Defining Crap – A look at Horror Movies – A fan perspective

So the other night I cooked up a massive plate of buffalo wings and sat down for a sweet viewing of “Rabid Grannies”. Seemed like a pretty solid venture to me: A movie about two 80+ year old women who become possessed by demons and go on a MURDEROUS rampage. My kind of stuff! Right??  Well…maybe not. Even though this movie had all the hallmarks of stuff I get a lot of enjoyment from, somehow it just didn’t work for me. In fact at certain points I found myself literally nodding off while sitting up straight up in a chair. Granted, that also could have been from the buffalo wing induced food coma I was in, or the fact that it was 1:30am…but you get the picture. 

This got me thinking: Why am I not into “Rabid Grannies” but I loved “Microwave Massacre”? What did “Don’t Go Near The Park” have that “Rabid Grannies” DIDN’T? Why do I love “Wickerman” so much?” This was pretty tough to answer given that technically speaking all of these movies are technically horrible. Why is certain crap AWESOME and other crap just…well…CRAP?

Before I go any further I’m going to back up here a little bit at this point to give you some background about ME. You know? Like a real sweet getting to know you session! This is FUN! My sense of humor is almost 100% based on what would be referred to as “Surreal Absurdist” humor which Wikipedia defines as follows:

“Surreal humor is a form of humor based on bizarre juxtapositions, absurd situations and nonsense. A common element of surreal humor is the non-sequitur, in which one statement is followed by another with no logical progression.” This pretty much sums me up in a nutshell. If you need any further detail look up pictures of Carrot Top.

I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that my stepfather was from the UK and I was raised on healthy diet of classic British absurdist comedies like Monty Python and Benny Hill, and The Young Ones. (Not to mention Doctor Who and Blake’s 7) For those of you NOT familiar with these things I strongly recommend you investigate because life isn’t TRULY complete unless you’ve familiarized yourself with The Ministry of Silly Walks. 

This love of the absurd seeps into almost everything I like artistically and causes much of what I’m into to fly right over the heads of many people I encounter. “What? You conceded PRICK!” No No No. Think of it this way: When I say something to the effect of “Dude, ‘Jason Takes Manhattan’ is a f*cking work of ART. Maybe even the best in the series!” and I get “Really? You like that one? That one didn’t seem to be as well made as the others” in response….clearly there is a disconnect in world view. I am WELL aware that “Slugs” is a horribly made piece of garbage…but it RULED. I will tell you that I have had few nights in my life that were as fun or enjoyable as the night I watched “Slugs”.

Side note: I have a great love for things like “Nightmare on Elm St. 6” or “Halloween Night” because they are ridiculous, but I’m always amazed when people like them and take it TOTALLY serious about it. No irony. “Dude, I REALLY loved ‘Halloween 5’. I think it may even rival the FIRST ‘Halloween!’”. Ok. Now…I really loved watching “Halloween 5”, but lets be real here. It’s sh*t. AWESOME sh*t!…but still sh*t.

Speaking of the absurd, “Halloween 5” actually contains one of the true great ridiculous moments in the history of film:

Michael Myers if FINALLY captured at the end of “Halloween 5” after a SERIES of grizzly murders including two cops that had their own circus-like theme music. (Watch for this moment. I nearly threw up my pizza.)

He is LOCKED UP in Jail. Chained! MASK STILL ON.

All of a sudden the sound of MACHINE GUN FIRE fills the police station. A mysterious man in black is shooting the place up. The Mystery Man has a strange tattoo on his wrist. THE SAME AS MICHAEL MYERS! We later find out it’s the mark of “Thorn”. (THORN!)

Before you can realize what happens you come to find that MICHAEL MYERS HAS JUST BEEN BROKEN OUT OF JAIL BY A MACHINE GUN TOTTING MYSTERY MAN!

Think back to the brilliance of the first “Halloween” and then think long and hard about this sequence and think about how over the top it is. JAILBREAK! My jaw was on the floor and my sense of exhilaration can’t fully be described in words. 

As fun as this moment was I was floored to later find that the much DEBATE has been had over who the man in black was, and what Thorn was all about and yada yada. I’m not sure what’s more outrageous to me, the fact that these things HAPPENED in “Halloween 5” or that there were people out there who took it DEAD serious. Don’t get me wrong, I TRULY admire those people. I really do! I love anyone who likes what they like regardless of what the rest of the world thinks. I WISH I was a trekkie or dressed as the Predator at Comic Con! Let’s just say I’m totally devoted for different reasons. 

On the flip side of this admiration is my pet peeve with people who look at things from the opposite end of the spectrum and automatically judge the quality of a movie based on its genre. The pop-culture acceptance scale basically goes like this:

Drama’s are quality.

Indie films are smart.

Romantic comedies are delightful.

Action films are mindless

Cartoons are for kids.

Horror/Sci-Fi is garbage.

I can’t describe to you how much this kind of perception enrages me. As a TRUE connoisseur of both quality AND crap it offends me when someone assumes a movie like “The Thing” is trash because of its title and subject matter. These are the same people who make fun of me for watching “Black Sheep”, but then talk about how much they LOVE “The Wedding Planner”. (???) Tell me: Which movie requires less brain cells? Indie movie “cred” has a way of being more preposterous then most other genres. Mostly because indie snobs get so dang pretentious about everything. Just because a movie has Steve Buchemi, and Paker Posey in it and is directed by Darren Aronoffsky does NOT mean it’s good. It has an equal opportunity to suck. 

Award shows like The Oscars and Golden Globes don’t help matters. Think about how many great comedies, action films, or horror movies have been made in the last twenty years that were totally ignored by the Academy Awards simply because their genre creates the assumption they are frivolous. Are you telling me that a snoozefest like “The Reader” was a better and more deserving then “The Dark Knight”? I can guarantee you this: 20 years from now people will still be watching “The Dark Knight” and “The Reader” will be forgotten.

Ok…back to the matter at hand.

Am I saying that indie films and romantic comedies are always terrible and only horror and Batman movies are good? No. Of course not. As with any genre, horror included, when it’s great it’s great, and when it’s bad its terrible. I’m talking about perception here and how that skewed perception can color how you watch a movie.

“Ok. You’re a real prick, but I’m with you. So what DOES make good movies good and bad movies bad then??…or do you just like to hear yourself blab??”

After YEARS/minutes in my LAB/living room couch, I have decided it all boils down to intent. Intent you say? YES! Intent. Intent of the filmmaker. What WERE they thinking when they made it and how did it translate to the final product. Did they achieve what they were trying to do or did they fail miserably to the point of being ridiculous?

Let me break this down a bit:

Movies that try AND succeed: The movies that would fall into this category would be all your basic GREAT movies, irrelevant of genre. It should be fairly obvious what I’m talking about here. These are movies that set out to do a certain thing or send a certain message and totally succeed thus creating a satisfying experience for those watching. When you look at it this way you can put “The Fog” in the same category as “When Harry Met Sally” because they both work entirely within the framework of what they set out to do. 

A very SELECT subset here would be movies that TRANCEND even the initial expectations of the filmmaker and a masterpiece is created so FINALLY I can put “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” in the same breath as “The Godfather”. This group is also known as “The Classics”. 

Movies that try and FAIL: 
Another name for this category might just be the “BAD bad” category or you could also refer to it as “The Rob Zombie Rule” (CONTROVERSIAL STATEMENT!) The filmmaker set out to do something and utterly failed. To the point that the movie has no charm life or really nothing redeeming that makes you want to get into it. Unfortunately, I’d have to put the aforementioned “Rabid Grannies” into this bucket. It was obviously trying to be a gross out, campy fun fest. Only for me it wasn’t really that fun. (Don’t shoot me if you love this movie. I will freely admit I was half asleep while watching and not fully equipped to judge.)

As it relates to horror films specifically this category is all too common. Intentional camp is specifically a disaster waiting to happen. On a good day you come out with “Hatchet” on a bad day you come out with “Dead and Breakfast”. Too often filmmakers who really don’t understand or even really LIKE horror decide they want to make a “high minded” horror movie and the results can be disastrous. 

Movies like “Zombie Strippers” or “Fido” condescend to horror fans because the filmmakers seem be saying “Hey…if you like all that other crap then you’ll LOVE this! Cause were SO SMART. We’ll put Jeremy Sisto into our movie and hipsters will love it!” Movies like “Teeth” for example are just basically made so the non-horror fan film f*cks can say “See…I like horror when it’s good filmmaking. This movie was FAR superior then trash like ‘Basket Case 2’” (yeah RIGHT!?) In order to really make this work you have to really LOVE the genre and pay homage to it rather then pander. Movies like “Slither” or “Dead/Alive” are intentionally off-the-wall and over the top but CLEARLY made by people that LOVE the genre and it comes across 100%. You get the sense if they weren’t so busy making the movie they’d be home watching it.

Movies that fail so hard they RULE: …and now onto my favorite. Sometimes when all the stars align a filmmaker can be SO off target with what they are trying to do, yet be so good intentioned and earnest about it that a masterpiece is created out of utter disaster. This is where the absurdist in me goes bonkers with joy. Run out to the video store and pick up “Troll 2” if you want the perfect example of this category. It is HANEOUS, yet it is one of my all time favorite movies PERIOD. (hint: Don’t bother with Troll 1…its all about Troll 2). You can also lump in other gems as “Plan 9 from Outer Space”, “Don’t Go Near the Park”, “The Howling 2”, “Steven Kings Thinner” or even “John Carpenters: Pro Life” for that matter. (FYI – For a good time go to the film reviews section on horrornews.net and read my review of “Thinner”.)

An interesting subset here is the type of movie that KNOWS it’s going to be ridiculous (as opposed to trying to be…a la the earlier rule) and just has fun with it. A perfect example would be the previously mentioned “Microwave Massacre”. If you’ve got a script in front of you called “Microwave Massacre” and a budget of about $100 you BETTER have a good sense of humor about it. This is VERY tricky to pull off without coming across as trying too hard and thusly missing the mark.

BAM!

That’s my basic movie watching criteria. Isn’t that awesome??

I’m sure plenty of you out there are going to find tons of loopholes and start quoting “House of 1000 Corpses” to me, or point out the SLEW of movies I failed to mention. Of COURSE there are loopholes and of course there are going to be HUNDREDS of movies that defy categorization. That’s the nature of the beast. Bear in mind this doesn’t JUST apply to horror films. Basically all I’m REALLY saying is I try my accept a movie on its own terms rather then judging it through a narrow point of view. 

It’s this openness that allows me to enjoy “Can’t Hardly Wait”, “Mean Streets”, “Bloodsuckers from Outer Space”, “Miss Congeniality”, “Dumb and Dumber” and “Citizen Cane” all in the same breath. In short: If you waste your time living in a rigid box you’re going to miss out on a lot of really cool sh*t.

That’s all I got for now folks.

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One Response to Defining Crap – A look at Horror Movies – A fan perspective

  1. Andy says:

    I LOVE this post! I’ve read it twice.

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