Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Now, where have I seen this before?
I think we’re taken by demonic possession in the same way that we’re consumed by zombies. Beneath the initial Viking-like churlishness we exhibit at every snarl and flesh-bargaining mastication lies the rub that we are basically watching ourselves. And that scares the hell into us.
Inherently, we can be demons. Yes, we can be heroes, but on the shit end of the stick, we can be zombies. Naturally, both transformations demand a lot of us—and by a lot, I mean nothing less than our total selves. I’ve never been a) possessed or b) a zombie, but I think it’s safe to assume that with the former, your body, mind and spirit are occupied by malevolent forces, while with the latter, everything that comprises your individuality—that essence that made you shove peas up your nose as a child and sleep with total strangers as an adult—is sieved into a primordial void. One might argue that adolescence gives us a sneak preview of each.

So, what’s my point? That teenagers are bat-shit crazy? That we can be Vikings, heroes, zombies and demons? That Medieval Times should add zombie jousting to their dinner tournaments? Yes to all of these, but mainly, my point is that there comes a time when genre fans must acknowledge that the same circle of horror filmmakers are reheating the veal and serving it up as steak. I mentioned on Twitter that I was going to review The Conjuring on my blog, so I suppose this is the crux of it. The Conjuring is a good film, but only because the actors in it elevate the material. I mean, Lilli Taylor? Vera Farmiga? That’s anti-suckage insurance right there.  I wish all horror directors would invest in the premium.

But if you took the actors out of this film, you’d essentially just have what is tantamount to a TV movie on the level of 1977’s The Possessed. Of course, the market saturation began in the Seventies, thanks to a film about a little girl who just wanted to play some Ouija and buy a horse (sidebar—Ellen Burstyn trying to sell Sunday as a great day for a birthday is probably the one terrible bit of acting she has ever done).  That film became a hit, and then suddenly, everyone was possessed with possession. Producers catered to it then for the same reasons why they throw their support at it now: because it’s easy money.  The same thing happened with the zombie subgenre, to the extent of Fulci having to slip some undead into The Beyond just to appease his investors. And I think that’s the worst of it—when  artistic integrity is forced to take a backseat to studio self indulgence. It’s much more of an offense to me than simply tacking “of the Dead” to your protagonist and calling it a film—which is, by the way, a whole other Oprah.  
Having said all of this, I don’t go to the cinema to have my life changed. I realize that we could transfer this argument to any other horror subgenre, such as the slasher. My problem with rehashing the same old ideas is that it’s being done to the exclusion of new ones. There are writers and directors out there waiting for an opportunity to get their stories out , and they’re being ignored in favor of their “more proven” counterparts. If you’re a fledgling filmmaker, you quickly find that social media only works if your community supports you (and good luck with that), or if you are successful in lighting your farts on camera without cauterizing your anus. One of the wonderful things about horror in the Eighties is that while the market was exhausted with bad demonic possession, zombie and slasher films, it also offered up a wellspring of work for everyone—especially first-time directors and women—so that everyone could put their slant on the genre. And they did. But when it comes to seeing anything original for our money today, I guess we can all just go to hell.