Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Event Horizon.

I'm watching you read this. Btw, thanks.
The last horror film I went to that screamed "event" viewing was The Blair Witch Project (1999). For me, this film is less remarkable for its content and more memorable for the hype that preceded it months earlier. Although we were nearing the end of not only a decade but an entire century, the Internet was still an exciting mystery to most, a wild new frontier whose purpose in western society would be apparent in the future, though not so clearly defined in that moment. The Blair Witch Project seized upon this vulnerability and exploited it to such success that GeoCitizens everywhere were convinced that the film's three actors, portraying campers, were actually missing people in real life. The fourth wall effectively toppled over, its levies irreparable ever since.

While I was pretty confident that the three "missing" campers were probably safely serving coffee somewhere in Maryland, waiting for their big breaks to happen, I was admittedly swept up in the machine. I spent considerable time on the film's website, pouring over bios, reading up on their last whereabouts, poking through the evidence and replaying the infamous found footage. It didn't hurt that the names of the campers, and the actors who played them, were one in the same. Today, I mostly remember hurling into a toilet at what was then AMC The Block at Orange—deeply disappointed, sick to my stomach and swearing that I would never, ever again see The Blair Witch Project.

I did eventually see it again when it hit DVD, to see if the shaky camera scenes were any less debilitating at home (they weren't). And to show that I was dead serious about being finished with anything Blair Witch, I attended a sneak preview of Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows, which Fangoria hosted in Pasadena immediately following their Weekend of Horrors. The only horrors at that showing, I presume, were the faces of the organizers when the audience (myself included) laughed.

But it was at that aforementioned Weekend of Horrors where I met the director of another event movie—and, inarguably, one of the greatest films of all time—The Exorcist. Like the total nerd that I am, I based all of my questions to William Friedkin around the DVD commentary for the 25th Anniversary Edition, and spooged all over the (then) soon-to-be-released "Version You've Never Seen" DVD, and he was gracious and lovely and even charming in his responses, quite the opposite of the man I had prepared myself to meet, a composite of stories I'd read or heard of his mythos on set and elsewhere.

I wasn't even a blip on the radar when The Exorcist came out, but one of my favorite anythings about this movie—or in cinema, really—is the spectacle that surrounded its release in 1973. I could watch the audience reactions for this film all day, any day, until the end of the Internets, and then I'd probably just pull out that anniversary edition and watch the BBC documentary Fear of God. Now, I'm about to make one of those "duh" statements; particularly, that the Internet was not around in 1973, but that's just the point. Back then, "www" was what the Volkswagen logo looked like on a Saturday night in the garage after a few Budweisers. If you wanted to know if a movie was worth seeing—if it was an event—you simply drove past your local walk-in to see the long queues, looked up the weekend Box Office takes in the newspaper, or turned on the TV to see if Brinkley or Cronkite were covering it. And when the cinemas unwrapped The Exorcist one day after Christmas in 1973, everybody was.

So, what's the next big event horror film? Your guess is as good as mine. I mean, the studios are either remaking the shit out of everything right now, or they're bastardizing films from other countries (you know that U.S. remake of Dead Snow is practically writing itself), or they're making sequels of films that they'll eventually remake in 20 years' time (how about a remake of Sinister? Anyone? Bueller?). We don't have anything as new and exciting as the Internet to get behind (sure, the commercial rise of the mobile phone brought us One Missed Call out of Japan, and later, the interactive App from the Netherlands). And even as Ringu was becoming event viewing for the Japanese in 1998, the DVD was beginning its descent on VHS, the format upon which the entire crux of Miike's film is based. Social media has now also made a dent with Unfollowed, but I didn't see anyone from the Neutrogena set forming a line outside my neighborhood cineplex to see it.

I can say, without a doubt, that the next big event film (in general) will be the latest Star Wars installment. Which makes me think that perhaps our future Big Horror Event lies somewhere in our past. There's been talk of another Halloween, and (thankfully) not the Rob Zombie incarnation. But I'd much rather see a return to the Friday franchise—with Kane Hodder. Or another Evil Dead film (yes, I know about the STARZ thing), with Bruce Campbell. Sure, neither series carries the critical and theological weight of The Exorcist, but both have possessed the public in their own ways, and maybe when it comes to resurrecting the Big Horror Event, it's better the devil you know.