I have spoken in the past of John Carpenter’s influence on helping shape modern horror. After all, it's the main premise of this Blog A Thon. There would be no Freddy Kruger, no Jason Voorhees, no My Bloody Valentine, no Terror Train, no April Fools Day without Halloween. The special effects of The Thing helped usher in a new level of creature effects in horror and sci-fi. And quite possibly there would be no Robert Rodriguez the director without Escape From New York.
But in looking at the current state of horror movies, I think we’ve lost sight of what made Carpenter's movies so great. Halloween had little to no blood in it. Same with The Fog. And Christine. Granted The Thing was filled with grotesque images, but still it was central to the story. The horror was in seeing this creature take the shape of an everyday human.
I guess the definition of the word horror has changed. To me, what made a movie horrifying was in the telling, not the showing. The idea that one day a harmless little boy could dress up in a clown suit, kill his sister and then become a possessed serial killer is far more terrifying then watching him chase down and kill babysitter after babysitter. The scene where Michael stands in the doorway with a white sheet draped over him still scares the shit out of me. I remember that scene far more than the strange and different ways people have been killed in the Final Destination or Saw movies.
In a recent article Eli Roth says that people are looking to be horrified. They want to scream. But last time I checked, I never screamed when I saw someone’s intestines falling out. I screamed when I watched Michael Myers’ face slowly appear out of complete darkness right behind Jamie Lee Curtis. Or when I watched a person I thought for sure had been dead, suddenly sit up from a hospital gurney and walk across the room in The Fog. Or when an unknown figure passes in the foreground and a crew member asks "who's there?" in The Thing. Or when I see the headlights of Christine appear out of the darkness and charge down the road at bullet speed. It's not about the kill, it's the build up. How long can you sustain the suspense and still make it suspenseful.
I think in a constant effort to continue to show different instead of better, we’ve lost track of what’s scary. Even Carpenter himself is guilty of this. He seems to be taken with the current state of horror, even abandoning his signature touch opting more for gore with movies like Vampires and Ghosts Of Mars. What I think everyone needs to do is to get back to the roots of horror. More theater of the mind and less theater of blood. The Blair Witch Project was a smash hit and it never showed the witch or one ounce of blood. Malevolence, a movie I have reviewed recently, was made just a few years ago and it proudly resurrects all the old traits of great horror movie making.
Roth seems to be constantly searching for reasons to justify his movies and others like them. He says that today’s horror movies are just a reflection of our current society. To me, the idea that one day a dirty bomb could be released in New York City is simply terrifying. I don’t need to see people’s faces melting from radiation to make me more scared. He even goes on to blame Tarantino, saying that ever since the ear removal scene from Reservoir Dogs, violence has become more prominent in movies. Not sure when the last time Roth has seen Reservoir Dogs, but Tarantino never showed Madsen cutting off the cop's ear. Nor did we ever see Hannibal Lector bite off the woman’s tongue. We saw it in our heads. And that’s far more terrifying than anything we could see on the screen.