too soon in the career arc to write off some of these wannabes as less than meaningful maestros. As we wait, however, the void continues to grow...and grow...

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

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9

If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star Salim Shaheen, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people.

"Now I am just more tired and poor. So no, I haven't changed. I'm just older and more tired," says French radio journalist and documentarian Sonia Kronlund, as she looks back on the experience of making The Prince of Nothingwood (2017).

Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

In October of this year at the UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, Kronlund spoke with PopMatters about being driven by questions rather than inspiration. She also reflected on the subjective nature of documentary filmmaking, the necessary artistic compromises of filming in Afghanistan, and feeling a satisfaction with imperfections.

Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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