Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: A bathful of blood and a bucket of giblets or modern screen horror

A little while back when I was on the group judging the 48 Hour Film Project for 2008, one of the entries was a horror film. It was of that peculiar sub-genre best classified as the “Inbred Hillbilly Cannibal” film—not a particularly inspiring aspect of the horror film, though there are certainly exceptions (especially if Tobe Hooper’s name is attached). The film itself was competently made. It had all the required elements of its genre, but it was hardly excessive. Even so, it seemed to appall at least some of my companions, making me conclude that these folks were amateurs when it came to being exposed to horror in the era of “A Bathful of Blood and a Bucket of Giblets” (the wonderful title of a bogus horror film being discussed in a 1975 episode of The Goodies) cinema.

It also made me wonder just how I went from being the kid who hid under his theater seat in 1959 during large stretches of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty and dashed to the lobby of the State Theatre in 1961 whenever the trailer for Terence Fisher’s The Curse of the Werewolf showed up to being the guy who sat through the last hour of Christophe Gans’ Silent Hill (2006) at least five times and called Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) “one of the key films of modern horror.” Of course, it’s partly just age. One is a little more easily horrified at four or six, which is what I’d have been at the time of those first two films. (I freely admit that the image of young Leon (Justin Walters) in Curse in quasi-werewolf form pulling at the bars of his window is still unsettling to me.) But there has to be more than that.

I’ve said before that I’m one of those people loosely termed “Monster Kids.” (Personally, I reject the term, because I find it emotionally retarded.) All this really means is that my interest in movies started with an interest in horror movies, spawned in equal measure by the “Shock Theater” TV packages of old horror (and quasi-horror and creepy mysteries) movies that started in 1957 and Famous Monsters of Filmland, and magazine headed by by publisher James Warren and editor Forrest J Ackerman (credited, much to some people’s displeasure, for coining the term “sci-fi”) that debuted the following year.

I think the first “classic” horror film I ever consciously saw was James Whale’s The Invisible Man (1933), which is really more of a black comedy sci-fi picture than actual horror. Still, it took me three tries to work up the courage to see it. I chickened out on Tod Browning’s Dracula (1931) two weeks earlier—but was told by a teenaged vaguely-a-relative-by-marriage that it wasn’t scary at all, that “some guy named Ben Bela or something was Dracula and he didn’t even have fangs.” (Said not-quite-a-relative was clearly not a “Monster Kid,” nor would he ever be.) I did much the same with Whale’s Frankenstein (1931) the following week, but I was determined with The Invisible Man.

I don’t think I found the film particularly scary. Well, I did sleep on a small mattress on the floor next to my grandmother’s bed that night, but I think it was more just the experience of being up till 1 a.m. and the anticipation of it all—and the quickly-shed coolness of being so “adult.” Nonetheless, the ice was broken, but my tastes ran very much to these old movies from the 1930s and 1940s. They weren’t really frightening. They were better than that—they were cool. It was the fantastication, the atmosphere, the imagination of it all I was hooked on—not whether I had to watch them between the fingers covering my eyes.

More overt depictions of horror were definitely not my cup of tea, though as an adult, it’s easy for me to realize that the subject matter—while far from graphically depicted—was very often way beyond the boundaries of “good taste.” Consider—as a random example—the discussion involving the autopsy of the “Moon Killer’s” latest victim in the opening scenes of Michael Curtiz’ Doctor X (1932). Dr. Xavier (Lionel Atwill) remarks that it’s “peculiar that the left deltoid muscle is missing.” One of the onlooking cops says, “It’s been torn right out.” “No, gentlemen, that wasn’t torn—this is cannibalism!” reveals Xavier with ill-disguised ghoulish glee.

In the same vein (so to speak), what of Lugosi skinning Karloff alive in Edgar G. Ulmer’s The Black Cat (1934)? And then there’s the case of Erle C. Kenton’s Island of Lost Souls (1933). Here we have a movie about a mad scientist, Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton in perhaps the gayest performance of his career), who turns animals—through a process of vivisection (in the “House of Pain”) and never-explained ray-bath treatments—into half-animal/half-human monstrosities. His big plan seems to be to breed his “panther woman” (Kathleen Burke, winner of the “Panther Woman of America” contest!) with a shipwrecked man (Richard Arlen). Not only are the monstrosities unusually monstrous, but the film climaxes with them eviscerating the screaming Dr. Moreau on his own operating table. I made my mother sit through it one afternoon. (And I still wonder about her concern over my interest in this “morbid” stuff?)

Even with all that, I was pretty much against the horror pictures that were coming down the pike at the time. They seem almost quaint now, but the Hammer horror movies I saw in the theater in the 1960s were gory affairs when put up against the movies on TV. I’ll also note that I found Bela Lugosi (or “Ben Bela”) a far more persuasive Dracula than Christopher Lee—despite the lack of fangs and fountains of blood. I could enjoy them on a different level—especially Kiss of the Vampire (1963) and The Gorgon (1964). At the same time, I thought it an especially pithy comment at a midnight show of Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968) when a young lady in the row ahead of me (thank goodness) unceremoniously threw up at the sight of Christopher Lee impaled on a cross.

If nothing else, the modern films were kind of a badge of honor to have watched, especially when you and your friends had the chance to lord it over the kids who said things like, “Our mother won’t let us watch horror movies because they give us dreams.” We actually sent one such child scampering home by refusing to turn off Werewolf of London (1935) one afternoon. Whether it was from fear of dreams or the unthinkable thought of thus defying his mother, we never knew. We branded him a wimp all the same, of course.

But time wore on and the images got ever more grisly—culminating perhaps in the relatively graphic depictions found in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973), one of those inescapable events in film. It really doesn’t matter what you think of the film (personally, I waffle on it), its impact was undeniable, because it legitimized horror and graphic horror for mainstream audiences. Many critics, theorists, analysts, historians argued at the time that it’s very different to repel or gross-out on an audience and to actually scare them. Of course, they were right and they still are. Some things simply are unpleasant to look at. Just ask the girl at that showing of Dracula Has Risen from the Grave.

Somewhere along the way, though, my own values changed in this regard—possibly owing to the fact that horror film elements—graphic ones—were being casually absorbed into non-genre films, and even more into cross-genre films. The latter were cropping up more and more in the “experimental” era of the first half of the 1970s. The scenes of truly dark horror in Peter Medak’s The Ruling Class (1972) were straight out of a horror picture. Jodorowsky’s films contained elements of horror. The subject of my last “Screening Room,” The Devils (1971) can be counted as a horror film, as well as an historical drama and a religious-political allegory. In 1975, its maker, Ken Russell, would infuse horror film elements from Universal and Hammer and even The Exorcist into a biopic on Franz Liszt, Lisztomania.

Strangely, however, I had kind of compartmentalized all these things, and made them separate in my own mind from the horror film in the strict sense, which I was still tending to view as unnecessarily excessive. That seems both odd and a little hypocritical to me now, but perhaps no less odd than the film—or rather a couple of instances surrounding it—that started me seriously rethinking my stance.

The film was Michael Winner’s much-maligned The Sentinel (1977), which I listed as a kind of “guilty pleasure” some time back. When I first saw the movie, I was as much appalled by its gruesome excesses as fascinated by them. This, however, was somewhat put into interesting perspective for me by a kid of maybe 10 years of age in the audience. Now, one may rightly wonder what his parents were thinking taking this lad of tender years to an R-rated splatter-fest (though the term “splatter movie” was not yet in use), but it seemed to have little impact on the kid—unless he was just already thoroughly sunk in jaded depravity. At the climax of perhaps the most disturbing scene in the film—the heroine has just sliced her zombified father’s nose off and poked out his eye (with an onrush of goo). And how did this innocent respond? Did he crawl under his seat? Did he run screaming from the cinema? No. Instead he loudly announced, “I want a hot dog!” This definitely altered the mood of the screening.

It wasn’t long after this that I encountered a particularly harsh criticism of the film (I forget by whom) that stated something to the effect of “Director Michael Winner squirts gore across the screen for 90 minutes.” And that phrase somehow made it all fall into place for me. Had Winner done this? Yes, in a sense, he had. He’d also obviously had a fine time doing it—and he did it because he thought it was the best way to make the film he wanted to make. The gore was the pay-off for the creepiness. It wasn’t merely shoving the unpleasant in your face. The atmosphere he’d created had earned him the right to do it.

The problem I’d had with the more permissive aspects of the genre lay—for me at least—in the false assumption that there’s only one way to tell a story, and that all stories benefit from this treatment. That’s nonsense, of course, but I was 22 years old, was schooled mostly in “classic” film, and had the arrogance of the convictions of a 22 year old. (And, no, there’s nothing wrong with that—if youth never had any arrogance, what a dull place the world would be.)

This was really only the tip of the iceberg. Much more lay in the future—and some, for that matter, lay in the past with movies I’d yet to see or yet to come to terms with. Paul Morrissey’s Flesh for Frankenstein (1973) I’d seen, but hadn’t “gotten.” His Blood for Dracula (1974) I was still trying to see (that’s a story in itself for perhaps some other time). Those two movies actually brought forth a kind of sub-genre of their own—splatstick. This is a development in horror—and pop culture in general—that many still find troubling—the idea that gore can be funny.

Historically speaking—and leaving out the accidental humor of old exploitation movies—this “normalization” of gore and grue as intrinsically amusing probably owes as much to Monty Python’s Flying Circus on TV as anything else. It’s entirely possible that their sketch Sam Peckinpah’s ‘Salad Days’ (1972) is the world’s first example of splatstick—and it’s interesting that it’s origins are not in the horror film at all, but in the violent cinema of Sam Peckinpah. They probably cemented the deal with the Black Knight scene in the theatrical film Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) with its deliberately hokey dismemberment and blood-letting, which may itself be drawn from the ending of Blood for Dracula.

What separates the Python material from the Morrissey films and things yet to come is the hoke factor. There’s little attempt in the Python offerings to appear real. Morrissey’s films are a weird blend of the obviously fake (red paint on patently bogus limbs) and the uncomfortably realitic (the eviscerated maid in Flesh for Frankenstein). Later practitoners tried to minimize the hokiness whenever possible.

The most famous master of splatstick is probably Stuart Gordon, whose 1985 Re-Animator is still viewed as the pinnacle of the form—and not without reason. Gordon managed to create a work that was at once one of the grossest and funniest films imaginable. It’s hardly surprising that the film went out without an MPAA rating. The gore was almost non-stop in the film’s horror scenes—and was very nearly matched by its overt sexuality and nudity. When the disembodied—but very much re-animated—head of the film’s villain, Dr. Hill (David Gale), attempts a very graphic “romantic” assault on the naked-and-bound heroine’s (Barbara Crampton) honor, a highpoint of outrageousness was reached that probably hasn’t been outdone in the ensuing 23 years.

Gordon himself has added to the realm of splatstick with From Beyond (1986), The Pit and the Pendulum (1991) and Dagon (2001), but he’s never quite topped Re-Animator, and has never been given his proper due as a filmmaker. The problem seems to be that his films are a little too specialized, since they work both as overt horror and as splatstick—which apparently confuses viewers.

In his wake, there’s the pre-respectable Peter Jackson, who knocked out Bad Taste (1987), Meet the Feebles (1989) and the infamous Dead Alive (or Braindead) (1992) long before going mainstream and working his way to Lord of the Rings fame and fortune. These are over-the-top splatstick with a vengeance. It’s said that Gordon used 50 gallons of fake blood on Re-animator. Jackson supposedly used 500 gallons on Dead Alive. If that’s an overstatement, it’s probably not much of one. Films don’t get any gorier than Jackson’s zombie opus. In fact, no one has even tried to outdo this.

Less gory, but of a not dissimilar nature are Ronny Yu’s Bride of Chucky (1998) and Don Mancini’s Seed of Chucky (2004). The comedy elements that were always inherent in the Chucky character (created by Mancini, who wrote all the films) are brought to the forefront in increasingly clever, funny and, yes, often quite gruesome ways. As with the Gordon films, it’s surprising to find the number of people who don’t seem to understand that the movies are supposed to be funny as well as horrific.

And where, you ask, is traditional horror in all this? Well, it’s there—though maybe it’s not as traditional as it once was. David Cronenberg’s horror pictures are certainly noteworthy examples of the genre in its modern phase. So are some of Tobe Hooper’s films—and Wes Craven’s, for that matter. A case can be made for John Carpenter, too, but don’t expect me to do it. Since the advent of the bloodier, more graphic horror picture, we’ve had not just the ones I’ve mentioned but Brian DePalma’s Carrie (1976), Russell’s Altered States (1980), Gothic (1987), The Lair of the White Worm (1988), Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), Alan Parker’s Angel Heart (1987), William Peter Blatty’s Exorcist III (1990), Guillermo del Toro’s Cronos (1993), Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow (1999) and more. None of these subscribe much to the subtle approach of classic horror, but they’re intelligent, often literate examples of modern horror.

It’s too soon to say whether some of these—and such newer films as Alejandro Amenabar’s The Others (2001), the Hughes Brothers’ From Hell (2001), Christophe Gans’ Silent Hill (2006), J.A. Bayona’s The Orphanage (2007) and Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)—will one day wear the same kind of mantle of classics as that of the “golden age” horrors, but it’ll be interesting to see.

Some of them are deeply flawed, to be sure. Silent Hill, for example, has a clunky opening and a pointless last scene, but it also has moments of intense creepiness and some equally intense over-the-top horror. Time will tell whether that outweighs the flaws. Time is part of what makes us overlook the flaws on more than a few established classics. It may do similar favors for this and other films. One thing I’m fairly certain of—none of these films would even stand a shot at that kind of classic status had they not pushed the boundaries of their genre and what was considered permissible.

 

 

 

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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33 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: A bathful of blood and a bucket of giblets or modern screen horror

  1. Dionysis

    Good article, and brings back many memories of my youth. I grew up in Florida during the 50s and early 60s, and like many, was a dedicated horror and sci-fi buff (still am). I collected Famous Monsters of Filmland (I sure wish I had that collection today), and spent virtually every weekend watching movies (my father managed movie theaters, so I watched anything I wanted free, sometimes several movies per weekend, while also gorging on free popcorn and Cokes, a great life for a movie-loving kid). While I would see all types of movies, any horror flick would see me in the front row (I also had a fondness for sword-and-sandal movies). I guess it was the Hammer series that made the biggest impact on me, but I’d see anything that came along. I recall many of the movies I saw during that time were released by American-International, usually low-budget, hokey movies but still scary to a kid.

    As far as more recent times are concerned, I’ve never cared much for ‘slasher’ movies (the original Halloween being an exception). My own preferences were either classic monsters like vampires, werewolves and the like, as well as ‘giant monsters on a rampage’ types (for example, Ray Harryhausen’s 20 Million Miles to Earth). I recall going to see a non-horror film (The List of Adrian Messenger) simply because it had a scene of a freaky looking man in it. I was indelibly warped by those years, and am thankful for it.

  2. Chip Kaufmann

    It would be quite easy for me to write a tome on this subject having a similar background to Ken’s. I shall refrain though as it would just take too much time and effort to do so.

    I concur with most everything you say and the films you have cited. However THE EXORCIST has always been the Antichrist of horror films to me (forget THE OMEN) for as you stated “it legitimized graphic horror for mainstream audiences” and opened the floodgates for countless other lesser films. It reminded me of what one critic said about the conductor Arturo Toscanini and his literal by the notes interpretation of classical music. It inspired countless others without his talent to reduce and debase his original intent. It also reminded me of my earliest days as a critic for SC Educational Radio and having to sit through the first FRIDAY THE 13th. It wasn’t the film that was scary so much as the audience’s reaction to it especially the male audience. It was like ANIMAL HOUSE for real. I don’t mind gore when there’s something behind it but I’m still a THE CHANGELING, THE OTHERS, THE ORPHANAGE kind of guy.

    Because of that perhaps I have never developed an appreciation of “splatsick” or splatSHTICK as it has now become in my opinion. While the early drive-in films of Herschel Gordon Lewis were unintentionally/intentionally funny, the idea of doing it deliberately has always bothered me. It puts me in the reactionary frame of mind of “It’s setting a bad example” Either most audiences don’t really see the joke or they do which is I find equally disturbing.

    All in all another fine article and it will be interesting to see the responses to it.

  3. Louis

    It puts me in the reactionary frame of mind of “It’s setting a bad example.” Either most audiences don’t really see the joke or they do which is I find equally disturbing.

    You’re right. It is a reactionary point of view. Concerns about movies setting a ‘bad example’ are as old as pictures themselves. For some, a serviceable springboard for arguing a censorship ‘code.’ Then and now.

    Every generation of moviemakers & moviegoers transforms cinematic genres in such a way that perverts said genres’ original intentions and perceptions. Oftentimes this punctuated equilibrium is seen as radical, the very antonym to reactionary (e.g., Westerns and THE WILD BUNCH, released the same year as TRUE GRIT).

    I’m reminded of a prescient line from THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT that goes something like this:

    “People don’t drink the sand ’cause
    they’re thirsty. They drink the
    sand ’cause they don’t know the
    difference.”

    If audiences do, in fact, know the difference—i.e., most audiences do see the joke—then, well, cannot it be said, the joke is in the eye of the beholder and the artist has successfully created that form of expression which they intended? The art has served its purpose.

    Even so, I’m coming at the so-called bad example from the backdoor. If a ‘bad example’ is being set, it’s for cinematic posterity. The only thing that concerns me about this particular issue—or any other such “social responsibility” issue in the movie realm—is the remarkable dearth and/or disregard of and for talent-in-context. Not in all artistic endeavors is it true that the cream, or blood & guts, always rise to the top—be it horror movies, or otherwise. A trip to the multiplex is like walking across a gigantic dune. It’s glorious to gaze over with your eyes. But there’s no water in sight.

  4. arlened

    I have a real love/hate relationship with the slasher/splatter films.

    While I applaud pushing the envelope. after Halloween, I stopped caring about teenagers coupling and getting hacked to graphic bits. The original was amusing, the sequels just weren’t entertaining.

    I truly enjoyed the Hershel Gordon Lewis splatter fests. They were cheesy, poorly acted. poorly lite, just plain poor. But there was a loopy sense of fun to them.

    Gore doesn’t offend me. But it also doesn’t entertain me. I require a bit of plot and character developement even in today’s equivalent of a “B” movie.

  5. Ken Hanke

    my father managed movie theaters, so I watched anything I wanted free

    That was lucky, but I never had much trouble getting to see anything. At the time, admission to the State Theatre in Lake Wales FL was 25 cents for a kid’s ticket. The manager — his last name was Mitchell, I believe — played it up as “the cheapest babysitiing in town.” Back then, no one thought much about leaving a 10-year-old at the movies for four or five hours unattended. I spent a lot of time there. I clearly remember going to a weekday after-school double feature of The Time Travelers and First Men in the Moon (and coming down with the chicken pox somewhere in there), so it wasn’t all horror. Saw a bunch of revival pictures, too — Martin and Lewis and Ma and Pa Kettle, both of which may qualify as horror of a different kind.

    As far as more recent times are concerned, I’ve never cared much for ‘slasher’ movies (the original Halloween being an exception). My own preferences were either classic monsters like vampires, werewolves and the like, as well as ‘giant monsters on a rampage’ types (for example, Ray Harryhausen’s 20 Million Miles to Earth).

    Never really cared for the “giant monsters on a rampage” stuff, though I certainly saw enough of it. Most of the stuff I really, really loved was older than anything I was seeing at the movies. The slasher picture is a rather limited sub-sub-genre that in itself has never done much for me (and I’d include Halloween in that personally), but again I’ve seen an awful lot of examples of it over the years. Still, not all modern horror is comprised of mindless slasher pictures.

  6. Ken Hanke

    It also reminded me of my earliest days as a critic for SC Educational Radio and having to sit through the first FRIDAY THE 13th. It wasn’t the film that was scary so much as the audience’s reaction to it especially the male audience. It was like ANIMAL HOUSE for real.

    I don’t doubt this, though one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen was the utterly pompous John Simon on TV defending Friday the 13th (he even dragged in Grimms’ Fairy Tales) against a fundamentalist preacher. Now, that was far more entertaining than the film, though I do find the movie a fascinating artifact. Of course, the thing is that the audience didn’t make the movie and the movie didn’t itself make that audience what it was. The film — a fairly absurd whodunit wrapped around some gory killings — simply tapped into that audience.

    I don’t mind gore when there’s something behind it but I’m still a THE CHANGELING, THE OTHERS, THE ORPHANAGE kind of guy.

    I think I’m a bit of both — depending on mood and context. While I greatly admire the three titles you cite, I wouldn’t want a steady diet of them. And some of the goriest horror pictures I can think of — Hooper’s Chainsaw 2, Gordon’s The Pit and the Pendulum and Craven’s The People Under the Stairs, for instance — are blistering political statements that are frankly braver than most mainstream films in this regard. Granted, most of Wes Craven’s work is pretty bad, but would any mainstream “straight” film have had its villains modeled on Ronald and Nancy Reagan as he did with People Under the Stairs? Would a mainstream movie have accompanied news footage of Baghdad being bombed during Desert Storm with Penderecki’s “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima” (or expected the audience to get it), and presented this footage as something being used to pacify the title characters, who have had their tongues cut out because they said things that ran counter to the villains’ beliefs?

    It puts me in the reactionary frame of mind of “It’s setting a bad example” Either most audiences don’t really see the joke or they do which is I find equally disturbing.

    Now here we disagree. Splatstick, to me, isn’t a whole lot more than a WB cartoon of violence. I don’t think it sets a bad example — if that should even be a particular concern — because it’s too over-the-top, and while it’s heavy on the gross-out, it’s pretty light on the sadism. I think it’s wrong to assume that the audience for Re-Animator and the audience for Hostel or High Tension are really related. But this gets into a whole different area of intent and perception. I may have said this before, but it’s a bit like my hesitance to strike up a friendship with someone based on a statement that the other person likes The Devils. I mean, I know what The Devils is about and how it’s intended, but I don’t know — without further conversation — whether I’m talking to someone who admires it for what it really is, or who just gets off on naked, bald-headed nuns running wild and scenes of torture. I’m certain such people exist, but I don’t think the film ought not to have been made because of them. Nor, I suspect, do you.

    All in all another fine article and it will be interesting to see the responses to it.

    Thanks. The responses have certainly been interesting so far.

  7. Ken Hanke

    You’re right. It is a reactionary point of view. Concerns about movies setting a ‘bad example’ are as old as pictures themselves. For some, a serviceable springboard for arguing a censorship ‘code.’ Then and now.

    Knowing Chip, I think it unlikely that that’s his intent.

    The question that’s being raised is perhaps whether or not film — or art in general — carries with it a moral responsibility. To some extent, I think it does, though I don’t think something like splatstick is in itself a particularly strong case for the argument. I’m personally far more troubled by films that wallow in sadism for its own sake, that deal in humiliation and cruelty. The recent “torture porn” films are a good case — and I suppose you could say that they are the logicial extension of splatstick. I’m not even sure I could argue that, since I’ve yet to see a film I’d call torture porn that had any sense of humor whatsoever. A bigger problem for me is that I find an awful lot of films that aren’t in the least gory far more morally specious on a thematic basis.

    The only thing that concerns me about this particular issue—or any other such “social responsibility” issue in the movie realm—is the remarkable dearth and/or disregard of and for talent-in-context. Not in all artistic endeavors is it true that the cream, or blood & guts, always rise to the top—be it horror movies, or otherwise.

    That’s probably a given, but it’s also one that’s been around as long as there’ve been movies (and every dramatic art form before it). Don’t misunderstand, I’m not a four-square apologist for splatstick or splatter movies of any kind. Ther are more dire examples in this area than good ones. For every Re-Animator, there are probably six Blood Diners. But again, this isn’t the fault of Re-Animator any more than those that came in his wake are the fault of Toscanini or The Exorcist rip-offs are the fault of The Exorcist.

  8. Great article. I didn’t have access to theaters too much during the 70s, so my education started with Saturday UHF horror movies and reference books. I read about EQUINOX about 15 years before I was able to see it!

    I was a teenager during the mom and pop video store boom in the mid 80s. Fortunately back then, they were scraping the bottom of the barrel to stock the shelves so I was able to see Italian sex comedies, giallo, cannibal films, mondo documentaries etc. I also learned about such “reputable” directors like Ed Wood, Al Adamson, Ray Dennis Steckler as well as the Bergmans and Godards. It was amazing that such wealth of bizarre movies were available to me, and I guess that’s why I now own two stores. Deep down I’m hoping some other teenagers out there will discover our dvd selection and open the Pandora’s box within.

  9. Louis

    You’re right. It is a reactionary point of view. Concerns about movies setting a ‘bad example’ are as old as pictures themselves. For some, a serviceable springboard for arguing a censorship ‘code.’ Then and now.

    “Knowing Chip, I think it unlikely that that’s his intent.”

    Nor is there intention here that one should infer censorship desires there. My point is that the ‘bad example’ argument is a slippery slope because it’s the same starting point for those who are advocating censorship. In that way, it gives credence to moralists that don’t deserve it.

  10. Ken Hanke

    I was a teenager during the mom and pop video store boom in the mid 80s. Fortunately back then, they were scraping the bottom of the barrel to stock the shelves so I was able to see Italian sex comedies, giallo, cannibal films, mondo documentaries etc.

    I was…well, not a teenager during that era, but don’t discount how much more widely known — for better or worse — a lot of that stuff became in just that manner. Prior to that time, the only Dario Argento film I ever saw was Suspiria, which I saw on the big screen because the trailers made it look interesting. (I’m in the minority here, horrowise, but I’m still wondering where that interesting film they advertised is.) VHS and the need for product allowed me to see most of the rest. In fact, I was one of the earlier quasi-supporters of Argento in print, because normally I landed his films to review as one of the “contributing splatterologists” in the two Official Splatter Movie Guides. The odd thing about this was that I was writing positively about Argento, because I found his incoherent story-telling and nonsensical approach amusing — kind of like a stylish Ed Wood (though even Ed had a better grasp of the advantage of a solid ending). Now that I find him being taken serious, I’m more disturbed than amused.

    I also learned about such “reputable” directors like Ed Wood, Al Adamson, Ray Dennis Steckler as well as the Bergmans and Godards. It was amazing that such wealth of bizarre movies were available to me

    I think what’s most interesting — and maybe most productive — about this is that it gives you a broad range of exposure. Only knowing the “standard classics” is awfully limiting. If, for example, your idea of 1940s horror pictures is limited to the Val Lewton productions and doesn’t encompass things like Man-Made Monster, King of the Zombies and Voodoo Man, then you really don’t know 1940s horror. That’s going to be true of any genre in any era. Studying the works of Al Adamson, however, may take it too far.

    Deep down I’m hoping some other teenagers out there will discover our dvd selection and open the Pandora’s box within.

    And that’s a bad thing how?

  11. “And that’s a bad thing how?”

    Not bad at all. We’re happy to stock thousands of titles that we will never break even on. If one person can be turned on to the bizarre films that watched 20 years ago, then I have done my job. As nice as the internet is, you will never find out about everything in a blog, forum or torrent file. There’s an infinite amount of films begging to be discovered.

  12. Ken Hanke

    As nice as the internet is, you will never find out about everything in a blog, forum or torrent file.

    Of course not. I think there’s an inherent problem with the internet, too. And, no, I’m not just referring to its often rampant illiteracy (and worse), but the fact that it too readily allows — even encourages — people not to stray outside a niche. Where it ought by all rights expand your area of interests, it can too easily be too much like one of those peculiar “all Led Zeppelin” radio stations (are any of those still around?). A truly eclectic video emporium is another thing.

  13. david

    “all Led Zeppelin” radio stations (are any of those still around?

    yep. satalite radio. i dont know the station. i was forced to listen to it once.

  14. Ken Hanke

    While I applaud pushing the envelope. after Halloween, I stopped caring about teenagers coupling and getting hacked to graphic bits. The original was amusing, the sequels just weren’t entertaining.

    I’ve never liked the original Halloween. It pretty much bored me in 1978 and it continues to do so — apart from the amiable hamminess of Donald Pleasence. Actually, I find the first sequel a more effective thriller, even if marred by the arbitrary insertion of gross-out shots (apparently demanded by the producer). As far as slasher pictures go, I’ll probably take Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives if I have to pick one, but really modern horror is not all slasher flicks. It’s just that there were so many of them at one point (face it, they cost nothing to make) that it seemed like it.

    But there was a loopy sense of fun to them. To me, they were mostly kind of dull, punctuated with notable moments of tasteless, if not exactly convincing, gore.

    I require a bit of plot and character developement even in today’s equivalent of a “B” movie.

    Let’s be honest here — there’s hardly an character development in 95% of your 1940s Bs either. There are types and there are actors who fit those types and give you the illusion of characters. Hey, it’s Wallace Ford as a wisecracking reporter! Look, it’s Henry Hall as a crusty whatever! The work is done for you — and for them. The problem with much of the later stuff is that there aren’t any actors or types (copulating teens, I suppose, are a type) to fill in the blanks very effectively.

  15. Ken Hanke

    yep. satalite radio. i dont know the station. i was forced to listen to it once.

    Well, that’s moderately depressing.

  16. bobaloo

    Great article Ken, but I’m amazed that, with all the talk of “splatstick”, Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell and the Evil Dead series wasn’t even mentioned.

  17. Ken Hanke

    Nor is there intention here that one should infer censorship desires there. My point is that the ‘bad example’ argument is a slippery slope because it’s the same starting point for those who are advocating censorship. In that way, it gives credence to moralists that don’t deserve it.

    I merely wanted to underscore the point. The problem is, of course, that it’s hard not to address these issues when you feel a line has been crossed. I’m personally much more likely to feel that with a movie like, say, Expelled, which I find a far more dubious proposition than airborn entrails.

  18. Ken Hanke

    Great article Ken, but I’m amazed that, with all the talk of “splatstick”, Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell and the Evil Dead series wasn’t even mentioned.

    Even though I’m personally burned out on the whole Evil Dead thing by this point, the omission wasn’t intentional and had more to do with running out of time than anything else. These are certainly examples of splatstick and famous ones.

  19. Elliot

    If I had read this article this time last year, I probably would’ve lost interest, but a lady I know got me majorly into the genre since then when she recommended Rosemary’s Baby, Suspiria, and The Shining.

    And I’m really glad she did, there’s been no turning back since then. Rosemary’s Baby is now not only my favorite horror film, but my favorite movie period. I am curious, I’ve been reading your reviews since 2001, even after I moved out of state, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard you mention your opinion on that one.

    Great article, though. I’ve got a bunch of new titles to investigate now, and I was happy to see a few familiar ones get mentioned. I’m still exploring all of the hidden gems the genre has to offer, but it’s good to see a film critic appreciate the genre when far too many write it off as baloney without giving it a proper chance. I think there’s a lot of talent to be found in them.

  20. Ken Hanke

    And I’m really glad she did, there’s been no turning back since then. Rosemary’s Baby is now not only my favorite horror film, but my favorite movie period. I am curious, I’ve been reading your reviews since 2001, even after I moved out of state, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard you mention your opinion on that one.

    Brace yourself, I fear. I don’t generally mention it because I’ve simply never been able to warm to it. And bear in mind that this comes from someone who’s pretty keen on Roman Polanski in general — Repulsion, Cul-de-sac, Fearless Vampire Killers, What?, Chinatown, The Tenant, Tess, Bitter Moon, The Ninth Gate all rate fairly high with me. Something about Rosemary’s Baby just leaves me cold. I get the whole idea about the banality of evil, but it just doesn’t work for me. Call it a blind spot.

    I’m still exploring all of the hidden gems the genre has to offer, but it’s good to see a film critic appreciate the genre when far too many write it off as baloney without giving it a proper chance.

    Well, to some degree I understand how that happens. There’s an awful lot of garbage that gets released every year as horror and it drags down the genre as a whole for people. I might counter that there’s a lot of garbage in any genre every year, but I have to realize that there’s less good horror to balance it out — and there’s something uniquely bad about bad horror. It stands out somehow.

    What I find interesting is that very often critics who tend to write off the genre will get all wound up about (or at least be less hard on) movies that I find totally without merit. A recent example is the vegetational horror of The Ruins. It got about a 50-50 split in terms of criticism. Why, I will never know. Apart from some unintentional mirth, I thought it sucked. Take FearDotCom. It’s not a good movie. It got almost universally bad reviews (I think there were two besides mine that weren’t bad). But it’s a lot more interesting failure to me than The Ruins was a “success.” The same folks who went lollipops over the gross-out parody Slither — which I enjoyed — trashed the gross-out parody Seed of Chucky, which I thought the better film. Actually, most genre fans I know like Seed of Chucky. (And, yes, I am friends with the guy who made Seed of Chucky, but I wasn’t at the time I reviewed the film. In fact, I didn’t know him at all.)

  21. Louis

    What I find interesting is that very often critics who tend to write off the genre will get all wound up about (or at least be less hard on)

    Are we talking about horror movies — or some other less-than-reputable form of adult entertainment?

    Forgive me. I couldn’t resist.

  22. Ken Hanke

    Are we talking about horror movies—or some other less-than-reputable form of adult entertainment?

    Sometimes it’s both — neither reputable.

  23. Lawrence of Sylva

    Sir Hanke:

    Very good article.
    I always enjoy your enlightening overview reviews!
    Though your knowledge of movies is truly impressive – I would love to see a review of local theater popcorn someday!
    One movie that did not make your list (perhaps due to science fiction – horror genre separation) is ALIEN.
    To me this movie, as well as the Exorcist, brought old scares up in new ways and really gave the public a shock in their respective times.
    Most people view this movie as good science fiction, and I do agree that it is. But I have always viewed more as one of the scariest monster movies ever made.
    With John Hurt volunteering to “exit” this movie first with a respectable “bathful of blood and bucketfull of giblets” scene, this movie should be on the list for one of the great modern day horror/gore flicks.

  24. Ken Hanke

    Though your knowledge of movies is truly impressive – I would love to see a review of local theater popcorn someday!

    That’s like Matt Mittan occasionally trying to get me to name my favorite moviegoing venue on the radio. I can wiggle out of this one more easily, though, by truthfully stating that I burned out on popcorn a long while back and never touch it.

    With John Hurt volunteering to “exit” this movie first with a respectable “bathful of blood and bucketfull of giblets” scene, this movie should be on the list for one of the great modern day horror/gore flicks

    You’re probably right, since it’s as much a horror film as sci-fi. I have to admit, however, that I burst out laughing at the scene in question when I saw the film when it came out. I think it had less to do with the gore quotient than it had to do with the baby alien looking kind of like a dildo with chrome teeth. Then again, I may have been just too jaded by that time. None of this, of course, changes the fact that, yes, it put the splat in splatter — and it did it to a much broader audience than usually attends a horror picture.

  25. Elliot

    Alien’s great but it’s totally true. The alien’s head always reminded me of a pecker.

    The sexual imagery of the movie is pretty alarming at times though when you get right down to it. The facehugger essentially giving its hosts a deepthroat comes to mind. And the ships themselves are very womblike. Having this giant penis-headed alien running around inside… you could say the subtext of the film is all about violation.

  26. Ken Hanke

    Having this giant penis-headed alien running around inside… you could say the subtext of the film is all about violation.

    You could indeed. You could get yourself a good scholarly article going on the topic, too, were you so inclined.

  27. Lawrence of Sylva

    Ken and Elliot:

    Leave it both of you to take my innocent little comments about ALIEN and turn it into sexual allegory.
    The depravity of modern-day movie reviewers is obviously limitless.
    Sounds like you both need dates!

  28. Ken Hanke

    Leave it both of you to take my innocent little comments about ALIEN and turn it into sexual allegory.

    Good heavens, I could do that with less material than was at hand here!

    The depravity of modern-day movie reviewers is obviously limitless.

    Well…yeah.

  29. irelephant

    The Others, From Hell, and Sweeney Todd are already classics in my estimation. All three affected me greatly. Also, I’d put Pan’s Labyrinth in the mix as an instant classic of modern horror.

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