For love of the macabre movie


Anyone that knows me even moderately well knows that I am a big movie enthusiast.  I have a dear, deep appreciation for movies across all genres, decades, styles, and languages.  I think I have had a love affair with movies all my life, but I didn’t really grow to appreciate the grander world of cinema until I was in my late teens and discovered independent movies via the Landmark theaters in San Diego.

I began falling into a trap that a lot of people find themselves in once the indie scene is happened upon – the notion that as long as the film is low-budget, it is the best thing ever, no matter how contrived, meandering, or simply poorly-made it actually was.  The fact is, I saw it and 99.9% of the rest of the world had never even heard of it… that alone made it golden.

Yeah, I was that guy.

Fortunately for myself and everyone around me, I grew up and started taking objective critical looks at all movies.  This involved not only taking a sterner look at the smaller films, but also a more open look at the big-budget movies at the mall.  I realized that the quality of a movie is subjective at best and can best be judged not by comparing it to other films, but rather comparing it to the intent of itself.  In a nutshell: what was the movie’s intent and did it achieve it?  If the intent is noble and the goal was reached, then it is a success.

When presenting this viewpoint to other people, I like to point to the movie “Mortal Kombat”.  Obviously not an Academy Award winner and there are no festival-winning palm-fronds adorning the poster, yet I found it immensely entertaining and not once did I regret watching it.  This was a movie that set out to have some kickass fight sequences set to equally kickass techno music with some cheesy dialogue and a good dose of Christopher Lambert thrown in.  For me, this intent was noble, and you know what?  It achieved it in spades.

That’s really the hallmark of a good movie and the measure by which I judge them.

Now, let’s take into account when this model breaks down:  1.  When the intent is not noble and 2. When it did not achieve it.

An excellent example of poor intent is when a movie is made strictly for a payday.  It’s very easy to spot a movie made for the sole sake of money – just look toward any unnecessary sequels… especially the ones where the original cast and/or crew did not return.  “The Sting 2”, “Jaws the Revenge”, “Speed 2”, “The Fly 2”, “Caddyshack 2”, and yes, “Mortal Kombat 2″… these are all excellent examples of poor intent.  Whatever story the filmmakers had in them was over the minute the credits began rolling in the first film.  Now, what you have is a successful movie that can be easily and inexpensively piggy-backed onto with relatively low risk – and that’s what the investment numbers game is all about.  Risk versus reward.

As far as noble intent without hitting the target, there are too many to name but they are all tragic in one manner or another.  When I saw the awfulness that was “Troll 2”, I laughed my ass off at the obviously purposefully horrible movie.  It couldn’t have been any other way, right?  The director had to have known how bad it was… right?  I mean… come on!

Turns out, after watching the documentary about “Troll 2”, called “Best Worst Movie”, I saw instead that the director was a Italian gentlemen with a language barrier and a massive ego.  He actually set out to make what he thought (and to this day, thinks) is a family-bonding, feel-good movie with a dark side that makes you think.  He has such pride in this film that I truly felt bad for him and it made “Troll 2” a little bit harder to watch from there on.

Anyway, (boy I’m taking a long time to get to the point on this one) it is with that notion in mind (intent + achievement) that I found one of my ultimate passions.  I believe very strongly that the most noble intent that movie can set out to achieve is to make the audience feel something.  Anything.  When you can sit in a chair for an hour and a half and have your emotions twisted into knots, finding yourself feeling true joy or blubber like a baby for imaginary characters that you didn’t even know existed a short while ago… that’s powerful.

One of the most enjoyable emotional paths for a movie to set me off on is fear.  To feel true terror and lose your sense of worldly safety is, for me, an enjoyable experience so long as the situation stops when the lights go back up.  I love getting the pants scared off of me by movies.

I remember as a young’n, going into the movie theater to watch a scary movie.  Usually I was with my friends, and I LOVED the feeling I got when we were waiting for the movie to start and the lights started to dim.  I didn’t know what to expect, but I was sure it was going to be a wild ride and there was no leaving early – certainly if you didn’t want to be chastised later on.  It felt like the restraining arm coming down on a roller coaster.

I don’t go to the theater much these days.  I now live in a small town where the theater is a rancid joke and I don’t much relish the thought of driving an hour to go to a “real” cinema, just to plunk down ungodly amounts of cash, except for special circumstances, that is (“The Dark Knight”).

Now, I enjoy my cinematic hobbies in the comfort of my home using Netflix as my vehicle and the rest of the internet as my guide.  I have been flabbergasted by the scope of the horror genre and have loved most all of it – foreign horror (especially from South Korea), supernatural, gore-fests, comedic horror, classics… it’s all great, just so long as it’s scary.

The downside to this is that the notion of watching horror films to get scared is akin to eating Buffalo Wings to feel the painful burn… the more you engage in your hobby, the more it takes to reach that same goal the next time.  I don’t much follow the notion that critics of horror movies and violent video games espouse, that exposure to violent content builds a tolerance to the violence of the real world.  I personally think that’s a load of crap and I’ll save that argument for another time, but what I can say is that violent content in entertainment builds a tolerance to violent content in entertainment.

For me, there are two challenges to being a horror fan:

1.  Pronouncing every syllable deliberately when verbally telling people that you’re a lover of horror.

2.  Backing off enough to not numb yourself to the content.  When you see jump-scares a mile away and can tell when one is about to happen and even when a “psych-out” non-jump-scare is about to happen, it’s probably best to move on to a different genre for a while and let yourself have a break.

When the purpose of a horror movie is to make you feel an emotion as strong as fear, it’s no good letting yourself get in the way of that.

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