Unpopular Opinions: Horror Movie Edition

Every now and again I will wake up, roll over, check my phone and find some new film-related tweet trending that I can’t help but be enamored by.  Most recently it was #FilmStruck4, where users were invited to share the four movies that most directly define you and your moviegoing experience (for me, it was 3-Iron, The Avengers, Hellraiser and Seven Samurai).  Before that it was everybody sharing what their #7FavFilms were (for the record, The General, Casablanca, Seven Samurai, For a Few Dollars More, 3-Iron, Let the Right One In, Nightcrawler).  This morning, however, it was unpopular opinions about horror movies.

I have made no secret of my love of horror movies on this sight.  Horror movies were probably my first real cinematic love.  They are unquestionably the ones that I watch (and rewatch) most often and have made a conscious effort into diving most deeply into.  And when these movies work — and, lets face it, they rarely actually do — but when they do, they are among the most rewarding and wholly engrossing experiences that you can have at the movie theater.

And, as you might suspect of somebody who has invested into the genre so very much, I have some rather pointed opinions relating to it, ranging from underrated classics, overrated trash and even how the genre is best put to use in general.  And some of the more out-there ones may, in fact, surprise you.

Friday the 13th (2009) / A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) / Hellraiser: Revelations (2011) are legitimately great movies.

While there are certainly more movies that I could throw out here, these best make my case for how quickly even genre fans are willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to remakes.  Yes, they are often cheap cash-ins on better, beloved movies that come complete with their own built-in fanbase.  Yes, they are generally worse than the originals that they imitate (and in fact often lose sight of what made them great in the first place).  And, in Revelations case, putting out a movie only to satisfy legal requirements for maintaining your controlling share of the film rights while you work on a more-involved remake (now actually revealed to just be another sequel) is a really crummy business move that undermines the idea of films as art.

But, at the same time, I’ll be damned if all three of these don’t simply work.  Friday the 13th simply crammed together the happenings of the first three so-so series entries before going off in its own direction, but it made for a lot of great moments and kills and a far more streamlined and satisfying narrative than the franchise has ever had outside of Jason LivesA Nightmare on Elm Street gave us a far darker and more fascinating version of Freddy Krueger (this time played by the incredible Jackie Earl Haley) along with the compelling new mechanic of micro-napping (your brain involuntarily napping for mere moments at a time due to exhaustion, allowing Freddy to effectively cross into the real world while you’re awake).  It also fixed the original movie’s unfortunate third-act issues (where it essentially just became a sillier version of Home Alone), which was always going to be a welcome change for me.  And while Hellraiser: Revelations suffers from poor technical execution,  it has a surprisingly compelling script that returns the franchise to its roots as being fundamentally being drawn to the unique cross-section of experiences offered by the Cenobites after you’ve grown numb to the pleasures of the mortal world around you.

Paranormal Activity is actually a terrible movie.

While I do actually like the Paranormal Activity Movies for what they eventually became, none of that stems from this laughably inept first installment.  While the technical execution of found footage is better utilized here than most entries in the genre that utilize it, the broader content of the movie is so unutterably dull as to be a complete waste of time to get to.  It’s a full 90 minutes of tensionless buildup with obnoxious, unlikeable characters, punctuated by a single, obviously telegraphed and poorly executed jump scare.

Although the sequel itself was decent enough, it wasn’t until the third movie, a prequel set during the 1980s, that the franchise started getting any good at all.  It built a solidly complex mythology upon the franchise’s shaky foundations and ultimately become something far more than the sum of its parts (similar to the Puppet Master or Fast and Furious movies).  That being said, even when marathoning the movies when the mood decides to take me, I’ll skip over the original film, which genuinely adds nothing interesting to the broader sieres.

Horror is best when it’s animated.

Horror is fundamentally about unnerving the viewer: about finding what they hold immutable and comforting about the world and upending that entirely.  To that end, one of the most sacrosanct facets of our world is it concrete definition of space and orientation, and to violate that (as with The Shining‘s impossible layout for the Overlook Hotel) is to fundamentally attack how we perceive the world around us.

To wit, I never understood why more horror movies didn’t go the route of animation: a medium by which every aspect of the physical space can be altered, stretched or otherwise violated with the literal stroke of a pen.  This is where the Netflix Castlevania series succeeded beyond what even many cinematic productions were capable of: via animation, they can quickly and inexpensively create impossibley portioned creations who could never possibly exist in-camera.  I would love to see more genre entries play with the possibilities of animation, as it is a largely untapped avenue for terror in the 21st century.

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