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Meaford, ON, Canada
A big lover of all types of media, from Movies to Video Games, Books to Music, Television to Stage.

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12/21/10

6th BGJ Blog Entry - This Is A Big One

Japanese Horror In The North American Cinema - February 26, 2005 - 18:31 PM.
 
So, I'm currently watching 'Freddy Vs. Jason' on TMN, and thinking about the direction horror has taken in recent years. The topic came to me as I was asking my father what it was exactly that made him dislike horror movies generally. He stated that it was a simple matter of not being scared by those types of movies. I attribute his answer as being to one of two things: Either not sucumbing to the 'suspension of belief' that most people need in order to enjoy the films they watch, or not having seen a movie that is really scary. Now, I know it isn't the first, simply because he has enjoyed the 'Harry Potter' movies as well as the 'Star Wars' and 'Lord Of The Rings' flicks. So, I figure it must be the latter, and this is what sent my mind down this track.
 
When I was growing up (okay, when most of us, Dear Readers, were growing up)(be aware that the original posting was for a smaller group of people, all around the same age), horror movies consisted mainly of a maniac wielding a sharp object of sorts hacking up a bunch of teenage girls. This was after horror having taken many incarnations. The old 'Frankenstein' and 'Wolfman' movies come to mind. And, of course, the famous (or, if you prefer, infamous) shower scene in 'Psycho.' Well, it was safe to say that over the period in between these classics the mainstream horror genre didn't change a whole hell of a lot. Oh, and by mainstream, I'm eliminating the bizarre and unusual - in other words, I'm staying away from the "aliens invade" movies, as well as the 'House Of Wax' types. Anyway, horror was in a groove, and it didn't seem likely to change, even with the introduction of a kid who attacked his babysitter, a kid by the name of Micheal Myers.
 
But then, in 1980, things changed.
 
That year, there was this little movie about a kid's camp on Crystal Lake, and a poor child who had drowned due to the inattention of the camp counselors. Very soon, the name Voorhees became a staple of scary nightmares. Of course, our leading man Jason didn't appear until the last 2 minutes of the first film, but with the exception of only one other movie, he became the object of fear for a new generation of people wanting to be frightened at the movies.
 
The 'Friday The Thirteenth' series of films is far-and-away the most watched horror series ever produced, and the first two in particular spawned a whole new genre of movies: Death By The Rules horror. See, Jason (and his dear Mama) wasn't just killing whoever seemed most vulnerable, he was very purposefully and delibrately putting the knife to teenagers who were exhibiting bad behaviour, specifically anyone engaged in sexual activity, smoking, doing drugs, or generally being a shithead. Not certain I'm right? Watch them again; being mean to someone else was one of the "crimes" punishable by gutting. And, while it is true that 'Halloween' was the first of what we would consider the new movement in horror, 'Friday' took it into a very specific direction. Not that it stopped people from having sex, smoking, shooting up, or pissing other people off. They just made sure not to do it in the woods.
 
Then, 1984 came, and the genre grew a bit. Now, it wasn't just forests and lakes up north that had people creeped out, it was - that's right - going to sleep! Yes, the 'Nightmare On Elm Street' series began, and Jason was suddenly sharing the spotlight with Freddy Kruger, the man of our dreams. Now, 'Nightmare' is accepted as the second most famous horror series out there, but if you do a comparison of the two series against each other, you'll notice that as the 'Nightmare' series matured, so did the integral plot of the series (except for number 2, 'Freddy's Revenge.' Let's all agree right now to never, ever, talk about that movie again, 'k?). While it was never made 100% clear until recently, Freddy had an agenda to fulfill, and while he also killed By The Rules, he had this higher purpose (something to do with being a fallen angel as a result of his birth story, him being the bastard son of 100 maniacs) to his slaying. Jason, well, he only continued to follow the basic "stupid kids keep coming here, so I'll just wait until they transgress and then butcher them." And, as far as numbers 8 through 10 (or X, for you purists), let's ignore they were ever filmed either.
 
So, here we are, early 80's, and we have the two granddaddy's of modern horror starting their bloody careers. Obviously, if you follow the numbers following the titles of the later films, they were both popular as hell right out of the gate. No pun intended. I think. I remember, as a lot of you probably do, going house to house on Halloween night while CityTv was airing the first two or three (depending on the year) 'Friday' movies, which you weren't allowed to watch, and so you had to try and peep a glimpse if you were lucky enough to have the door opened by someone watching that channel themselves.
 
However, eventually (read as mid 90's) the white wore off of Jason's mask, and Freddy's claws got dull. Soon, something would be needed to revitalize a languishing genre. And then there was 'Scream.'
 
Now 'Scream,' in 1996, changed the formula by first killing off a major star in the first ten minutes, and then threw out the rulebook by mocking the rules themselves and quoting the origin of them. Ballsy, but it worked. So far, the 'Scream' franchise has gotten to 3 films, but a fourth is in the works (Yes, even back then, 'Scream 4' was in development). One of the reasons for it's success is that the cast had more than two people who didn't die at the end of the films, and that entire core group came back for both sequels (and are all on for the next one). Think of it, a horror movie where everyone doesn't buy it! Why, that hasn't been seen in a popular horror movie since, well, before 1980, that's for sure!
 
And with that, the horror genre began to stretch it's muscles for the first time in about 16 years. Seriously, take a look at the genres' titles from 1980 to 1996. 'Pumpkinhead.' 'Silent Night, Deadly Night.' Fucking 'Sleepaway Camp,' for crying out loud! Pale imitations, yes, but also not deviating from the basic formula that went mainstream with 'Friday.' Oh, and yes, I'm fully aware that the 'Halloween' movies got a few Roman numerals after it's titles too, but again, 'Halloween' just never got the same following, and all you Micheal Myers fans (not Mike, never Mike, Micheal or I'll cut you up!) know it too.
 
Then, reality hit in 1999. Suddenly, three students who supposedly disappeared outside Burkettsville, Maryland, started getting a whole lot of press when their 'lost' footage was discovered and edited together to make a 'real' film. Enter 'The Blair Witch Project.' Now, love it or hate it, it was at least a new direction for horror, and while the best of this new direction went straight to video ('St. Francisville', anyone?), the face of horror altered again. Not much, but enough to make some great minds think ahead by looking behind...(This was all before 'Paranormal Activity' broke on the scene, remember, and I'll get to that at the end of the original posting.)
 
Late 1999, a 'classic' horror film was re-imagined, and a company based on the name of the original director was born, specifically to re-create horror movies from the past for a new audience. The company? Dark Castle films, named after the late William Castle, the innovator who gave audiences 'wimp out tickets' so people could get their money back if his movie was so scary they had to leave the theater. The movie? 'House On Haunted Hill,' with Geoffrey Rush seeming almost possessed by the ghost of Vincent Price, who's role Rush was cast in. The film was great, except for the awkward CGI at the end of it (computer generated images, for those of you living under rocks), but it was most notable for two things it brought to the horror genre. First, it let Hollywood know that remakes of old horror movies, as long as they are done to meet modern audiences' current expections, could become huge hits for any studio willing to pony up the cash. This has lead to a few other remakes, such as 'Dawn Of The Dead,' 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' (the original, based on a true story, more or less, actually beat the reality-horror trend to the big screen by 25 years when it was released in 1974), and the upcoming release of the modern version of 'The Amityville Horror' (which is not, regardless of the book saying so, a true story), all of which (so far) have vastly exceeded the originals in the "get enough fright for your money" category. The other, more important boost for the genre was the introduction of what we "North Americans" saw as a new technical effect which bothered everyone I've ever talked to about it. If you've seen the film, you know what I mean when I say 'the herky-jerky walk.' Bugs the shit out of me, let me tell you. The funny thing is, it wasn't new, not by a long shot. It had been around for a while, in a little country in Asia...
 
Japan. Home of the oddest video games known to man, electronics masterminds, and, shockingly, the folks on the cutting edge of horror. Cutting edge of horror? What the fuck? How did that get in there? Very simply, actually. It all began with a little flick called 'Ringu.'
 
Hideo Nataka. Learn this name. Seriously, commit it to memory, because this is the dude responsible for the current revolution in horror on these shores. 'Ringu' came out in 1998 in Japan, and scared the shit out of the populous. Not because of "cat scares," but because of the refining, and redefining, of what we like to call "psychological horror." This is the stuff that bugs you late at night four days after you saw the film. Before 'Ringu' came abroad, psych horror was solely in the realm of classic Alfred Hitchcock movies, most of which were more "thriller" than "horror." Try watching 'The Birds,' and not paying close attention to the phone lines on your street for the next week or so. Good luck! But 'Ringu' got you on a more personal level, due to the oddness (see 'House Of Wax') of the video the movie is about, the movie within the movie if you will. 'Ringu' came out of left field when Asians saw it over there, and then a decision was made which we have not yet fully felt the effects of: Hideo Nataka decided to allow it to be remade for North American audiences in English, with a "Hollywood" cast. The result? 'The Ring.'
 
There's nothing I can say to do justice to the differences between 'Ringu' and 'The Ring,' mainly due to the fact that there is only one difference: The movie within the movie. In 'Ringu,' the "killer video" was for the most part disjointed words (admittedly nasty, violent, descriptive words) floating around the screen, interspersed with a scene that had a lot to do with the origin of the tape. 'The Ring?' The director decided to explain that plot point elsewhere (on a different, non-lethal tape), and with suggestions directly from Hideo himself, made what some have called an "esoteric student film," which others have called "some of the most disturbing images ever put to film, psychologically speaking." I won't get into what those images are, since the movie is worth watching for yourself, but you add that bit to a movie which otherwise was virtually identical scene-for-scene to the original, and was disturbing as hell in it's own right, and you have yourself the future of North American horror.  (Again, 'Paranormal Activity' was not even on the horizon at this point...)
 
People are also somewhat familiar with another remake of a Japanese movie, 'The Grudge.' This movie makes 'The Ring' look like a kid's film in comparison. Again, it is all about a totally different way of scaring the audience, and I don't know if it was Hideo that originated this style of horror in Japan, but thank you so much for making us wet our pants here in North America. Fans of horror will be glad to know that not only did he also okay a North American remake of 'Ringu 2,' but he's actually helming the new version himself. And it won't be long before we're all having the chills all over again, as 'The Ring Two' comes out in April of this year.
 
So, there you go. 'Freddy Vs. Jason,' the long-awaited melding of the two powerhouses from our youth, reminded me that "slasher" flicks are gone the way of the dodo, proven most convincingly by the fact that this movie itself is more of an action film than anything resembling the origins of either character. Nope, its Japanese cinema which is reinventing horror in North America in the early years of this new millenium. First they get us with Walkmen, then it's game systems, and now we're getting scared by their movies and having horrible dreams as a result. Wonder if Freddy is taking note? Until next time, Dear Readers, sleep tight...
 
When this post was originally written, it did indeed seem that the input Japanese horror was having on the North American movie scene was firmly changing the way studios were planning on scaring money out of their audiences for a long time to come, and I also know that I left out both the 'Saw' series and the 'Hostel' flicks from the original post as well.  There are reasons for those omissions, and the biggest ones are these:  the 'Saw' movies aren't horror genre, they are whodunnits with gore; the 'Hostel' movies are slasher porn, not horror.  Neither of them are scary in the sense of fear, and this blog wasn't about the revulsion factor, therefore I chose not to include those titles.

Today, of course, the biggest horror titles in North America owe more to 'Blair Witch' than they do to 'The Ring', and the 'Paranormal Activity' movies are, to me, the most frightening horror films ever put on a screen.  In the same way 'The Exorcist' scared the shit out of audiences that weren't prepared for what they saw in their time, I feel that the sense of 'this could be happening in YOUR house' that the 'PA' movies gives us is much more disturbing on a psychological level than any other mainstream Hollywood films that have come before them.  How do I feel about that?  Bring on 'PA3', October 21st, 2011!

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