Name a piece of horror art or entertainment that you believe changed the genre, and explain how.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. I think it ushered in the era of graphic horror even more than the drive in gore flicks that preceded it. It was graphic, dour and realistic. And the zombie rules it established have been so widely copied that it’s a shame George Romero isn’t living fat off the royalties.
Absolutely one of the most influential pieces of art or body of work which has influenced the horror genre is the work of H.R. Giger.
He melding of tech, flesh, sado-masochism, predator and disease has influenced several major horror/scifi works which directly used his design work (ALIEN, SPECIES) and countless others who imitated his unique, dark vision not only in film but in comics, book covers, album covers, games and other media.
Rosemary’s Baby doesn’t get enough credit for what it truly did for the genre. Night of the Living Dead came out the same year, and everyone knows how drastically that film changed horror cinema. But Rosemary’s Baby did as well, in another way. Horror flicks had been consigned to B-movie purgatory ever since Universal demoted them in the late 1930s, and Rosemary’s Baby was the first mainstream, “respectable” Hollywood horror movie to come along since that time. It demonstrated that you could do a horror movie with A-list actors, an A-list director, major publicity, etc. Plus, it was nominated for the Academy Award. Movies like The Exorcist, The Omen, Alien, and so many others followed soon after. Although B-horror movies still proliferate, it’s because of Rosemary’s Baby that horror movies can also be more than just exploitation fare–although I fear that the recent “torture porn” trend may wind up forcing horror back into the b-movie closet.
I could easily go with Psycho or Halloween for creating the slasher genre or Scream for revitalizing it when the slasher film seemed all but dead… but I think I’ll go a different route and say The Silence of the Lambs. When Hannibal Lecter swept the Oscars, I think it heralded a change in how horror films were perceived and defined for both the general public and for horror fans themselves. Many didn’t define The Silence of the Lambs as a horror film, but that’s only because the genre carried a stigma precluding anything of such quality. Silence is certainly a horror film and not purely a ‘psychological thriller’ (the term usually given to a horror film once it passed a certain threshold of quality) — it was featured on the cover of Fangoria, the plot revolves around a guy killing women to make a suit out of their skin and one of the primary characters is a cannibal. When Silence won the top 5 awards at the Oscars that year, I think it lent some legitimacy to and broadened the definition of the genre (much as The Exorcist had done two decades earlier), reminding people that truly remarkable films can come from any genre, even those generally looked down upon.
H.R. Giger’s alien designs for the “Alien” series are still some of the most visually disturbing imagery ever put to film. They’ve influenced science fiction and horror filmmakers going on 30 years now, and probably will continue to do so for another 30.
Wow, another tough one. So many achievements in the genre - thematic, aesthetic, and technical (I’m tempted to say Robert Stoker Jr. for his design and development of a the cobweb gun!). So many came to mind - especially with the clear demarcations between specific periods and the transgression boundaries in the postmodern era. But, I’m gonna go with Horrors of the Black Museum (1959). I think that its influence is obvious and very far reaching (well into the 21st century).
Shot in glorious HYPNOVISTA, Horrors really was the first movie to indulge at length in the “creative death” sequences that later became so commonplace in the Slasher sub-genre (and is, essentially the hook for, say, the entire Saw franchise). It also bears the distinguishing feature of being AIP’s first Cinemascope and Eastman color production. Pre-Black Sunday, pre-Psycho, pre-Blood Feast, pre-House of Usher, the only contemporaneous genre film that delights in showing as much unusual death is probably Nakagawa’s Jigoku (1960). Ya gotta love this film! The legendary binocular scene alone is worth this particular roundtable entry!
I’m not sure if this counts, but I do believe that GRINDHOUSE ruined the way some current mainstream films and drek from yesteryear are being promoted. Instead of it being a hip subgenre it is instead twisted in a way to market crap films and trick us into playing the role of the sucker who buys into it.
The whole thing stinks of how SCREAM changed films when suddenly every producer and their grandmother thought it would be a great idea to stick teens in every horror flick that is being cranked out today.
PSYCHO and HALLOWEEN deserve all the laurels they get and I’m happy that in the last 10 years BLACK CHRISTMAS has gotten it’s fair shake too, but I don’t think anyone ever takes FRIDAY THE 13TH’s contribution to the genre seriously enough. FRIDAY may owe its existence to HALLOWEEN (it should also buy BAY OF BLOOD and CARRIE a beer sometime too), but what it did with the opportunity HALLOWEEN allowed should not be taken lightly. HALLOWEEN may have opened the gate, but FRIDAY ripped it off its hinges and ran like a mo-fo. So much so, that by the time HALLOWEEN’s sequel came around, it was taking its cues from FRIDAY. I think most slasher movies that live under the umbrella term “HALLOWEEN clones” are in fact “FRIDAY THE 13TH clones.” FRIDAY invented the over-the-top, set-piece kill and conveyer-belt elimination game that any respectable slasher film had to emulate for years. HALLOWEEN does not have that structure; in fact, its focus is on showing as little as possible. HALLOWEEN derives its power from watching someone try to live where FRIDAY gains its power by watching people die. HALLOWEEN is not concerned with the visual aftermath of its deceased either; their bodies are rather neatly stored in cupboards and closets (or propped on a bed). FRIDAY lingers and dares you to look away. It shows death as messy, unpoetic and impossible to return from. Most forget that it’s queasy celebration of the human body’s potential for damage was absolute cutting edge for its time. Many people may not be happy with the mark left by FRIDAY, but that doesn’t make it any less important. Even with its rather obvious impact, you’d be hard pressed to find an actual positive review for the film in many horror reference books. It’s time to recognize that even beyond the elaborate bloody kills, FRIDAY has real atmosphere and tells a pretty damn scary tale too (anyone who grew up watching the edited version on television can attest to that.) It deserves much more than a condescending pat on the head from horror fans and a knee jerk dismissal from critics. I don’t mean to take anything away from HALLOWEEN, which at the end of the day I prefer, but FRIDAY THE 13TH was a lot more original and influential then anyone gives it credit for.
I hate to be a negative Nellie but Anne Rice’s INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE sliced the balls off the creature in question and beget a generation of sensitive, brooding, mopey emo sluggards more interested in looking Goth than tearing jugulars. The 80s and 90s took the worst of it but we’re still dealing with the infection in TV shows like MOONLIGHT. INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE may even have, in a delayed reaction sort of way, played some part in the current vogue for horror backstory, which particularized the crap-ass remakes of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and HALLOWEEN, showing us that the killers at the heart of these stories have reasons for being evil. Ye gods and little fishes, I don’t want excuses, I want unbridled, unblinking, heartless malevolence, I want monsters!
No more interviews!
I have something in mind, but it can’t really be called horror, since the modern notion of genre literature hadn’t really been invented yet. For that matter, neither had the novel. You could call it fantasy, I suppose, or even fan fiction if you wanted to be uncharitable. I’m talking about John Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” first published in 1667.
Milton’s epic poem is the first major work to depict Satan as a rounded and arguably sympathetic character. If not for Milton, we never would have had Al Pacino in “The Devil’s Advocate” (Pacino’s character is even NAMED “John Milton,” for Pete’s sake), Christopher Walken in “The Prophecy,” Jack Nicholson in “The Witches of Eastwick,” or any other interesting portrayals of Satan or similar fallen angels– nobody mentioned in Roundtable #66 at all, for that matter.
Milton started it, and we’ve just been playing in his sandbox ever since. I’ll bow out with a quote from the great 18th-century poet William Blake: “The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.”
This is actually a hard question for me, because I’m so accustomed to (solipsistically?) focusing on how a given work of horror changed me. Frankly that’s more what I’m interested in. That said, I think there’s a pretty clear pre- and post-Psycho line of demarcation in terms of horror films intended to disturb and horrify in addition to “spook”–or at the very least their ability to do so with a contemporary audience.
Ninety-nine weeks of Roundtables; ninety-nine weeks of Sean struggling with the topic and/or answering Hellraiser. Thanks to all of this week’s participants for chiming in, and if you’d like to say your piece, please do so in the comments below. Join us next week for the finale.