Why cheap isn’t so cheerful…

This blog is a little riff on what I blogged about yesterday. Mark West, writer and regular commenter here, remarked that a lot of horror, especially when it comes to the cinematic variety, is badly written and filmed. In other words, it appears that someone somewhere has got it into his/her head that all you need is a cheesy clichéd plot, throw in some monster or supernaturally-inspired violence, spray lashings of the red stuff around liberally (more than a single human body could ever hold, for one thing), maybe put in some reference to some dread tome or other, get the actors to speak some portentous drivel, put some heavy metal music in the background as a soundtrack and hey presto kids!! You have a horror film! Sit back and watch the hordes flock to the cinema!! You’ll become horror heroes and have them queueing around the block for your autograph at conventions…

Errr… no, actually, you’re not, and never will be, horror heroes. All you’ll have proved to the rest of the world is that you’re artless wannabes who have absolutely NO conception if what horror is. Okay, so I’ll agree that there are film-makers out there who CAN make visceral horror look like art, but generally speaking there’s this impression out there that horror-flims are cheap, nasty, and nothing but unreconstructed dross. And I believe it’s all the fault of those low budget ‘auteur’ directors who continually churn out repetitive film after film, all based on loose variations of the same plot, year after year after year. And then there are the suckers who buy into all that ‘it’s-so-bad-it’s good’ thing.

I hold my hand up – I am just as guilty of it  as I used to do exactly the same thing. About a decade a go, I had amassed a HUGE collection of videos, ninety-percent of which were horror. And out of that lot, about forty-percent (or maybe more), were just slightly above amateurish efforts. Back then, I laboured under the inpression that their very cheesiness was part of their charm, and was the very quality that saved them from being completely hopeless. Ten years later, now that I am actually involved in the horror scene, I see otherwise.

Those of us who choose to watch horror movies, read or write horror stories and books, or get involved at any level of the horror media, should be ashamed at some of the dross that gets pumped out. Those people not into the macabre and scary look at what we watch and read, see the lack of ‘artistic merit’ as they would term it, and consider us buffoons for even tolerating the standards of much of horror cinema and literature. We only reinforce their stereotypes of us. And, having seen as many dumb films as I have (and I think Mark would agree with me here), is it any wonder that people like the Booker Prize Chair, for instance, look down on our choice of reading and declare that it isn’t ‘literature’.

Yes, there are quality films and books out there (I certainly know about the latter, as I have read some absolute crackers recently), ones that elevate the form way above the morass of sewage out there. And I suppose that there will always be a market for the kinds of films that Uwe Boll churns out for instance. I just find it depressing when horror-fans bemoan the fact that the mainstream doesn’t take the genre seriously, when they go and watch some absolutely dreadful low-budget flick made in the Phillipines on a shoestring, that has absolutely no plot, and even fewer saving graces. The genre itself is to blame.

I am not advocating that all of us suddenly become high-minded litérateurs or auteurs ourselves, but simply that we think hard about what we watch or give our hard-earned money for. I am also not saying that we should should elevate ourselves into the rarified atmospheres that many writers and film-makers inhabit, but that we at least try to aim to get our genre taken seriously. It would nice to think that one day, horror and sci-fi books for instance won’t be relegated to the dark end of the bookstore.

I don’t have the answers, but it’s something that is beginning to bug me. I am not proposing a crusade of any kind – just, perhaps, that we start paying more attention to what our favourite genre throws up sometimes, and perhaps be more discerning when it comes to choosing what we watch or read. Maybe then, in some far future, Barker will be described in the same glowing terms as Hemingway – well you get what I mean.

Okay, rant over – thanks for reading!

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7 Responses to “Why cheap isn’t so cheerful…”

  1. I think the answer is passion. If you have passion for what you’re doing – and I realise that writing and making films are as much business as artform – then it’ll shine through. I was involved, in the 90s, with several micro-micro-budgeted horror films and we wrote the scripts, we scouted locations, we did the best special effects we could and we gave it our best shot. Nobody is going to mistake our ouevre for top flight entertainment, but we had something and we were trying.

    You can make schlock (Frank Henenlotter does and I think “Frankenhooker” and “Brain Damage”, not to mention “Basket Case” are fantastic entertainment), because it’s a sub-genre, but you don’t have to be cheap (as you say, Simon).

    What does frustrate me, as we chatted about at the gathering, is that the genre is seen as easy. I wouldn’t expect to write a Mills & Boon book (chosen simply because they’re scoffed at in certain quarters) over the weekend and get it accepted straight away (it’s a tough market to crack), so why should anyone else think that of the horror genre?

    David Cronenberg is now recognised as an important film director. He made a film in the early 70s called “Shivers” (or “They Came From Within”) which was shlock – nudity, blood and guts, sex, the works. The Canadian Film Board, which had helped fund it, was beleagured by tax payers and media types who were offended their dollars had gone into the venture. Now even Cronenberg wouldn’t say the film was art but you watch it and it has something about it, there’s an air and atmosphere that makes you realise Cronenberg isn’t doing it for a quick buck, he’s doing it because the concept, the body-horror, fascinates him. That’s his passion. And it shines through.

    So that’s my take on it – let the passion shine through!

    • Yes, you’ve distilled what I was trying to say above into a single word…. passion. I just get tired, though, of people churning out the non-starters to the detriment of the genre, partiocularly as they don’t add anything to it, just to make quick buck. What you did was different, I think, in that you consciously KNEW it was amateur and that it didn’t match the cinemaqtic standards of the films that inspired you – it was rather, an emulation, an hommage, if you will. It’s when people go onto make films of a similar standard as professionals that irks me…

      Thanks once again for your input… LD

  2. I don’t know about passion. I guess some have passion for quality; others have it for rubbish. Anyway, I stopped watching most horror films ages ago so it’s unfair for me to comment on the current crop. I quickly hated the cheap attempts to gross out audiences with bucket-loads of gore and blood and nothing else — no plot and no characters (to speak of). While audiences buy in to that sub-genre film-makers will continue to manufacture them.

    I was Googling for online horror ezines earlier this week (doing a bit of research) and I was appalled by the quality of the fiction some of them published. Plot and grammar: all abyssmal.

  3. Sefton Disney Says:

    I think Mark says it very well. I think quality is nothing to do with budget, but a lot to do with passion or, put another way, a love and knowledge of the genre and a kind of journeyman’s pride in doing a good job. I think that’s what separates “Night Of The Living Dead” from every other cheapjack horror flick made in 1968.

    • Yes, passion DOES play a part, a MAJOR part – I just wish that the wannabe Sam Raimis and George A Romeros out there understood that, and that it takes more than buskets of fake blood and rubber monstersor dime-store psychos to make a horror film,,,

  4. Sefton Disney Says:

    I think part of the problem – and it doesn’t just apply to horror cinema – is that the whole “geek culture” mentality has come to dominate. Instead of trying to make a really good movie that happens to be a horror film (which is what I think someone like Romero is trying to do), horror fans are making horror films exclusively for other horror fans, and true drama and storytelling is being replaced by retro-references and ironic winks. I also think that “auteur” theory has lead to a complete devaluing of writers, producers and actors.

    I should just like to add that, when I used the term “journeyman”, it was in a completely positive sense, that of a professional who does the job to the best of his/her abilities. As far as I’m concerned, most of my favourite movies were made by journeymen!

    • I think you’re completely correct in your assessment… plus there’s the democratisation of technology and its ubiquitous availablility, which means any old idiot can make a movie….

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