Miércoles 27 de Junio de 2007, Ip nº 196

A Bloody Cut Above Your Everyday Zombie Film
Por Jason Zinoman

Horror movies have always provided a safe haven for indulging anxieties, whether they are about giving birth (“It’s Alive”), buying a home (“The Amityville Horror”) or having sex (almost all of them). So it’s probably no coincidence that teenagers who grew up with terrorist alerts and photos of war are flocking in large numbers to increasingly graphic, torture-filled films that make Freddy Krueger look like a sweetie pie.

In the 1980s and ’90s most horror films had become cartoonish, with endless sequels about unbelievably clever serial killers slicing up their incredibly dim victims in increasingly preposterous ways. These films often treated murder as an adrenaline rush. “It is that pact with the devil that we’ve made, that we’ll watch violence, but we will have fun with it and make it seem kind of inconsequential,” said Wes Craven, the dark, fertile mind behind “The Hills Have Eyes” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”

But in the last few years films like “Hostel” and “Saw” have challenged audiences with the reality of extreme violence, and it has paid off in huge box office numbers. “We’re in a moment that is a real resurgence of the horror genre,” said David Schwartz, chief curator of the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens. The museum (movingimage.us) will play its part beginning next Saturday when it presents a horror fan’s dream festival, “It’s Only a Movie: Horror Films From the 1970s and Today,” a selection of 33 features and shorts that will run for six weekends, through July 22.

The retrospective is based on the idea that the renaissance of scary movies, sometimes called torture porn, has been inspired by the golden age of horror, when mainstream directors like Brian De Palma and Stanley Kubrick made some of their finest work and genre masters like Tobe Hooper, John Carpenter, David Cronenberg and Mr. Craven (all of whom are represented in the festival) got their start.

“The new films are very similar to those in the 1970s in that they are merciless with the audience,” Mr. Craven said. “I think they are a cultural way of coming to terms with the horrible realities of everyday life.”

The festival emphasizes parallels between the two periods, made explicit in a tripleheader on July 7 that juxtaposes Vietnam War veteran zombies with Iraq war veteran zombies. It begins with Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of “Dawn of the Dead,” George A. Romero’s 1978 sendup of consumer society, followed by “Dead of Night,” Bob Clark’s antiwar film from 1974 that tells the story of an American soldier who returns home seeking revenge on his family and other townsfolk.

The last in the trio is the liberal fantasy “Homecoming,” with its similar conceit: undead soldiers return. But this time the director, Joe Dante, ignores the family and concentrates his anger at the ruling party. Originally broadcast in 2005 as part of Showtime’s “Masters of Horror” series, the movie imagines American veterans lurching home from Iraq to voting booths to kick Republicans out of office.

The festival’s title paraphrases the advertising slogan used in Mr. Craven’s debut, “The Last House on the Left” (July 22),which advised audiences: “To avoid fainting, keep repeating: It’s only a movie.” Released in 1972, this influential film, inspired by bloody newsreel footage of the Vietnam War, brought a gritty tone to horror that was a departure from the monster movies of old.

“Last House” was ignored or denounced by most critics, though Roger Ebert did call it a “guilty pleasure.” That shunning was the fate of most low-budget horror films of its day, and few broke out to a mass audience. The reception started to change with “Halloween,” Mr. Carpenter’s 1978 movie, about a bogeyman murdering teenage girls.

It was made on a budget of around $300,000 and became one of the highest-grossing independent films of all time, and one of the most imitated. The formula — which featured murderous psychopaths and teenagers who had sex at their peril — solidified through the 1980s when audiences were on a first-name basis with killers like Jason, Chucky and Freddy, who became less scary and more ridiculous with each sequel.

Horror had a brief revival in the 1990s when Mr. Craven turned the staleness of the form to his advantage, satirizing slashers in films like the “Scream” trilogy. These were smart satires, but to horror purists blurring the lines between horror and comedy got old fast. “Horror and comedy have nothing to do with one another,” said Rob Zombie, director of the remake of “Halloween,” which is scheduled to open Aug. 31. “It’s like saying, ‘How about a children’s movie — but with hard-core sex?’ ”

In the last few years Mr. Zombie and directors like Alexandre Aja (“High Tension”), James Wan (“Saw”) and Eli Roth (“Hostel”) have ushered in a deadly serious brand of horror that is too busy ripping out eyeballs to wink at the audience. The new films return the genre to the feral, relentless energy of the ’70s. But the difference is that these directors don’t need to make films on the cheap. While the early movies often seemed like snuff films made by maniacs, these new, slicker enterprises look like the work of maniacs — who’ve been to film school.

You only need to examine the lineup of films at the Museum of the Moving Image festival to see the reach of the genre today. The caving disaster film “The Descent” (July 22) and the slasher “High Tension” (June 24) come from Britain and France, respectively. Perhaps the most activity (and brutality) is in the Asian scene, including the Japanese exercise in sadomasochism “Ichi the Killer” (July 15).

As they see more and more horror films, audiences are increasingly difficult to shock. After you blow up someone’s head, rip people in two or burn off their faces, where do you go from there?

Mr. Roth isn’t worried. “They say there is more than one way to skin a cat,” he said. “Well, there are many ways to skin a human.”


  10/06/2007. The New York Times.