French playwright Antonin Artaud, purveyor of the Theatre of Cruelty literary theory, believed that the only way to shatter the falseness that the theatrical audiences of his time had been coaxed into monotony with was to confront them with violence – but in the 1930’s could Artaud have comprehended how his theories would have a parallel echo in the modern world of horror movies. Psychologists have been curious for a long time about what exactly it is that attracted droves of people to horror movies, especially the really overtly violent ones. On one level it does make sense to think that these are the films that shock us out of not only the humdrum of movies with more pedestrian plots but also the tedium of life in general – why worry about your SAT score, taking out a second mortgage, or whether Kate Hudson will get a date in her new RomCom when you can bask in the fantasy of mowing down an undead horde with your boomstick and chainsaw hand? Loving horror movie violence may seem weird to ultra-Conservative politicians, but the truth is that the morbidity is well worth enduring for the catharsis and the euphoria and is far cheaper than medication.
Before Uwe Boll, there was no one filmmaker to look to for sleazy horror movies, so to find them you have to do some looking. Enter 1982 opus of cheapness Pieces. The movie follows a serial killer who from an early age was fond of jigsaw puzzles – so when he reached adulthood he naturally progressed to slaughtering pretty co-eds with a chainsaw, taking his favorite parts and reassembling them as he sees fit. This movie is stupid, truly – God forbid it had been intended as something serious and then it would be terrible too. Its fiendish and gruesome and you’re certain to question the validity of any and every character’s train of thought. But this movie is fun. Besides, if every movie in the world was great then none of them would be. If you don’t enjoy this kind of movie than at least appreciate that it willingly sacrifices itself upon the altar of dignity.
The greatest indicator than a filmmaker loves or at least has a sense of reverence for horror is his ability to improve upon the original film by making a great or better sequel, and Eli Roth and Hostel II are the perfect example to illustrate this. Instead sticking to first plot concept where the audience is riding along with the naïve and unaware college students lured and sold into the Bratislavan basement of barbarism, Roth pays his viewers with the compliment of intelligence and loyalty by allowing a wider view of the operation, supplying a greater understanding of the perpetrators’ point-of-view as well as bringing in new lambs for the slaughter. The scenes of torture in the slimy rooms of the “Hunting Club” are still as vivid as the original, but the crowning scene of gore is the death of quite spirit Lorna who suffers a painful death at the hands of a woman reliving the famous brutal exploits of infamous Hungarian serial killer Erzebet Bathory (if you don’t know what kind of lady she was, look here). Simply put, accurately recreating true depravity is an art form and Eli Roth is its Michelangelo.
One of the great hallmarks of George Romero may be his creativity when it comes to carnage, but even greater so is carnage that he inspires. From the Nazi-zombie micro-genre comes the hilarious Norwegian horror romp by Tommy Wirkola called Dead Snow, a story of a group of college students visiting a cabin up in the mountains during Spring Break and are interrupted by the fascist undead – think Pirates of the Caribbean but with Nazi SS zombies instead of ghostly pirates and idiot twentysomethings instead of Depp and Bloom. Wirkola pays homage to the classic horror weaponry and kills (chainsaws, axes, oh my!) as well as creating some of his own fresh and farfetched brutality (snowmobile retro-fitted with a machine gun!). If you have no problem appreciating Wirkola’s aim to be as schlock-slinging and ridiculous as possible you’ll love this hidden gem of the zombie genre.
Tokyo Gore Police
Never has a title for a horror movie been more perfect for explaining all that it is about. Yoshihiro Nishimura’s freakshow takes place in future Japan where the police have been privatized, masochistic cutting is the latest teenage trend advertised on TV, and the streets run rampant with mutants called engineers. In the middle of it all is Ruka (Audition’s Eihi Shiina), a famous Engineer hunter who has been searching for years for answers about her father’s murder. Tokyo Gore Police is deranged, perverse, and grotesque to the nth degree, but one thing it can’t be criticized for is its creativity. The film is a singularity in the horror genre fashioned so ironically that if violence weren’t such a decisive issue it wouldn’t be seen as a horror movie but rather a sharp and irreverent artistic criticism about an impending universal dystopia– but as the blood and goo spilt gather into rivers …well, its still awesome as a horror movie.
Evil Dead (2013)
Avoiding the wrath of horror acolytes is a difficult business, especially for those looking to take their crummy remakes to the bank. The best way for a filmmaker to avoid the virtual onslaught of derisive bloggery is to respect the material and do it well…easier said than done, of course, but the studios nowadays get right more and more often. Fede Alvarez’s is not only the best horror film of 2013, but it is a glowing example of how to remake a horror classic – by reinventing it. Sam Raimi’s original 1981 film of the same name is awesome to be sure, but there was still a lack of identity is Raimi’s work, most evident with the uneven tone (is it supposed to by scary or silly?) that would balance out in the far better and more impressive sequels Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness. With Raimi’s blessing, Alvarez turned the dumb-teens-unwittingly-unleash-demons trope into a polished no-good-deed-goes-unpunished splatter fest. This time around our intrepid heroes are friends and family staging a intervention for drug addict Mia…who unwittingly unleash demons. While the suggestion of humor is present in the ridiculousness of the spectacle, the film is blindingly unapologetic. Nail guns and utility blades and electric carving knives and chainsaws – this movie is no joke. The tagline – The Most Terrifying Film You Will Ever Experience – is the truth.