Natural or Supernatural? Name Your Poison

Movie genres are notoriously malleable things.  We all know what a western is until someone mentions that Star Wars is a horse opera in space or Outland is a remake of High Noon in a futuristic setting, and suddenly it doesn’t seem as clear anymore.  Genres also cross streams constantly.  A crime film can be a noir (Out of the Past), an epic drama (Once Upon a Time in America), a gangster film (Public Enemy), a comedy (Some Like it Hot, which also manages to work in rom-com while it’s at it) or any other number of multiple genre mash-ups with “crime” as the umbrella covering all the different subsets.  In the end, horror is no different but no matter how many subgenres of horror there are (and there are plenty), horror can be efficiently broken down into two categories: Natural and Supernatural.  Which side are you on?


Horror’s Powers of Ten

I have always had a fascination with how much can change in such a short span of time in one era, yet remained unchanged for years in another.  In 1973, American Graffiti presented a nostalgic past that no longer existed, a world from another time and place.  It took place a mere 11 years prior to its release.  11 years.  A movie taking place in 2001 or 02 wouldn’t look or feel that much different to what’s around us now.   Watching a sitcom from early in the 2000s, like Arrested Development, doesn’t look or feel a whole lot different than watching one from right now, like Parks and Recreation.  But watching Leave it to Beaver, from the early sixties, alongside All in the Family, from the early seventies, feels like two different universes.   How much has horror changed from one decade to the next?  Let’s examine horror’s powers of ten.*


I like big bats (and I cannot lie)!

For my admittedly singular tastes, the vampire bat (there are other kinds?) is as essential a herald of Halloween as the old witch, the black cat, the Jack-o-lantern, and the scarecrow. As a kid, I loved the sudden appearance of a flapping vampire bat and the bigger and more leathery the beastie the better. Take this barrel-like example from Hammer’s BRIDES OF DRACULA (1961) — it’s like a rumpy Manx with wings — but I love it, I want to hug it, I want to bring it home and ask my mom if I can keep it. I miss bats in horror movies. How did we ever get it into our heads that we could live without them? [...MORE]

Showdown – Horror Style

Almost every movie ever made that involves any kind of conflict has a showdown.  It may not be the grand finale and it may not last more than a few seconds, but showdowns are a part of dramatic structure.  They can be big, like the showdown between Shane (Alan Ladd) and Jack Wilson (Jack Palance) at the climax of Shane or small, like the showdown between R.P. McMurphy and Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest when he wants to let the gang watch the World Series and loses initially (she doesn’t allow Chief Bromden’s vote) only to pull out a victory seconds later by pretending to watch it anyway.   They can come in the form of a standoff between rich young publisher and legal guardian, as in Citizen Kane, where Kane (Orson Welles) tells Thatcher (George Coulouris) that at the rate of a million dollars a year he’ll have to close this paper in… sixty years or they can come in the form of an imaginary standoff between two movie patrons (Woody Allen and Russell Horton) and a magically produced Marshall McLuhan (um, Marshall McLuhan) in Annie Hall.  But for pure bang for the buck, showdowns rarely reach the visceral heights as those produced by horror.  Here are some of my favorites.


Good Plot, Bad Movie

I have had many a disappointing time at the cinema in my life, usually with sci-fi or horror, probably because they’re my two favorite genres from childhood and expectations ran high.  And so many a movie I was excited to see just didn’t work.  Since I came of age with movies in the seventies and eighties, many come from those decades and many have no saving grace.  For instance, I was quite excited to see The Hindenburg when it came out, only to be bored to tears.  Problem is, there’s not much you can do there.  Since the destruction of ship happened in mere seconds, most of the screen time must be filled with dull fiction.  With a ship like the Titanic, you’ve got enough time to center the entire movie around the sinking if you want to, as in A Night to Remember.   But other movies I saw and thought, “This is bad but it could be good, really good.  They’re just doing it wrong.”


The Tod Browning Version

At the 2012 TCM Classic Film Festival last week I got to revisit Tod Browning’s DRACULA (1931) … and fall in love all over again. [...MORE]

Vampire’s Peak, or It’s Been Downhill Ever Since

The other day my 4 year-old son slapped a square of blue felt onto the top of his head and angled one corner down in line with the bridge of his nose. “Dad, look… I’m a vampire!”  He had, of course, just approximated with devastating simplicity the classic “widow’s peak” that is synonymous with vampires of a certain vintage, going all the way back to Bela Lugosi in DRACULA (1931). Hey, wait a minute… Bela Lugosi’s Dracula didn’t have a widow’s peak. So where did this style come from? [...MORE]

Master Class: Jonathan Rigby’s Studies in Terror reviewed!

Jonathan Rigby’s Studies in Terror: Landmarks of Horror Cinema (Signum Books, 2011) follows his genre overviews, English Gothic: A Century of Horror Cinema (Reynolds & Hearn, 2002) and American Gothic: Sixty Years of Horror Cinema (Reynolds & Hearn, 2007). While the earlier books focused on chronological histories of grotesque themes in British and American films, from the silent flickers at the birth of cinema through the boom years and straight on to their respective declines, Studies limits the discourse to select titles the author believes worthy of landmark status. In other words, this time it’s personal.


The HorrorDads’ 2011 Dusk-to-Dawn All-Nite/All Fright Halloween Screamboree!

RHS: Let’s pretend the HorrorDads have the run of a disused movie theater and permission to run a Halloween dusk to dawn horrorthon. We will all contribute a movie to the line-up but before we begin, let’s talk about the kinds of horror movies each of us think is right for this time of year. Go… [...MORE]

October is coming! October is coming!

Every October 1st I turn into a big weirdo. Well… more so.  [...MORE]

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