November 1, 2015

The over-use of gory, filthy sets in horror movies

While I tune out the boring plot and ham-fisted dialog of modern horror movies, I try to find a silver lining in the visuals, although they're usually just as off-putting as the narrative.

One of the most ubiquitous of these visual cliches is a set where gore and filth cover as many surfaces as possible -- walls, floors, ceilings, furniture, fixtures, you name it. The idea is to gross out the audience, rather than to create a frightening or disturbing atmosphere, but even that attempt fails.

Let's review some examples first and then explore what is so off about the approach. In movies, the style began with Saw in 2004, although it appears to have made the jump from video games of the survival horror genre, such as Silent Hill 2 from 2001. At any rate, it continues in both media through today.

The Cabin in the Woods

Dementium: The Ward

Evil Dead

The Evil Within

Hostel

A Nightmare on Elm Street

Saw

Silent Hill 2

Silent Hill 2

Putting aside any concerns about color palette and lighting, and sticking only to the application of details to surfaces, what goes so wrong in this approach?

First, it's information overload. There are simply too many details to attend to, across the entirety of the frame. Worse, there's no pay-off to inspecting them, as though one of the details held some plot clue or revealed something about someone's personality. The result is to leave the viewer confused, frustrated, and annoyed -- but not disturbed or afraid.

It also prevents tension from building in what is supposed to be a frightening scene. While your eye is busy scanning through all of those details on the walls, floor, ceiling -- everywhere -- it doesn't get a chance to rest. Tension cannot escalate except from an initial resting state (sparse details, silence, minimal action).

Nor can a surfeit of gory details represent an emotional climax, if it doesn't follow a period of tension-building. The approach is trying to blow us away with too much too soon -- we aren't awed but, again, puzzled about how the hell the scene got to look that way. And with so many details, no one of them stands out to grab our attention. Each bit of gore is only a drop in the bucket, as it were.

And although the intention is to portray a gritty naturalism, the overly filthy and gory surfaces strike us as incredibly unnatural. No dirty / abandoned / squatted place has so many sources of filth continually renewing the filthy look. Over time organic matter decays, so a long-abandoned bathroom will not have copious stains from urine, feces, or vomit. Blood dries and decays too -- are we to believe that every one of the myriad blood stains are fresh, without having seen them made? Decay of building materials is more likely, but most of that is structural rather than chemical -- stuff breaks down into smaller pieces, not discolored (as though every building material and fixture corroded like cheap rusty nails). Airflow blows dirt off the walls to settle on the ground.

Aside from how recently all these stains would had to have been made, there's also the matter of how they could've gotten to where they ended up. What source and path could have led to the placement that we see? Copious blood stains high on a wall or ceiling? Filth and grime dripping down a wall with no source above? When every stain is a mystery stain, the whole thing feels made-up. It strikes us as staged and therefore fake, reminding us that it's the result of deliberate and exaggerated set design. It's as though one of those shabby chic decorators was asked to apply their overly distressed style to a horror geek's bathroom.

Thus, the approach to gross us out fails because our disgust reflex is not triggered when we aren't convinced that we're seeing a plausible scene of gore and filth. It doesn't have to look 100% realistic, but it does have to feel plausible, and we don't feel convinced when it looks like some set decorator let loose with a gore-hose over every square inch of every surface.

Contrast the filthily encrusted look of contempo horror with the restrained or sometimes clean sets in classics from the late '60s through the early '90s. Really the only filthy shot is a close-up of a toilet in Candyman, but the establishing shot of the entire bathroom shows no gore, and not even that much filth -- more graffiti and trash than anything.

Candyman

Candyman

Candyman

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

The Exorcist

The Fly

Hellraiser

Night of the Living Dead

The Shining

The Shining

With less cluttered surfaces, and only the occasional splotch of blood or filth, all of the problems are solved. There's no information overload, and we can start off in a resting state to build tension toward a climax. If that climax produces gore, there won't be that much since it comes from a single event, and we'll have seen its source and path, making its residue on the walls, floor, etc. believable and unobtrusive.

Fairly stain-free surfaces are also more what we see in everyday life, even when the place has been subject to weird, violent, and disgusting events. This relatively cleaner-looking set lends a naturalism to a story that is beyond the ordinary -- demonic possession, butchering, and the like. What truly disturbs us is the sense that something so bizarre could take place in our ordinary settings.

The restrained approach to set design not only succeeds in creating a disturbing atmosphere, it even succeeds at the goal of grossing out the audience, since we can focus better on the gross-out event, its source is known and convincing, and it just stands out a lot better in contrast against the cleaner setting. Costumes play a role here, too: the gross-out event is more disgusting when people are wearing normal clean clothes, than if one of them were dressed in overly filthy clothes. Regan spewing vomit in The Exorcist, for example, compared to a similar scene in the recent remake of Evil Dead.

In the 21st century, horror makers have encrusted their sets with gore and filth based on the belief that clean sets = dull sets. In reality, cleaner sets allow for a disturbing atmosphere to gradually develop, and for occasional gross-out moments to trigger disgust in the audience. Overly messy sets are just distracting, unconvincing, and therefore non-threatening. Perhaps that's the ultimate goal in this period of falling crime rates -- to make horror sets so unbelievable that we won't be in any danger of feeling unsettled.

54 comments:

  1. A big pre cursor to this is 90's music videos. Grunge, Alternative, Nu-metal, industrial, were obvious offenders but every genre at some point used this aesthetic. Things were made to look just dirty and gross. To quote Beavis and Butthead: "they're rolling around in feces".

    It seems like a lot of Gen X movie makers started out in very late 80's/90's music videos. But they mostly didn't make widely released movies until the mid 2000's. Thus, the sudden appearance of this gross out approach in the 2000's after being largely absent in the Boomer dominated 90's.

    To be fair, a lot of Boomer directors abused certain attention getting techniques in the 90's and beyond. Like rapid fire editing, too much camera movement, indulgent performances, unnecessarily long running times, and so forth. So did some long established Silent directors, like Ridley Scott.

    But the super grungey aesthetic seems to mainly be a Gen X pre-occcupation.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The over-use of gory film sets dilutes the power of the film, making it less scary. Its part of general trend during cocooning to make films less emotionally powerful.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I forgot to rate Halloween 5 in my late 80's horror summary. As long as we're on the subject, this is what I think of the whole series.

    Halloween: Great, one of the best horror movies ever.

    Halloween 2: Thinly plotted sequel, glacially paced but technically sound. I'd say it's good based on the mood alone.

    Halloween 3: Well intentioned failure. The story about a malevolent Irish businessman distributing self-destructing masks that need to be worn while watching a commercial at a certain hour never really makes sense (the specific hour obviously occurs at intervals across different time zones, for one thing). Presumably after the initial commercial airing on the West coast other stations would've pulled the ad. Also, how does he get so many kids to watch the commercial on Halloween night with the masks on? Why does the girl turn out to be a robot (she behaves much differently than the other robots, was she "turned" at some point?). Why doesn't she stop the hero before he destroys the factory? Lastly, what the hell happens to the Irish villain at the end?

    The movie is worth watching for the sheer what the hell? factor. And it's technically well made as John Carpenter's movies always are (Carpenter produced part 2 and part 3). Don't think about anything too much, though.

    Halloween 4: I like the pacing and actors in this movie. Since it's more or less the same story as the original, it was a good choice to go for a more action-y style though the director has the sense to slow the pacing a bit to allow for some suspense during most of the stalk/kill scenes. Has the appropriate autumn feel and brings back the blue darkness of the original. Unlike the first 3, the clothes and hairstyles still feel fairly modern so in that respect it's aged better.

    Halloween 5: dumb story (a psychic link is involved) and annoying new characters. The showdown in the last half hour or so is pretty good and almost makes you forget about how bad the rest is.

    Halloween 6: Avoid at all costs. The director won't talk about it to this day, what does that say?

    Halloween 7: Ignores the other sequels and picks up with Jamie Lee Curtis as a middle aged neurotic. Technically pretty good (the director had already done the best Friday the 13th sequel, part 2, and some other movies worth watching). The young actors were born in the early 80's/very late 70's and are fairly likable, so it's got some nostalgia for me. I liked these movies growing up but I definitely felt like this was a little easier to relate to than the others. Not as scary as 1, 2, or maybe even 4 though, since 90's blandness as usual could not be kept at bay. Other than the Cohen brothers, did anyone else manage to mostly keep the 90's stench out of their movies?

    Halloween 8: Now that it's the 2000's, even the technical aspects of these things start to get iffy. Really, really lame story and dreadful acting. Even part 6 had some style. The asshole producers actually came up with the method to keep Myers alive when part 7 was made.

    Rob Zombie re-make: Never saw it. The characters evidently are vulgar loudmouths. We also get an origin story for Micheal (who cares?). It's got the grunge aesthetic going on, unlike the Middle American vibe of the first 7 movies.

    Re-make sequel: widely hated saga of Myers as wandering hobo killer. Much ridiculed for silly dream/hallucination sequences, some of which apparently involve his mother and/or a white horse. Zombie at first publicly disavowed the possibility of doing a sequel but I guess the paycheck was too tempting. Knowing his distaste for sequels, I wonder if he just did the movie as a fuck you to the producers and the public.

    ReplyDelete
  4. To go along with what I was saying, by making the gore unrealistic, it actually relieves the audience, since they believe there's no chance it could happen in real life. They don't get worked up, because its some stupid fairy-tale instead of something they might have to look out for in their real lives. Emotionally tepid instead of powerful.

    "It seems like a lot of Gen X movie makers started out in very late 80's/90's music videos. But they mostly didn't make widely released movies until the mid 2000's. Thus, the sudden appearance of this gross out approach in the 2000's after being largely absent in the Boomer dominated 90's."

    Maybe, but in general it makes more sense to blame the zeitgeist for changes in filmmaking rather than generational affiliation. Even some good filmmakers, like George Lucas and Spielberg, end up making worse movies when people start cocooning.

    Remember that crime rose briefly in the early 2000s(ended in 2005), which means movies improved a little during that period.


    ReplyDelete
  5. "Thus, the sudden appearance of this gross out approach in the 2000's after being largely absent in the Boomer dominated 90's."

    Once again, though, the zeitgest changed significantly between the 90s and 2000s. Possibly related to the explosion of Internet use around 1999-2000. Then things turned a little more normal because of crime rising, but in the mid-2000s things became even worse than they were in the 90s - cocooning + high Internet use.

    ReplyDelete
  6. What would you say about the classic video game Splatterhouse, which was released in 1988? I remember loving the game but being freaked out by the visuals, which seemed extremely gory and dirty for the time. Then again, I haven't played it in a while, perhaps the gore/dirtiness was more properly calibrated.

    Also, I think the emphasis in recent horror movies on filthiness is a product of the helicopter parenting. Kids don't get dirty at all these days, especially not when playing alone (if they do play alone); their worlds are very literally antiseptic. So the over-the-top filthiness of horror films freaks these kids out more than older people, similar to how a sex scene is going to disturb a virgin more than a sexually active person.

    ReplyDelete
  7. "So the over-the-top filthiness of horror films freaks these kids out more than older people"

    I dont' think it freaks them out too much, though. The intent is more to make it so unrealistic that people don't take it seriously, so its less scary, not moreso.

    ReplyDelete
  8. "the zeitgest changed significantly between the 90s and 2000s"

    You remember 90's music videos? Grunge? Nu-Metal? The filth aesthetic was certainly well represented in some aspects of 90's culture. It just took a while to reach Hollywood since Hollywood (particularly after the mid 80's) is very stodgy and was, in the 1990's, dominated by men born in the 30's and 40's who looked down on the music video aesthetic. The first editor of Predator was fired for not sticking to classic techniques of editing.

    Music video directors were not at all restricted by the aesthetic conservatism of an aging elite which does not like taking risks. By the 2000's, The Hollywood elite was a bit younger and more willing to allow directors to use the music video/grunge aesthetic (by the 2000's, they figured that the audience was so accustomed to these things that it would not alienate a large segment of the audience).

    ReplyDelete
  9. For the opposite in a recent horror movie, see the fantasy sequences in Excision. There's gore, but it occurs in pristine (one might say even unnaturally so) conditions.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Should also note that we see that room in The Cabin in the Woods when it's in clean condition, the picture is from shortly after a mass slaughter. So the bits about decay of biological materials over time do not apply.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Remember that crime rose briefly in the early 2000s(ended in 2005), which means movies improved a little during that period.

    http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/murder-rates-nationally-and-state#nat1970

    Judging from murder rates, I dunno if things really got too out of hand. The last real wave of widespread delinquency/wildness/violence happened from about 1990-1995. The economy got a lot better as the 90's went on, and we weren't involved in any big wars. So the entertainment (esp. the movies) of 1994-2000 tend to be rather light weight. The growing timidity and aloofness of 90's audiences also meant that post 1992 stuff was going to be lame for the most part.

    There was little social unrest or great political controversies in the 80's (aside from Iran-Contra which didn't pop up until around 1988 and Aids which no one really cared about until the late 80's. Yet even in the early-mid 80's, the audience was tough enough to want to see certain disquieting topics dealt with. Movies about Vietnam vets, even early ones like Rambo (1982) and Uncommon Valor (1983) dealt with psychological trauma in very vivid ways. And these characters still felt believable and even sympathetic.

    I don't like most post 2000 movies, but thanks to a terrible economy, rising inequality, and never ending wars we do get more intense movies than we did in the 90's. But they're too poorly made to have much effect, since artistic capabilities (and acting) atrophy after decades of cocooning.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I do think that the 90's were the last decade where movies till felt like, well, movies. Everything was shot on film, editing and camera work were still generally solid (though getting a bit too busy at times), and relatively little abuse of digital color fiddling. Movies in the theater always used film prints. It just doesn't seem right, projecting a computer file.

    In the 2000's, technically speaking, we entered the abyss. Awful digital cameras, and even when stuff was shot on film it often looked like crap thanks to bad film stock, incompetent filmmakers, or stupid post production tinkering.

    Editing and camera work became a god-awful mess that shows no signs of improving as of the mid 2010's.

    And do 50% of movies (85% of horror and action movies) have to have such nasty looking digital color washes? The most common one is the dreaded orange and teal (watch anything by Micheal Bay) in which the surroundings take on a greenish tinge while human skin becomes Oompa Lumpa orange. Also common is making everything a dingy yellow/brownish shade. Or how 'bout just desatureating the colors altogether? People these days evidently don't want stimulation anyway.

    True, color filters were often used in the 80's and earlier 90's (many action and horror movies used deep blue filters for night shooting). But at least those looked cool and more natural than the sickly digital technique.

    ReplyDelete
  13. In a topic that is one of our favorites, early returns from family and people on FaceBook claim record low trick-or-treating turnout. It's interesting viewing this stuff from the lens you've helped me realize I've had all along. Cocooning...duh!

    ReplyDelete
  14. A lot of videogames were criticized for this too.

    In particular DeadSpace, where there is literally gore everywhere, and the equivalent of grown up "Peek-a-boos!" aka jump scares.

    Gore is just disgust and confusion is as you said. Constant cheap surprises is just that: cheap and not horror. Something people do in a surprise birthday party. Something in silly youtube videos that start out normal then put a retarded frame of a "Scary" woman at the end to "freak" people out. It is the easiest form of "Gotcha!" and never really delves into true horror. It is a superficial surprise in which the brain is simply scrambling to process what it is, and when it does, it is harmless.

    Horror films of the past had the type of fear where even when you saw the creature, saw the craziness, it stuck in your head and gave you something to think about. The really good ones might even say something about society and yourself. Modern horror is just like a really loud noise from your backside, and when you turn around it is your idiot friend trying to get a reaction the easiest possible and usually failing.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I don't recall the grunge aesthetic including filthy and grimy stains all over the walls, let alone gore. They sometimes showed places that looked abandoned ("Smells Like Teen Spirit," "Sober"), but not actually filthy. I'd be happy to be corrected, though, since I suspected there would've been precursors of the Saw look back in the '90s.

    The grunge look wasn't original to them either. It was in fact the last instance of a trend that was disappearing after peaking in the '80s. Earlier post on abandoned building chic during the heyday of latchkey children:

    http://akinokure.blogspot.com/2013/11/abandoned-building-chic-during-heyday.html

    What's really surprising is the apparent lack of examples before Saw in 2004 -- The Ring, The Grudge, Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake of 2003, you'd think it would be there, but the sets are remarkably free from Jackson Pollock stains.

    The Silent Hill games are replete with this overly encrusted style, so this may be the first example of a visual convention in video games making the jump to a film convention. I bet the people responsible for the look and feel of Saw, Hostel, etc., had been / were still horror video game junkies, and thought how epic it would be to make a movie that looked like Silent Hill 2.

    Just one more nail in the coffin about video games being a competent art form.

    ReplyDelete
  16. "What would you say about the classic video game Splatterhouse, which was released in 1988?"

    The environments in that game aren't encrusted with filthy stains or gore, although the enemies look gory and the effects from killing them are gory. The "sets" are actually free from stains, even though it would have been trivial to paint them in.

    I'm talking more about the design of the environments than about the people and creatures. Old horror movies had gory effects -- Regan looks disgusting when possessed, projects vomit, gets blood onto her legs from stabbing her crotch with a crucifix, etc. The set, however, was normal looking.

    One nitpick, but the first anyone saw of Splatterhouse was in the early '90s on the TurboGrafx-16. That shows that the restrained style to set design lasted into the early '90s, just like in Candyman.

    ReplyDelete
  17. "Should also note that we see that room in The Cabin in the Woods when it's in clean condition, the picture is from shortly after a mass slaughter. So the bits about decay of biological materials over time do not apply."

    The decay of matter was only one of the errors I mentioned. The other is the physics involved. The amount and the path that the blood would have to travel to get where it ends up is not believable. A slaughter at ground level is going to send huge swaths of blood high up onto a wall or ceiling? No.

    It looks so artificial, like someone took a blood-colored spraypaint tool in MS Paint and filled in each of the rectangular panels on the walls, no matter how far away they were from the slicing and dicing. It doesn't look like the naturalistic aftermath of a slaughter, but like an interior design scheme for a horror geek's home.

    ReplyDelete
  18. "In a topic that is one of our favorites, early returns from family and people on FaceBook claim record low trick-or-treating turnout."

    It's strange to keep seeing kids' Halloween costumes for sale every year, and seeing the racks being mostly empty by Halloween night -- and yet never seeing the actual wearers of those costumes. What gives?

    The kids are wearing their costumes to school, and at most to a "safety in numbers" herd of kids and helicopter parents (and still, more parents than children) who are setting off for trick-or-treating at a local mall or business district.

    You can trust government workers at school, and wage slaves at small and large businesses in the area. But your actual neighbors? All pedophile serial killers.

    ReplyDelete
  19. "the equivalent of grown up "Peek-a-boos!" aka jump scares."

    That's another trend which shows that audiences today do not actually want to get disturbed or scared by horror movies. The jump scare tries to fast-forward through the stage of escalating tension. Just skip to the "holy shit!" moment.

    With a jump scare, you may know it's coming (or not), but once it's done, you can go right back to your normal state. It's like getting a single rap across the knuckles. With escalating tension, the movie has its hooks in you for awhile, and there could be several high-impact moments, so you aren't sure that the danger is gone until the scene changes.

    Jump scares keep the audience outside of the movie; escalating tension draws them in.

    ReplyDelete
  20. "I don't recall the grunge aesthetic including filthy and grimy stains all over the walls, let alone gore. They sometimes showed places that looked abandoned ("Smells Like Teen Spirit," "Sober"), but not actually filthy. I'd be happy to be corrected, though, since I suspected there would've been precursors of the Saw look back in the '90s."

    "The grunge look wasn't original to them either. It was in fact the last instance of a trend that was disappearing after peaking in the '80s. Earlier post on abandoned building chic during the heyday of latchkey children:"

    Saw a lot of videos back in the Beavis and Butthead days. I remember a decent amount looking really grimy and trashy. Like I say, I do remember Beavis saying: "they're rolling around in feces". Maybe I'd find the video if I looked hard enough on Youtube.

    And no, if for no other reason than standards and practices, I don't think many videos had bodily fluids by the gallon. But dirt, mud, grease, and other kinds of grime were in some videos. A lot of bugs too.

    Album cover wise, Metallica's Load albums were really gross looking (pee, blood, semen smeared). And Cannibal Corpse's first album (1990) was rather goofy rather than gross. By 1994, they beat Metallica by a year in the race to have an album cover with realistic bloody material.

    The artists themselves looked progressively grosser at a time when Hollywood stars were looking more and more glossy. The occasional nose ring or tattoo was bad enough in 1992, god knows how bad it was by the time third wave Nu-metal bands were getting airplay in 2000.

    I'd still say that music and video games are more representative of where the culture was heading than movies since the 90's was a time of product by committee/growing budgets/growing egos/stylistic conservatism in Hollywood, with very little room given for experimentation. Especially in the 2nd half of the 90's. Horror movies were terrible from 1993-2000 by the way, in large part due to these factors. Of all genres, it suffered the most from bland 90's Hollywood culture.

    I'd say too that a lot of Gen X movie makers (many of whom didn't do much before the 2000's) were heavily inspired by the nihilistic/grimy alternative aesthetic represented by some bands and video games. The MPAA got very strict in the late 80's and 90's, when quite a few Boomer filmmakers began to voluntarily pull their punches. Standards and practices have relaxed quite a bit since then, with the very late Boomer and Gen X dominated TV show/movie/video game production teams of the last 10 years being more willing to wade in blood and grime.

    Quake was a mid 90's FPS that I believe didn't have crap caked on everything, but it was very ugly with most stuff looking brown, with some red and grey.

    ReplyDelete
  21. "Contrast the filthily encrusted look of contempo horror with the restrained or sometimes clean sets in classics from the late '60s through the early '90s."

    Doesn't this fit with the decadence and promotion of deviancy since about 1994? Before the mid 90's, art was supposed to be about relatively ordinary (dare I say square?) people being thrust into unusual and sometimes threatening circumstances. Since then, many people claim that it's "boring" if characters are too strait laced, earnest, and amiable. It's supposed to be more interesting if everybody is brash, petulant, or an angsty weirdo.

    Besides promoting the supposedly lovable qualities of weirdos, there's lots of cynical excuses made for these people too. Can we go back to just telling people to get over stuff, shut their mouths, and be more willing to get to work instead of complain?

    This wish fulfillment for nerds and misfits is tiring.

    I wonder if the gross environment look is exploiting the neurosis of middle aged Gen X-ers (who want to make the world as safe as possible for their kids) and the OCD of Millennials who were dissuaded from risks (including "risky" places) as much as possible.

    ReplyDelete
  22. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07pLGIgyfjw

    Sorry for serial posting, but Tool's Stinkfist (from the mid 90's) has some pretty grimy walls/floors, at least in the last couple of minutes.

    Prodigy's Breathe isn't quite as gross or weird but it's still sick garbage.

    ReplyDelete
  23. I would argue this goes all the way to Czech animator Jan Švankmajer who worked in the 1960s-present. He was a surrealist who often used grungy sets and splashes of gore (kidneys/organs) in his work, going on to influence other animators (the Brothers Quay) and becoming a primary influence for the folks that made Silent Hill.

    Check out the Brothers Quay "Street of Crocodiles" from 1986 and you'll see some very Silent Hill-like stuff:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6nBSBGEixM

    I wonder what you think of a game like "P.T." which began in a house that seemed abandoned after a crime and slowly and progressively became dirtier, bloodier and gorier as the game went on. (You can find thousands of Let's Plays of this game on Youtube.) It seems turning a mundane setting slowly into a hellish one has more of an effect than just throwing people into a grimy, bloody landscape.

    ReplyDelete
  24. In regard to trick-or-treating, I passed a subdivision Saturday night where dozens of cars had parked near the entrance, and a police cruiser was out to direct traffic. Apparently, a lot of people go to this subdivision to trick-or-treat because it has sidewalks and enough lighting to avoid the need to carry a flashlight or otherwise make your way in the dark, heaven forbid. The sad part is that this subdivision is located in the center of a huge residential area. Go in any direction from this subdivision and you are in a neighborhood.

    So why do they descend upon the cookie-cutter subdivision? What's wrong with the middle-class, low-traffic neighborhoods lying all around it, where the houses aren't built to a uniform design? You would walk somewhat in the woods, on unlit streets. The element of danger is too great. Danger of what? I can understand the danger of being hit by a car. But my friends and I used to trick-or-treat on narrow streets with little to no shoulder, in a hilly area where you could be easily hit by a car if you weren't careful, since you can't step off the road in some areas more than about a foot without falling down a steep hill — no exaggeration. You just had to use common sense and wave a flashlight at approaching vehicles so they would see you.

    Earlier tonight, coincidentally, I overheard somebody enthusiastically endorsing the idea of driving to the safest, most cookie-cutter subdivision in your county. I seriously overheard this topic being discussed by somebody with the opposite viewpoint, and I will paraphrase what they said: "So many people go here to trick-or-treat," she told him, "that they run out of candy early. [This was being presented as a positive]. You wanna get there as soon as it gets dark. [...] No one wants to go out in the creepy neighborhoods out in the woods where it's dark, and YOU NEVER KNOW IF YOU'LL KNOCK ON SOMEONE'S DOOR AND GET SNATCHED UP [emphasis added]. But here, every house is super well-decorated, lots of Halloween lights [???], and they play spooky music."

    Goddamn: Halloween lights and spooky music, why didn't you say so in the first place? And here I was about to question the fear of having your kids snatched while trick-or-treating. Isn't that risk already addressed by going out in groups?

    Granted, I don't know the age range she was talking about, or of the trick-or-treaters at the subdivision. You might argue it's appropriate for the youngest ages. But if they're so young that they have to go with a parent, then why can't the parents walk with them in the scary dark neighborhoods? The presence of a parent would seem to defeat the snatching argument.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Correct, the ultra-decay aesthetic percolated up mainly from the Quays and Svankmajer. Their works influenced many of the young artists and students of the 1980s who became the pop culture creators of music videos, video games, and movies during the 1990s. The Quays were primarily influenced by Eastern European cinema (e.g. Wojciech Has), although not by Svankmajer specificially, since his work was hidden behind the Iron Curtain until the 1980s. Here's a well known example of the Eastern Euro decay aesthetic from Tarkovsky's The Mirror (1975). That same floor to ceiling decay shows up in popular early-mid 90s music videos directed by Adam Jones, Mark Romanek, and Floria Sigismondi and they all cited the Quays as the proximate influence.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Gen X parents are trying to remove any element of uncertainty (let alone danger) from the proceedings. They may still go for gruesome entertainment and they might be festooned with tats and piercings, but they don't want their kids to face the risks which were a standard part of growing up in the 70's-mid 90's.

    No matter how superficially alienated and at times nihilistic Gen X-ers may be, they still desperately expend lots of effort towards sheltering their kids. They also do a lot of permissive parent shaming. Boomer parents shamed each other for not doing enough to develop their kids into winners. X-ers aren't competitive parents as much as they paranoid ones.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Decaying looks different from filthy, gory, and disgusting. No stains all over the place, whether from organic matter (piss, blood), corrosion, or other dirty slimy substances. What I've seen from the Quays and Svankmajer don't look filthy and gross, but abandoned and uncared for.

    Filth chic tries to connect itself to the earlier decay chic by implying that a place that's abandoned will eventually develop all kinds of disgusting stuff everywhere. As though the building itself were alive yet sick and immuno-compromised, and after being abandoned by doctors and nurses, is unable to keep itself from becoming over-grown with filth and gore.

    Decay chic treats the building as inanimate, and when abandoned by stewards falls into disrepair, crumbles, paint peels off, dust and debris cover the ground like fallen leaves, and so on.

    Filth chic tries (and fails) to trigger the emotion of disgust, while decay chic tries (and succeeds) to trigger the emotion of fear. A decaying abandoned building may not be the most frightening sight in the world, but that is the emotion being stimulated. Movies with decaying and haunting environments appeal to disgust, if at all, in the context of people being harmed.

    Why does that approach succeed while the disgusting-setting approach fails? Naturalism, it seems like. Environments themselves can't get that disgusting, while acts of violence certainly can get very disgusting.

    ReplyDelete
  28. I don't know if I agree with the Cabin in the Woods example, because that's a sight joke from what is a satirical-black-comedy-horror (same excess of gore relative to the rest of the film, as the lift scene in The Shining, with different intent). The film is mainly comedy and satire. If it even had that in there, otherwise, it would probably be because it's Whedon hating on that trend.

    Be interesting to see if this trend is there in the 2000s - 2010s horror films that get higher critical ratings - Babadook, Insidious, It Follows, The Descent, Let The Right One In, The Conjuring, El Orfanato, 28 Days Later, Spring, Paranormal Activity, We Are What We Are, Berbarian Sound Studio, Wolf Creek. I can't remember any scenes like that in any of those I watched (I'm pretty loathe to watch horror, so tend to only watch the high rated ones without stoopid kids). There's also the high rated TV horrors like The Strain, Walking Dead and American Horror Story, which I suspect would be more likely to use this kind of cheap aesthetic. In the late 90s I remember the Blair Witch Project as the horror film everyone went mad for, with totally "found" settings and no sets, really.

    Could look back at 1950s and 1940s horror movies to see if they did anything similar, as well. Their horror movies were really monster movies, generally, though.
    Seems like on a similar tip as "real is brown", where people have the idea that real is more dinged up, dirtier, more "lived in", even when that's not so true.

    ReplyDelete
  29. "Tool's Stinkfist (from the mid 90's) has some pretty grimy walls/floors, at least in the last couple of minutes."

    Good catch, from '96. Marilyn Manson's video for "Tourniquet" in '97 has a couple sets that are decorated with filth chic. So does "Beautiful People" from '99. Shock rock was a forerunner of torture porn.

    Funny to see that in "Closer" by Nine Inch Nails, the concept of disturbing sets was still based on decay -- dust, cobwebs, and peeling paint. That was '94.

    "More Human Than Human" from '95 you might expect to have filth chic, but the sets are basic. It goes for trippy visual effects instead.

    ReplyDelete
  30. "Could look back at 1950s and 1940s horror movies to see if they did anything similar, as well."

    Movies were heavily censored from about the mid-'30s through the mid-'60s. But comic books were not until the mid-'50s, so that's where all the gory and disgusting stuff was. It doesn't look very different from today's torture porn. Those comics were fairly popular, and their gore led to a "moral panic". Seduction of the Innocent, a damning critique of the horror and crime comic phenomenon, is one of those things you need to know about in order to understand Midcentury popular culture.

    As for the set designs, though, they don't show too much filth and gore. It could be due to the different settings. Modern torture porn takes place in modern buildings, especially bathrooms and kitchens where all kinds of filth and gore might accumulate. And where plumbing can leak, corrode, etc. In the horror comics, the victims were usually taken to a Medieval style crypt, which doesn't allow for as much filth and gore to plausibly accumulate on surfaces as a modern public bathroom does.

    Or, perhaps being part of the Great Compression when all infrastructure was in good shape, any variant on decaying or contaminated buildings would not have resonated with them.

    Some examples from a comprehensive site about Seduction of the Innocent (you can also google image search "horror comics"):

    http://www.lostsoti.org/WerthamMissedIt.htm

    ReplyDelete
  31. "I don't know if I agree with the Cabin in the Woods example, because that's a sight joke from what is a satirical-black-comedy-horror"

    Trend or satire of the trend -- same thing for charting the development over time. None of the satirical horror movies of the '80s showed filthy, gory sets.

    ReplyDelete
  32. "More Human Than Human" from '95 you might expect to have filth chic, but the sets are basic. It goes for trippy visual effects instead.

    Zombies 80's/90's stuff is essentially 60's camp with very vulgar modern techniques (noisy distorted guitars and growling in the music, hyper kinetic editing in the videos). After the post 9/11 uptick in intensity, he started making really repellent horror movies with obvious Tim Burton style weirdo anti-heroes. But if Burton is quirky art kid who hasn't quite developed mature empathy, Zombie is a pyschopathic man child judging from the witless misanthropy and excess of his movies.

    Bizarrely, the public and even some critics take Zombies' claim that he's homaging 70's horror seriously. Really? I don't think the majority of 70's horror movies made you sympathize with nasty scumbags.

    What kind of characters did these 70's horror movies have?

    Jaws - a somewhat geeky but still fairly pleasant scientist. A grizzled fisherman. A slightly neurotic but sensitive cop.

    Halloween - A dedicated shrink. 3 middle class girls with typical young insecurities and naivete, one of whom is perceptive and caring enough to deal with the threat (an average looking boy/man whose madness is never explained or humanized, making him difficult to relate to).

    The Omen - A sophisticated, upper-class family that find itself at the center of a series of bizarre deaths. The earnest and reasonably affable father grows distressed about his son's role in the deaths. Concerned and selflessly motivated people, including a reporter and a church official, become involved.

    The Exorcist - Several decent people are thrown into a clash with a troubled and ultimately possessed teen girl.

    Dawn of the Dead - Two swat cops, a pilot, and the pilot's girlfriend face a zombie apocalypse with a mixture of realistic emotions and actions. They are shown to be more conscientious than most of the other people in the story (a pompous scientist, thuggish cops, chaotic bikers, flippant rednecks).

    Alien - A diverse space ship crew (who are just trying to get through another series of obligations, hopefully without too much trouble or bickering) encounter a dangerous life form. Notably, the atmosphere just before the creature appears is quite convivial. The most sleazy character, a doctor/scientist, turns out to be not human at all. His taciturn quirks are not meant to be endearing.

    Few well-regarded 70's horror movie were about sleazebags at all. And if they were, the movie at least had one ordinary character who you sympathized with (like in Texas Chainsaw Massacre).

    ReplyDelete
  33. Decaying looks different from filthy, gory, and disgusting

    Agreed. Floria Sigismondi, Keiichiro Toyama, James Wan, and other horror directors certainly re-purposed the creepy Quay decay by larding disgust imagery on top of it.

    (Here's Toyama noting their strong influence on him. Incidentally the short he names, "This Unnameable Little Broom", also contains the tricycle riding doll that Wan re-imagined as the mascot for the Saw franchise.)

    Perhaps it's not surprising that Asian directors were early purveyors of disgust surfaces.

    ReplyDelete
  34. That's also why intentionally over-the-top gross-out horror appeals mostly to liberal / libertarian types -- no sense of disgust / purity / taboo. It's like they're trying to shock the normies by showing off their lack of a gag reflex. Also a mark of juvenile / infantile development, when kids still love scat humor.

    ReplyDelete
  35. Most of Svankmajer's features post-date the fall of the wall. But "Dimensions of Dialogue" was well received in the west back in 1982, and has been cited by Terry Gilliam as one of the best animations of all time. At the same time, it's not really "filthy", particularly in the backgrounds.

    ReplyDelete
  36. I found Forrest Wickman's criticism of subtlety in art interesting, because he defends the Victorian era and ponders why things once considered good are now bad. No mention of the 80s, but that's what I thought of in the last paragraph. Jody Rosen's defense of schlock goes there, specifically with reference to "Don't Stop Believing".

    ReplyDelete
  37. Saw a 100,000-word Slate article, checked who the author was, found out he's a gay Millennial lit major, did not read.

    Ditto a Jew defending schlock. People who defend something that broad cannot discriminate between good and bad. Journey wrote good songs, while contempo pop music stinks, despite most/all of it still being schlock. Who is he "defending" schlock against, anyway? As though a cabal of Foucault-spouting Yale fags controlled the internet.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Please, with this Jewish pseudo intellectual garbage. The 1980's had comparatively little wallowing in childish and scatological vulgarity. The 90's were far more nasty, and it's only gotten worse in some ways since. Why, also, if the 80's were supposedly so garish, was there very little shaky cam? Why were the vast majority of records produced with dynamics intact?

    Many Jews are notably lacking in sincerity and empathy, so who are they to tell us the difference between "High" or "Low" art? That Journey song is sentimental, no doubt, but it's also incredibly affecting if you've got any sense of heart.

    Jews are inherently suspicious of anything that appeals to a "mass" (read: goy) audience. They are also notoriously hostile towards danceable music. The majority of people who snark on the Reagan era are usually nerds and misfits (e.g., liberals) who mock the 80's as a conformist, dull, excessive, outright stupid period that celebrated the nuclear family, no-nonsense bravado, and betrayed the liberal hopes of the 60's/70's.

    Why, Reagan and his cohorts commissioned a study on porn. The nerve he had, daring to suggest that an industry dominated by Jews and antithetical to public health and common decency ought to scrutinized for it's effect.

    Also, how come Mom and Pop businesses did well in the 80's but died in the 90's? I though the 90's was the period where everyone woke up after being deluded and coked up in the 80's.

    ReplyDelete
  39. Rosen actually does claim there's a distinction between "schlock", "schmaltz" (though there's a lot of overlap) and "cheese" (ranked below schlock as something one would only enjoy ironically, whereas good schlock is sincere). Both seem to agree in part with Feryl, that there's an elite which likes to look down on what is made enjoyable for the masses. Neither identifies Jews as being inclined one way or another, but the one on shlock notes that the word (along with schmaltz) comes from yiddish, and that nearly all French Canadian music (Celine Dion being the most well known example and inspiration for a related book) is schlock, along with most latin music. Rosen ties it into a PC gender lens: music like Dion's, country, R&B or soft/easy listening tend to appeal to women and so has long been denigrated by largely male "rockist" critics (though today they're being replaced by "poptimists"). I actually resemble their remark as a "rockist" white middle class male without much of a distinct ethnic/regional identity, not Jewish but somewhat more likely to work or otherwise interact with them than the national average.

    ReplyDelete
  40. Also, did mom & pop businesses really thrive in the 80s relative to adjacent decades? I've been thinking about that because I'm watching the second season of Fargo (set in 1979), and lots of viewers want to tie in the theme of the displacement of family businesses with more bureaucratic corporations and the age of Reagan. My own understanding from cross-national comparisons is that small & family owned businesses (or self employment) are more common where the economy is smaller, like southern italy.

    ReplyDelete
  41. One of the earlier examples of wall-splattering gore I recall was the semi-notorious hospital sequence from the film Jacob's Ladder (1990), in which Tim Robbins is wheeled in a gurney through a nightmarish series of hospital corridors. Certain comedy-horror films like Peter Jackson's "Dead Alive" (1992) used obtrusive gore as a form of parody.

    I think the biggest stylistic influences were mutated out of the "body horror" genre typified by David Cronenberg's films in the 70's and early 80's, and (to an underappreciated extent) Japanese gore films like the "Guinea Pig" series, which began in 1985. That one became a "viral" hit of sorts, circulated in the west on bootleg VHS cassettes.

    I also wonder if the old "Faces of Death" series (originating in 1978) and other "mondo" horror films had some influence on this sort of thing. There has been a certain impulse among certain filmmakers toward schlock and gross-out sequences for quite some time (and it may have gotten Salo's director killed back in 1975), but it was quite confined to the margins of the entertainment industry until more recently.

    I recall reading that Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom encountered criticism in 1984 for its sequences involving pits full of insects and other gross-out effects, which were regarded as tawdry.

    ReplyDelete
  42. "Also, did mom & pop businesses really thrive in the 80s relative to adjacent decades? I've been thinking about that because I'm watching the second season of Fargo (set in 1979), and lots of viewers want to tie in the theme of the displacement of family businesses with more bureaucratic corporations and the age of Reagan. "

    People were bigger risk takers and more free spirited in the 80's, so there was more of an instinct to take your chances by starting your own business or shopping at a business that didn't have a focus grouped logo and ad campaign.

    When I read about Gen X-ers shopping as kids in the 80's, they remember tons of different places. Some of them were chain stores, admittedly, but at least there was a mixture of smaller chains and M&P stores in addition to a Wal-Mart, a Target, a Toys R Us, or a JC Penney.

    Where have very late Gen X-ers and Millennials shopped? 90% of those in suburban and rural areas have done most of their shopping at mega retailers. Even in urban areas, there's fetishizing of the likes of Whole Foods.

    In cocooning periods, people grow uneasy at the unfamiliar. So since about 1992 there's been greater and greater emphasis on sticking to a comfy "brand identity" (e.g. you know exactly what you're getting, even if it's mediocre at best). Most retailers get their stuff from the same Asian factories. Even Apple, the ultimate liberal snob brand, pollutes the same rivers as everyone else.

    Stuff has been less and less likely to be made in America with each passing decade since around 1970. Partly that's because the Me generation was not suited to teamwork and manual labor (in fact, The G.I. Gen told their kids that manual labor was a burden that one ought to rise above) , which hurt the reputation of American stuff. The reason so many things "went wrong" after about 1970 is because weenie Silents and drama queen Boomers were not capable of just keeping their mouths shut and getting along.

    ReplyDelete
  43. By the way, American Gen X-ers and Millennials are not getting the opportunities in manufacturing that Silents and early Boomers once did (which of course were squandered by whiny, lazy, and corrupt workers and managers born between 1930-1960, the same cohort most likely to be serial killers). Partly because the American worker's reputation never recovered from the damage inflicted by post G.I. Americans in the 70's.

    But it's also because striving Silents and Boomers now run the show, and two generations that disdained manual labor are not about to reinstate for younger American generations.

    ReplyDelete
  44. "Seduction of the Innocent, a damning critique of the horror and crime comic phenomenon, is one of those things you need to know about in order to understand Midcentury popular culture."

    Nobody seems to have noticed the fact that Bill Cosby is from the Silent Generation (b. 1937). Is it any coincidence that he is also a sexual pervert? As the Seduction of the Internet points out, men from that generation were inculcated with bondage fantasies. Not a far stretch to go from that to drugging and raping women. I wonder if he was a fan of those comic books.

    ReplyDelete
  45. Mom & pop stores and local chains were still plentiful in the '80s:

    http://akinokure.blogspot.com/2013/04/shopping-centers-in-1980s-before-every.html

    The first stage of corporate control over the economy was replacement of the labor population -- off-shoring jobs to China, Mexico, etc., and importing peasant hordes to do unskilled work here.

    Then the drive toward monopolization ("mergers and acquisitions"), but they went in order from most profitable to least -- beginning with banks, media companies, etc., and only eventually getting to retail stores, movie theaters, and restaurants. Most department stores were still regional with long histories until Macy's started gobbling every one of them up in the mid-2000s.

    That doesn't mean that every store was a mom & pop in the '80s. There were national chains even during the Great Compression (like Kresge's five-and-dime, the precursor to Kmart). And there were regional and even local chains into the '80s, including grocery stores, which are almost all gone by now. (For example, Tom Tarpy's was a grocery chain local to Columbus, OH. Ask your folks and I'm sure there was a counterpart where you're from.)

    ReplyDelete
  46. Feryl: Bizarrely, the public and even some critics take Zombies' claim that he's homaging 70's horror seriously. Really? I don't think the majority of 70's horror movies made you sympathize with nasty scumbags.

    I'm not so aware of horror, but I got the impression that what he produces and likes (apparently), pays homage to the weirdo cannibal-murder 1970s-1980s horror (stick horror exploitation movies into Google to see a list). I thought he was pretty open that he is trying to channel that kind of gonzo stuff and not anything 70s, or the more popular movies, which are less weird and bizarre and violent.

    Those things were probably less popular at the time than "torture porn" is today (even though today torture porn is still not very popular). They're the kind of things I associate Gen X edgelord teens daring one another to watch, like Rob Zombie, Quentin Tarantino, probably James Wan. The sort of posturing that led to a lot of the dull Mortal Kombat violence that probably peaked in the 1990s-2000s as this small segment of mainly Gen X gathered more audience power (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Splatter_film).

    There was a moral panic about those splatter flicks in early 1980s Britain - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_nasty, which is probably part of why I (fairly or not) associated horror movies with bullshit long before Saw.

    ReplyDelete
  47. "I'm not so aware of horror, but I got the impression that what he produces and likes (apparently), pays homage to the weirdo cannibal-murder 1970s-1980s horror (stick horror exploitation movies into Google to see a list). I thought he was pretty open that he is trying to channel that kind of gonzo stuff and not anything 70s, or the more popular movies, which are less weird and bizarre and violent."

    Those things were probably less popular at the time than "torture porn" is today (even though today torture porn is still not very popular). They're the kind of things I associate Gen X edgelord teens daring one another to watch, like Rob Zombie, Quentin Tarantino, probably James Wan."

    The hey day of sicko horror movies was the late 60's-very early 80's. It was part of the Awakening (as Strauss & Howe spin it) of the 60's/70's, in which experimentation of all kinds was encouraged. Thus, artists and indeed people in general had a remarkably casual attitude towards all kinds of goofy and even dangerous stuff (like promiscuity and drugs). Movies with once outrageous content (like gory horror movies and hardcore porn) were seen by some as bold and necessary statements.

    Though people were still outgoing in the 80's, people became more conservative about many things. Including art. Songs got shorter, movies became more centered around clearly defined boundaries of right and wrong. New Wave artists expressed regret about the past and fear about the future, whereas Disco artists largely stuck to 70's style "living in the moment" hedonism and permissiveness.

    Contrary to what some may believe, there certainly is a darkness, a moodiness to 80's culture. The 70's had an uncertainty, no doubt, but overall the mood was one of experimentation and seeking personal enlightenment and glory. By the 80's, people were firmly rejecting some of the "modern" excesses of the 70's (whether it was Me Gen cynicism, moral ambiguity or polyester).

    In the mid 80's, the MPAA refused to give Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer a non X rating on the grounds of the movie's tone. The movie got held up and wasn't released until 1990.

    As a matter of fact, while some Gen X teens did dare each other to watch the likes of Faces of Death, the majority of action/horror movies of the 80's targeted at a young audience were about clean cut action heroes and ordinary teens fighting an obvious defiler of common decency. Deranged slashers, drug dealers, crime bosses, etc. Patrick Swayze in Roadhouse ('89) specifically fires a fellow bouncer for having drugs.

    Master of Puppets condemns coke heads; Boomers in the 60's and 70's would've hated anything that told them to slow down.

    The idea that Gen X-ers are uniquely attracted to sick nihilistic crap is something that didn't really pick up steam or credibility until the mid 90's. I mean, 80's rock and metal is for the most part a lot more agreeable than the junk made after 1992. Gen X-ers didn't create the nasty 90's; the nasty 90's choked the life out of Gen X artists who were too young to have done much in the 70's or 80's.

    ReplyDelete
  48. Tarantino was born in '63, meaning that the late 60's and 70's imprinted on him heavily. Thus, he idealizes the period and is still infatuated with dated civil rights era issues (like striking a blow for blacks). This really marks Tarantino as a Boomer; core Gen X-ers (those born from about 1968-1978) tend to be much more skeptical about preachy activists. And are more resigned to racial realities than Boomers. X-ers supposedly got uppity in the early 90's. Yeah, it got annoying but it was nothing compared to how brash Boomers were in the 60's. Besides, every generation got in on PC then and to this day. It's not the X-ers fault.

    X-ers, in general, are less comfortable taking on the role of avenger and spokesman than know it all judgmental Boomers.

    Zombie was born in Jan. '65. Again more than enough time to have the mind shaped by the era of polyester, enlightenment expansion, and reckless experimentation.

    No wonder the 80's can't get a fair shake; even people who were barely alive when Kennedy was shot are still pre-occupied with the America that Ronald Reagan allegedly strangled to death. In reality, people were getting fed up with the problems created by having no clear mission (Swinging Silents and restless Boomers playing whack-a-mole with their careers, relationships, and leisure) and a lack of strong guidance, symbolized by Carter basically telling people that life sucked and you better get used to it..

    Even people born after the 60's know the big events and controversies of the era, thanks to the constant lectures, nostalgia, and narcissism of Boomers.

    Not every Boomer is dumb about this stuff; Sailer often goofs on the late 60's and Seventies, admitting that a lot of the decade's ideas were pretentious, half-baked, even dangerous (lowering the drinking age as yet another sop to Boomers) and that there was a reason a lot of that stuff wasn't tried before (and hasn't necessarily been tried since).

    ReplyDelete
  49. I should clarify that aside from Dawn of the Dead, the most popular horror movies in the 70's were relatively modest in the exploitation department. What I was trying to say was that there was indeed really coarse stuff being made (horror or porn), but it was confined to drive-ins and run down urban theaters.

    Regardless of violent or sex content, 70's movies did tend to have more moral ambiguity than 80's movies. Even if they have relatable characters, movies like Jaws and Alien don't really have any moral grounding. It's people against amoral monsters; the monsters aren't even attributed to human hubris, they're just there hunting people down. By Aliens ('86), the Alien menace is partly blamed on greedy companies colonizing dangerous areas. If memory serves, in the original the ship crew comes upon the creature incidentally. The crew is then sold out by a soulless robot who tells a faceless company about the creature's value.

    Also, most contempo. horror movies are less popular than they were in the 70's and 80's. The hit horror movies of 1968-1986, after adjusting for inflation and how they did against other movies released that year, were much more popular. From the mid 70's-late 80's, the were usually 1-4 horror movies in the top 20 yearly box office.

    Horror movies began making less money relative to other genres, especially in the 90's, because they are the genre that is least dependent on rationality. So in time periods that emphasize rationality (cocooning periods, really), most horror is so poorly made that nobody wants to see it. Most of the Saw movies didn't do that well. People assume that, well, if a low budget movie made it's money back, gee, it's a hit then right?. You need to take into account how well it did compare to other movies released that year. The Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street movies were much more successful than the Saw series based on that metric.

    1974-1980, in particular, saw horror movies make the yearly top 10.

    ReplyDelete
  50. How shitty is modern horror? Horror in yearly top 25:

    2007 - None
    2008 - None
    2009 - None
    2010 - None
    2011 - None
    2012 - Prometheus (24)
    2013 - World War Z (13), The Conjuring (19)
    2014 - None

    Get the message? With post '92 glibness and dull taste, filmmakers can't evoke a moody and menacing atmosphere. We're too certain of our grasp on things right now and too loath to be stimulated.

    ReplyDelete
  51. The '70s exploitation stuff didn't become popular until the mid-'90s. I remember that very well. In the '80s, we never heard the cooler older kids talking about that stuff, nor did we see it on TV (even Saturday late night on cable), or in the horror / cult section of the video rental store, or in posters decorating the rental store's walls.

    Pulp Fiction in '94 was the thing that made '70s exploitation big again. They remade Shaft in 2000 (still basically part of the '90s). The wannabes at school tried to signal how hip they were by talking about Blacula, Faces of Death, etc.

    ReplyDelete
  52. That bit about drugs reminded me of the recent video arguing that Daniel is the villain of Karate Kid, and that his rival smoking pot in the bathroom is just the most peaceful thing one can do.

    In Alien the ship is redirected to what would become "Hadley's Hope" by the computer, dubbed "Mother". The priority was to retrieve the creature, with the surivival of the crew a subordinate priority. But there's less emphasis on the corporation than in Aliens.

    One movie genre whose decline I'm curious about is the musical. I recall reading some critic going over all the Best Picture nominees for every year of the academy award, and musicals seemed to dominate the midcentury. Nowadays a movie like Pitch Perfect 2 can be fantastically profitable, as certain singing competition shows have been (plus Dancing With the Stars). But there isn't much competition for that market. Similarly, Tyler Perry makes what are regarded as rather lousy movies targetted at a female (often religious) black audience, is largely ignored by the rest of the culture industry, and rather consistently makes lots of money. Back in the supposedly incorrigibly racist bad old days there were white directors willing to make musicals with black casts like Cabin in the Sky, Porgy and Bess or Showboat. The decline since the midcentury suggests inequality could be related, but I don't see an obvious connection.

    ReplyDelete
  53. "That bit about drugs reminded me of the recent video arguing that Daniel is the villain of Karate Kid, and that his rival smoking pot in the bathroom is just the most peaceful thing one can do."

    When relatively few people are actually doing drugs, it's easier to be glib about it. The 80's was the peak of concern about people throwing their lives away. A lot of early Gen X culture was full of cautionary tales of drug burnouts, runaways, teen prostitutes & pregnancies, etc. There was also a lot of high profile casualties, like Len Bias (the 1986 top NBA draft pick who OD'd on coke before he played one game).

    70's culture was more relaxed and permissive, possibly because the ramifications of hedonism were not as apparent (the early signs of HIV showed up around the summer of '76 but it took another 4-5 years before it became a crisis). Also, young and cocky Boomers for the most part were not as concerned about their own vulnerability as young and anxious Gen X-ers.

    ReplyDelete
  54. A.B. Prosper11/5/15, 1:42 PM

    I think some not of the grue in modern films is related to how jaded modern audiences are. Its a hamfisted attempt to shock, like Gaga and her meat suit.

    I'm reminded of the the Dee Snider (lead singer for metal band Twisted Sister) movie Strangeland. For 1998 it was a somewhat shocking body horror film featuring exotic body piercings , these days, you see people walking the streets with far more disturbing piercing.

    Now thankfully this does seem to be fading but still, its quite a cultural shift for less than a decade.

    ReplyDelete

You MUST enter a nickname with the "Name/URL" option if you're not signed in. We can't follow who is saying what if everyone is "Anonymous."