Post with 3 notes
Yet again we are fed the same old treatment for a new decade. (The American Nightmare treaded much the same ground previously). Watching this latest ‘historic’ instalment of how cinema’s arguably finest and most effective genre came into fruition, feels like a retread, nothing new, nothing challenged. Granted the first half of the 20th century is covered with enthusiasm, but it is when contemporary American horror cinema is tackled does this documentary fall flat, with an approach almost like first year academia.
However, John Carpenter makes a perfect point mid-way through in that we give directors like Craven (for Last House on the Left) too much credit by saying that films like Last House on the Left was pure social commentary. Or like Eli Roth’s criminally over rated Hostel. These are not great social comments on America.
Indeed, Last House on the Left is an excellent film, but it is an excellent exploitation film…and a film that can only be a product of its time - i.e. US cinema became more independent following the mid-60s boom, of which European cinema had been for many years. Before that, it had been controlled implicitly by a studio system. The horror genre will always thrive through independence.
With Hostel, it is again a product of its time (okay it has trite, spoon feeding themes in it, but still…). It is a reaction to how desensitised audiences have become with the genre, a marketable push again by Hollywood studios to cash in on real issues - it’s painful really, and a reason why the sludge of American horror cinema at the moment is truly woeful.
Another point made here also was that the barrage of updates/remakes of 70s horror has become more gory and violent linked to events in the world ….don’t give me that, it is purely that we are used to dumbed down violence, not just from news reports but by the need to shock and go one step further with what has previously been made, typified again by the US studio system (can you imagine a remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre with no blood in it, ironically like the original - the studios wouldn’t take the risk). The US studio system would remake anything if they could, but the marketable agenda is largely ignored. If the point was that these remakes reflected social ills, why is it that the slew of far Eastern horror, mainly from Korea and Japan, are tame versions of their original sources, not bloody, shocking versions. It is studio tactics, nothing more, nothing less. It is of no coincidence that the far Eastern originals are far superior, particularly as effective examples of the horror genre.
Ultimately, the real depth to US contemporary horror was missed here again with this doc. We’ve heard the same trite academic stances before, over and over, with no counter argument. It is worth noting, and ignored in this documentary, that 70’s US exploitation cinema is just as important in the history of the American horror film. Exploitation cinema exists outside of the studio system, away from franchises, pushing boundaries and normal expectations, much in the same way that there is a wealth of amazing European exploitation films (Italy, Germany and Spain being obvious sources of origin, yet many more beside). This brought to American cinema, certainly through the advent of the drive-in cinema and grindhouse picture house, a tidal wave of cinema free to explore any avenue, upping the ante of what audiences consumed.
Despite its enthusiasm, and with the usual suspects (Carpenter, Romero, Dante et al) being interviewed, all this documentary really tells us is the historic arc of marketing the horror film….and for that motivation, misses the point entirely.