Love the Genre, Avoid the Movies

Whenever someone asks me “What’s your favorite genre,” it seems like an odd question.   It seems odd because my favorite genres often don’t match up with my favorite movies.  The movies I consider personal favorites spread across a wide spectrum of genres.  I often list movies I write about here as personal favorites, and they are, but the movies I bring up here lean more towards the universally praised while the movies I consider my favorites cover the good, bad, and the ugly all at once.  My favorites are classics, and masterpieces, and duds, and awful stinking bombs too, covering every genre in the book.  And yet when someone asks, “What’s your favorite genre,” even though I have no more favorites in it than any other genre, I say, “Science fiction,” without fail.  Then I’ll add, “Horror, too.  Science fiction and horror.”    Why do I keep doing that?

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A lot of my love for science fiction and horror goes back to childhood and can be chalked up to nostalgia.  I harbor no illusions that Logan’s Run is a fine piece of filmmaking, but I love it all the same.  It’s a favorite, in spite of itself.  I’ve owned it on VHS and DVD and streaming.  I know it’s lacking in more than a dozen ways, but it’s a favorite and favorites often defy our very own taste.  Besides, I saw Logan’s Run in 1976 when it opened and that factors in importantly to my feelings towards it now.   I also saw At the Earth’s Core that very same year and, again, no misguided delusions here that that’s a great movie but damned if I don’t love it.   Same goes for horror.  I saw Terror Train on cable more than a few times and even though it’s become a favorite, don’t expect to ever see me defend it as good.  It’s not.  In fact, it’s pretty damn bad.  But it’s got a train and, hey, I’m a sucker for trains in movies.

All of that is all well and good and we all know that our favorites don’t always line up with what we consider good art.  But here’s the thing that makes listing sci-fi and horror as my favorite genres particularly odd:  I don’t really watch them with any consistency or frequency.  I’ll watch damn near any drama or comedy or action film out there but with horror and sci-fi, I avoid them if I think they’re going to be bad.  In my early years, described in my favorites above, I watched any and all sci-fi/horror.  Then that stopped and I became much more selective.  They became my favorite genres to the point that I didn’t want to spoil my good will towards them by seeing so much crap that I almost stopped watching them altogether.  So in the last decade, I’ve only seen a handful of sci-fi/horror movies, despite their being everywhere.  I’ll hear about a Moon, or a Looper, or a Snowpiercer, and I’ll watch them suspecting I’ll like them based on their positive reception.  In all three cases, I did like them.  Many others I give a pass to, which is a shame because I might end up liking any one of them quite a bit.  For God’s sake, I love Logan’s Run!

Horror’s even worse.  I skip most horror out there because I love so many great horror films from the thirties through the seventies, and love so few from the eighties on, that I am always suspicious that any horror film I see now will leave me bitterly disappointed.  But again, Terror Train.  If I can like that thing, who knows what else I might like.  Still, I avoid.  I watch any and everything from all the other genres but for sci-fi and horror, I curate madly.  I’ll usually give in if there’s enough buzz about something but even then there’s no guarantee.  I watched The Woman in Black because Hammer was involved and read some decent reviews of it but when I was done watching it I kind of wished I hadn’t.  It was fine, had a nice stylish appearance, but felt more like an endless series of jump scares than anything else.   Some people think jump scares define horror.  I do not.  A jump scare to me is like a game of peekaboo with a child.  Once, twice, maybe.  By the third and fourth and fifth you just want it to end.  There’s no depth, no substance, no feeling of building towards something.  A part of me feels like if you really get into jump scares then… well, just see the peekaboo analogy.

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And so, in this October month when horror is on the lips of all who speak about movies, I end up watching the same old horror films I’ve watched for decades, rather than trying on something new for size.  Already this month I’ve watched The Pit and the Pendulum, Twice-Told Tales, and Tales of Terror, all three with Vincent Price, and all three longstanding, personal favorites.  I have multiple Universal classics at my disposal that I have also dipped into as well, and the classic Hammer catalog including the Hammer television show, Hammer House of Horror.  The only new thing I decided to watch was season four of American Horror Story: Freakshow.  So far… [shrugs and makes "eh" sound].  It’s got some good things going for it but also a lot of built-in kitsch and winking at the difference in social and sexual mores between the fifties and now.  We’ll see how the rest of the season goes.  Outside of that, though, it will all be classic horror for me, or just plain old nostalgic crap.  I don’t plan on seeing anything else new in sci-fi or horror for a while, at least until next year probably.  Why?  Because I love it so much.  Isn’t it obvious?

 

14 Responses Love the Genre, Avoid the Movies
Posted By swac44 : October 29, 2014 2:52 pm

At least The Woman in Black had atmosphere and an enjoyable Daniel Radcliffe performance to recommend it, as opposed to this week’s new horror offering Ouija, which I went out of … oh, I don’t know, some sort of sense of duty to the genre I suppose, but found the results less than rewarding. Much less.

But what did we get beforehand? A trailer for the, as far as I can see, completely unnecessary sequel, The Woman in Black 2. It’s probably some other horror script that had a female ghost in widow’s weeds crammed into it to justify the sequel status. And I’ll probably go see that too.

Posted By James : October 29, 2014 5:30 pm

Skip The Lady in Black (or not – I haven’t seen it, maybe it is good) and watch Lady In White with Lukas Haas, from 1988. On the subject of nostalgia, that was a childhood favorite of mine.

Along with Return to Oz and Something Wicked This Way Comes, it was a children’s movie that wasn’t horror, exactly (or entirely), but included some scary parts, for sure. Loved all three. I haven’t seen it in years, but I’m curious to see it again.

I do think there are some great new horror films being made these days (no, not the Saw and Hostel films, which I can’t stand). Let The Right One In and the US remake Let Me In were great, as was The Awakening (out of the UK), and from Mexico, We Are What We Are (I haven’t seen the US remake of that one). I’ve found that a lot of the best new horror films are being made outside of the United States, for better or worse.

Posted By swac44 : October 29, 2014 5:50 pm

I can endorse both of those film, guess I’m something of a ladies’ man. Lady In White still holds up, I rewatched it a few years ago.

One of my favourite horror films of the past decade or so is the Korean film A Tale of Two Sisters, as far as I know no one’s tried to do an English language remake, which is all for the best, I think. Aside from the U.S. version of the Japanese chiller Dark Water, most of those transfers from Asia to the USA have been disappointing.

Posted By Bob Golden : October 29, 2014 5:51 pm

The 1989 TV movie The Woman in Black is far better then the 2012 movie. If you can find it, watch it.

Posted By Emgee : October 29, 2014 8:50 pm

I’d watch pretty much any pre-1975 scifi or horror movie. Even when they’re pretty ropey, they usually have some kind of entertainment value one way or another.

After the midseventies they figured gore and special effects were the way to go to get the crowds in. (and keep me out)
And they were probably right.

Posted By johnnytoobad : October 29, 2014 9:53 pm

The J Conelley “Dark Water” is indeed a fairly fun, entertaining film in its own way — but I would hope no one would pass by the original Nakata film — which I consider to be a stone cold masterpiece which can appreciated at a level much higher than just the genre enjoyment — though it’s superb on that level also

(Incidentally, I can’t help mentioning that I’ve recently seen the forties noir film “Dark Waters” , directed by deToth, which is wholly unrelated — & found it to be quite fascinating and under-rated — at least especially to fellow Merle Oberon lovers like myself!)

Posted By Doug : October 29, 2014 10:40 pm

I hope to not have a skein of nays rain down on me, but I really enjoyed “The Conjuring” and the first couple “Paranormal Activity” movies.
Since it IS the season, I will once again point to a pretty good little horror charmer from the 1980′s: “I, Madman” starring Jenny Wright. I would watch it tonight if not for game seven of the World Series. It’s probable available on all streaming venues.

Posted By Richard Brandt : October 29, 2014 10:48 pm

Well, of course A TALE OF TWO SISTERS got remade by Hollywood…as THE UNINVITED. Couldn’t even come up with an original title.

I don’t know if I’d call LADY IN WHITE a great movie, but it sure does have just about everything.

Posted By gregferrara : October 29, 2014 11:08 pm

Doug, I’ll have your back because, despite grumblings from some other horror buffs, who as a group can sometimes have questionable taste, I liked The Conjuring myself. Thought it was more effective and less jump-scary than most modern horror.

Also like the first Paranormal Activity movie, never saw the rest.

Posted By gregferrara : October 29, 2014 11:11 pm

I saw The Lady in White a couple of years ago for the first time in twenty odd years and thought it was good but struggling to be more than what it was. It wanted to be a horror movie, social commentary, and family comedy all rolled in one. I hadn’t really noticed that in the eighties but watching it again, it seemed a bit confused with its intentions. There’s a rather hard-hitting civil rights story wedged awkwardly in the middle of it and some heavy-handed family comedy (the grandparents bickering over grandpa’s smoking, for instance) that seemed forced. The story at the center though, sometimes lost in that other stuff, is a good, solid ghosts story/murder mystery, and that I liked.

Posted By gregferrara : October 29, 2014 11:13 pm

Oh, and I never saw the remake but I loved the original Let the Right One in. That’s a great horror movie as far as I’m concerned.

Posted By Doug : October 30, 2014 11:08 am

Speaking of horror and remakes-I watched the original “Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” trilogy on Blu ray and its very human, very evil ‘monsters’ embodied Horror with a capital ‘H’.
I have no interest in seeing the American remake; even though I like the film makers and actors, their copy has to be watered down.

Posted By Murphy’s Law : October 31, 2014 2:57 am

I liked the first Paranormal Activity but not the second. I didn’t like The Conjuring that much, but I really liked Sinister (a similar haunted house-type movie). I liked both versions of Let Me In/Let the Right One In, but I actually preferred the American version slightly. I know a lot of people don’t like it, but The Blair Witch Project is one of my favorite “recent” horror movies. It does a lot with basically no budget by playing with what you CAN’T see.

I agree with your overall point. There is so much bad genre work in these 2 genres (especially horror) that it can ruin your taste for the good stuff.

Posted By george : October 31, 2014 8:19 pm

Last time I watched LOGAN’S RUN, what really struck me (aside from the shopping mall masquerading as a city of the future) was Jenny Agutter’s disrobings. Those were the days … when “tasteful” nudity was allowed in PG-rated movies. Wouldn’t happen now.

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