10/26/12

Vintage Scares #29:Horror Movies - Then Vs. Now



How shocking that Retrospace would contend that horror movies were better in the 1960s - 80s than today, right? Well, for many of you this is a no-brainer, but others may need convincing.  For that, I say look at each genre of horror movie and make comparisons.

I'd like to mention beforehand, that this is by no means a comprehensive comparison; it's anecdotal at best.  We'll leave the in-depth comparisons to the full-time essayists.  So, I'm sure to have left out some shining examples within each genre.  I'm just standing on the soap box for a few minutes; feel free to take your turn atop the box in the comments section.  I'd love to hear your take.






Slasher Films

Halloween (1978), Psycho, A Nightmare on Elm Street and the early Friday the 13th films are the gold standard.

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Scream was enjoyable, but it was basically a parody. The Saw films are entertaining, I guess - but they're fairly repetitive.  The fun has been drained out, and so it's just set after set of methodical tortures.

Foreign horrors like Inside and I Saw the Devil are amazing films which give me hope that Hollywood will follow suit. Dare to dream.

Haunted House Films

It seems almost unfair to pit The Shining (1980) against anything but such is the superiority of vintage horror. The Amityville Horror (1979) is also a personal favorite; The Changeling, Hell Night and Poltergeist are  none too shabby.

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I honestly can't think of any modern day contenders.  Insidious and Room 1408 were awful. Of course, some foreign films have given the vintage stuff a run for their money.   Ju-On/The Grudge and Tale of Two Sisters are pretty damn horrifying.

Satanic Films

The Exorcist, Rosemary's Baby, The Omen, The Sentinel, Race with the Devil

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What is there to compare them to today? The Omen remakes? The Last Exorcism? Emily Rose, The Devil's Advocate, End of Days? Please, don't waste our time.

Drag Me to Hell was a fun ride, but nothing compared to the old-school Satanic stories. The House of the Devil was amazing, but then it owes its brilliance to borrowing from the past. No contest in this genre.

Zombie Movies

Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Pet Semetary, Return of the Living Dead, Zombie 2 (1979)... need I go on?

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Shaun of the Dead was fun, but it was more comedy than horror - more like Scream in that it was a parody and not the genuine article. How many good, serious zombie films have been released in the last twenty plus years that really deliver the goods?  30 Days of Night and 28 Days Later didn't do it for me.... and the Dawn of the Dead remake was entertaining, but pales in comparison to the original Romero films.

The Spanish Rec films stand up to anything this genre has to offer.  I'm also a big fan of The Walking Dead, but that's a television show, so it's disqualified.

Vampire Movies

Hammer horror vs. Twilight.  I won't waste any more time on this genre except to say that, once again, foreign films are perhaps the only saving grace for modern horror via Let the Right One In.

Exploitation Horror

Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, I Spit on Your Grave, Henry: A Portrait of a Serial Killer, Last House on the Left.... all these films fit snugly within the scope of horror, but don't quite have a genre to call their own. "Splatter film" doesn't quite fit, and "Grindhouse" is closer, but perhaps not as fitting as the "Exploitation" label.

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The modern equivalents are The Devil's Rejects, High Tension and Hostel - worthy competitors, but no dice, I'm afraid.



Bioterror

The seventies sure had their share of duds (Grizzly, Piranha II, Ants); however, it also had the mighty Jaws which more than compensates.

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We haven't seen much of this genre of late; however, Piranha 3D was refreshingly fun. Today, you have a lot of contagion films popping up, but none have been particularly scary.

Science Fiction Horror

Does anyone want to put a modern sci-fi horror film up against Alien, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Thing? Good luck with that.


Found Footage

It's probably not fair to make this comparison considering the genre didn't come into its own till fairly recently.  Cannibal Holocaust is easily the bleakest, most intrinsically horrifying film I've ever seen.  It single handedly lays waste to all the modern attempts at the genre.  Faces of Death also provided a similarly nihilistic offering.

Paranormal Activity (1 and 2) may be the worst widely released horror film I've ever seen.   The Blair Witch Project was a yawn, and Grave Encounters was only just a shade better. Rec1 and 2 are nothing short of amazing; but they are anomalies.

Horror Anthology

Creepshow, Tales from the Crypt, The Twilight Zone, Black Sunday, and host of Amicus releases ensure that vintage horror reigns supreme in the anthology department.

This genre nearly went extinct; fortunately, Trick R Treat came along to resuscitate it. Planet Terror/Death Proof was a blast, but probably doesn't qualify as an anthology.


I suppose I could go on, there's plenty of genres left to cover; but, I think you see my point. I certainly don't mean to say that there's no good horror movies anymore.  The Ring (or Ringu) and The House of the Devil are among my favorite horror films of all time.  That being said, we have a long way to go to reach the levels we once enjoyed.  Here's to hoping we are on our way!

27 comments:

  1. Bioterror-The Host is a great movie proving once again ,as you point out, that foreign, and in particular Asia cinema is where it's currently at.

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    1. You're absolutely right. The Host is an incredible movie that I would recommend to anyone. If only domestic cinema could be a fraction as good as that, I'd be one satisfied horror consumer.

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  2. I always thought George Romero's original "The Crazies" (1973)was an overlooked gem, and it seems to fit the Bioterror genre moniker better than the films you cite, which might be better labeled as Nature Attacks flicks.

    "The Skeleton Key" (2005) is an overlooked masterpiece of the contemporary era. When it was still fairly new, I remember looking at some young viewers' comments on a website, and I was shocked by what I read. It seems a lot of kids today do not consider a horror movie to be real horror unless it includes an abundance of gross-out gore and violence. The whole concept of watching a tale of the supernatural that is engrossing and well-plotted is foreign to them--they expect to just watch a non-stop splatter fest. It's a sad comment on how the abundance of repetitive, low quality Hollywood output has shaped a generation's taste to actually prefer crap to quality.

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    1. Great point - The Crazies is among the upper echelon of bioterror films. I haven't seen Skeleton Key, but it's on Netflix instant, so I'll have to check it out.

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  3. One modern movie you might like - "I Sell the Dead". I described it in my review as "The best Vincent Price film that Vincent Price wasn't in." Great fun.

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  4. The sub-genre of horror that they need to bring back is the "crazy old people." The two of the queens of this genre was Bette Davis and Shelly Winters.

    All Hollywood needs to do is find an old house, stick in two famous actresses that are past their prime, dress them in out of date clothes and heavy makeup and have them try to kill each other. You also have to give it a name like "What Did Aunt Nellie Do to Cousin Annie?"

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    1. Another good title would be "Who Scared the Pee Out of Aunt Wanda?"

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    2. The crazy old women genre is generally referred to as "psycho biddy". According to Wikipedia it is also known as "hagsploitation," "hag horror" and "Grande Dame Guignol". Very colorful names for this forgotten genre! I recall a whole slew (pun intended) of these from the late 60s/early 70s including "What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice?" with the great Ruth Gordon, and "Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?" and "What's the Matter with Helen?" both with Shelley Winters.

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  5. I agree. I definitely prefer older, pre-1990s at the very least, to anything new. There are some I enjoy, for sure, but the majority falls in the past.

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  6. I thought The Blair Witch Project was really, really scary, in large part because of how much it reminded me of The Legend of Boggy Creek.

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    1. I saw Blair Witch in the theater and it just didn't do anything for me. I'm not sure why, but I just couldn't buy in to it as being real. Plus, nothing particularly horrifying actually happens - distant sounds and symbolically arranged sticks just didn't do it for me.

      Take a found footage style film like Rec or Cannibal Holocaust and shit really does go down - and believably so. There's just no comparison.

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    2. One reason Blair Witch hit me so hard is that, while I have never met a zombie or a cannibal, I have been lost in the woods.

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  7. I'm too squeamish for most horror flicks, so I really don't have a horse in this race, but I just saw [REC] for the first time the other night and I already consider it one of the best horror films I've ever seen!

    JAWS is my first or second favorite film of all time regardless of genre, but I'm always reluctant to classify it as a horror film. It seems out of place with slasher flicks and vampire movies. I consider it more of an action drama, if that makes sense.

    My favorite horror film of all time is without a doubt HALLOWEEN. There's really nothing more I can say about it that hasn't already been said.

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    1. The original Halloween is far superior to the modern remake in that it grazes the surface of pure unadulterated evil - as in Sauron, Satan, Samhain, and Pazuzu if you get my drift. The Zombie remake is just fallout from an abusive home (yawn).

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  8. Huh, I don't understand your hatred for the Paranormal Activity movies. Is it that you don't like watching from stationary cameras? It's just a totally different way of viewing the story. And if they didn't make you jump *at all*, then you probably weren't paying attention. That's the job of a horror film, to make you jump, to get your heart going, to make you disturbed and nervous. That's pretty much what these films do.

    Quartine was also very good for a "group trapped together and something is killing them one by one" film.

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    1. Quarantine was just a Hollywood remake of [rec]

      What part of Paranormal Activity 2 scared you? Was it the Polaris pool cleaner traveling on to the patio? I'm a sucker for a good jump scare - these just didn't do it for me. Diff'rent Strokes I guess.

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    2. There are 2 sides to remakes. A) One is a fan of the original and a remake is sacrilegious. B) One has never seen the original so the remake is something brand new to them. If this new remake is really good - like Quarantine is - it doesn't matter if it's a remake. Wait, there's a 3rd side; C) One is a fan of the original (Let the Right One In) and grudgingly saw the remake (Let Me In), only to find the remake was pretty darn good in its own right (still not on par with the original, but not having to read subtitles lets one focus on the emotions you can only read by seeing their faces when they talk).

      Any part that is designed to make you jump. If you never did, you weren't paying attention and/or get easily bored when there isn't action every 10 seconds.

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  9. I know what you mean...The original Ice Castles with Lynn Holly-Johnson & Robby Benson was far superior to the lousy 2010 remake :)

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  10. As a long time horror fan (and movie fan) I don't believe that the past is better than the present. Sure there are a lot of slasher classics from the 80s, but we only remember a few good ones of the hundreds that were released at that time, most of them really bad. But now, we have very fresh the good ones but specially the bad ones, and there always are more bad ones that good ones, so if we only remember the good from the past it would always look better. We lack perspective to judge the present, Henry: Portrait of a serial killer was considered trash in the day of its released, like Maniac, and only after a few years passed was judged as it deserves. There are a lot of movies considered classics today that in their day were considered flops, failures or bad movies. We now see John Carpenter's The Thing as the great classic movie it is, but when it was released was a flop at the box office and many horror fans at the time didn't like it, it was like if everybody hate that movie (or so says Carpenter). So, who's to say how many movies released now will become classics? Also, being myself Spanish I look at the genre as a whole, not considering only american movies, and there are some great titles released now as there will be in the future.

    And apologies for my bad english.

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  11. The real horror of your Halloween article is how a certain period of movies was purged from history, the fin-de-siecle late 60s/early 70s. What happened to it?
    Last night I scrolled down TCM's future schedule and got a chill from beyond the grave: Almost all films are dated 30s, 40s and 50s (even the 20s and silent freaking aughts) Do you want to see "Let's Scare Jessica to Death"? An Amicus anthology? Never existed. I'd like a rational honest explanation about this absence from TCM. Hell, I want an apology from Television! And where are my liver pills?!

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    1. Deserves a post in and of itself. Sad but undeniably true.

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  12. It's not just the horror genre. Films from the early 70s, or the 70s in general, have vanished from TV programming, save for a few classics (I notice "Taxi Driver" seems to get shown a lot). I have a theory that one of the reasons may be that by today's aesthetic, the people in these fims look like they may have dropped in from another planet. Men in short shorts, feathered hair, extremely tight pants, etc. Fashions we took for granted (and even loved)then, but are laughable to the current generation of viewers who may see this as "camp". They may even be inclined to take the baggy-suits-and-fedora look of the 40s and 50s more seriously. Just a thought. It's a shame, because there are many great and forgotten films that are languishing.

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  13. Personally I don't feel there has been an actual "horror" film made in America since the original The Fog. It's all torture porn and slaughterhouse fantasy camp. Today's audiences wouldn't even know how to be scared by suggestion. Val Lewton was an unrivalled master of this.

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  14. Magic KennyOctober 28, 2012

    Normally, Retrospace is dead solid perfect. But calling Shaun of the Dead a "parody" is WAY off the mark. Crappy stuff like "Scary Movie" is a parody. SOTD is a homage, especially if you admire George Romero's work.

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    1. "Parody" wasn't the best word to use; however, I think my point still stands that it's not the genuine article, but rather a homage.

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  15. If I may add one overlooked 'recent' horror film worthy of the 1970s genre, 2008's The Strangers should be given a Best-Effort award for it's attempt to recreate the tension level of bygone features.

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  16. I notice you mention a lot of foreign from japan and south Korea. But what about foreign films of today Vs, Foreign horror of the 70s/80s ?

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