Why I Love Horror Films This Week – and I Hate Horror Films

I’ve never liked horror as a genre, and yet the most timely film in theaters right now is Ouija: Origin of Evil. I came across it at the end of a horror film bender I started a week or so ago. I could blame Trump, but really the devastating fall cold virus that’s been haunting the continent dropped off a demon spawn in my bloodstream for a long weekend, and it just seemed right.

It started with 2016’s Sacrifice (written and directed by Peter Dowling, based on S.J.Bolton’s book), a Wicker Man knockoff about an American obstetrician who moves to her husband’s hometown in far northern Scotland – Big mistake! This whet my appetite for 2013’s Neverlake, written by Carlo Longo and Manuela Cacciamani, whose credits include production-managing The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. The story, not unlike Sacrifice, is about a British girl who goes to visit her Italian father in southern Tuscany and finds he has more than just a passing interest in the the bizarre fertility rituals of the Etruscans. When production managers start writing stories, you can expect them to be about this exciting.

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“Which Oxford twit dies first?”

This made me crave a classic, so I watched 1973’s The Legend of Hell House. I recall this one being the late movie on television – one that was so late getting started, it seemed unthinkable that anyone could tolerate watching it in a dark house. It’s about a team of scientists and psychic experts who go to spend a week in a house haunted by a patrician serial killer.

By now I was sensing the old familiar patterns of horror of films, and the minute Pamela Franklin appeared as Florence Tanner, the young psychic whom the “real scientists” don’t respect, I said to my wife “She’s going to get sexually violated,” and she was. Horror films tend to be moralistic. Dionysian pleasure, and especially sexual precocity, get rewarded with violence.

They’re also often about self-righteous believers in science and reason getting their comeuppance, and that’s why the classic British horror films are the best. Enter Christopher Lee or Basil Rathbone talking about how thank goodness we don’t believe in superstition anymore, and wait for the spirit world to make a stunning comeback. Take that, Oxford twit!

Richard Matheson, who wrote The Legend of Hell House based on his own novel, had a long writing career that included the novel I Am Legend, episodes of Night Gallery, The Twilight Zone, and The Night Stalker, and screenplays for the series of Roger Corman versions of Edgar Allen Poe films from the early 60s like The Pit and the Pendulum.

For good measure I thought I’d watch Children of the Corn, the 1984 film written by George Goldsmith based on a Stephen King story. This is about kids reimagining Christian fundamentalism in a brutal and childish way. One thing I always found frustrating about horror is the need of story-tellers to reveal “the secret” inside the story: the nuclear accident or experiment on monkeys that went awry and got covered up. It makes me tune the stories out for offering so much new information just when they’re promising clarity.

In their defense, horror films are often just about perfect in length. 90-100 minutes of tight story-telling that rivets you for the first 60. Then comes the unnecessary backstory about a sexually abusive bishop or Nazi doctors.

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Sheila Vand in “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night”

For this, among other reasons, 2014’s A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, is in a class by itself. Setting the film in an imaginary Persian underworld called Bad City, she takes the moralism inherent in horror and jacks it up by turning a feminist vampire on the loose. Her vampire, who devours drug dealers and shows mercy to prostitutes and children, is someone we get to see having downtime, enjoying English language music in her apartment. Her cape, coupled with a striped shirt, is equal parts burqa and vampire cape, and manages to evoke Jean Seberg from Breathless.

Amirpour has a new film coming out soon, and has to live up to the hype of being “the next Tarantino,” but I hope she just keeps writing stories like this. Really A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is a love story that uses horror as a setting. No bombshells from the backstory needed come the one hour mark.

Which brings me to Ouija: Origin of Evil, a film that reviewers kept insisting is “actually not that bad,” which is true enough, for an hour. It’s written by Mike Flanagan and Jeff Howard. Elizabeth Reaser, who many of us know as the diner waitress-siren of death from Mad Men, has bills she can’t pay so she starts spicing up her scam psychic business with a ouija board, and lays a moral trap from beyond the grave for herself and her daughters.

That the film is set in 1967 fascinates me, and that the dad figure who almost returns to make the family whole again in the conservative, Hitchcockian way, is a priest who’s obviously regretting his celibacy, also makes this movie extra titillating. So many lovely plants in the first hour of this film, you hope for a tight story, and just then it spins out of control. This week has been all Trump versus Hillary, which the Times is calling, correctly I think, a final rematch in the intra-generational fight inside the Baby Boom.

What hell they’ve unleashed on us.

Comments

  1. Priscilla Bath says:

    This is written by Valerie Bowe’s son, a very talented man. A few years ago he went to India to figure out a way to produce a film he had written,

    I went to vote. More crowded than I have every seen it. I liked your suggestion of school board people. Perhaps Trump will pull it out.

    I heard you tell someone you are not working at the polls.

    Are you reading the book?

    >

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