Readers Beware! Turn Back If You Don’t Want To See The Horrors That Lie Within! (P.S. NSFW)
A time where our cinematic subconscious is haunted with thoughts about men with knife hands, little girls possessed by the devil and the occasional guy in a hockey mask chasing you with machete.
No movie genre is more synonymous with Halloween than horror. I recently had a chance to chat with horror movie aficionado, Rue Morgue writer & curator of Retro Mania at the Hyland: Jeremy Hobbs.
What is it about the horror genre that appealed to you in the first place?
I think there’s an immediacy in horror films that allows people to have the kind of raw, visceral experience that wouldn’t be possible in a film bogged down by too much cerebral or intellectual content. Which is not to say that horror films can’t be smart, but stylistically they’re often much more simple and direct.
They rush directly to the fear centres of the brain, and induce a very primal fight-or-flight type of chemical response.
I think a lot of people are closet adrenaline junkies, and horror films allow them to vicariously explore situations and scenarios that would be far too dangerous to actually experience in real life. Intrigue, without the possibility of actual injury.
What was the first horror movie you saw and how did it affect you afterwards?
Assuming that Ghostbusters doesn’t count, the first genuine horror film I remember watching is The Exorcist: Part III. This was back in the early days of TMN: The Movie Network, and since I had not yet convinced my parents to upgrade to pay cable, I originally had to watch it through a scrambled channel. To this day I find the third Exorcist film to be the scariest of the franchise.
Critically speaking, it’s not as “good” as its predecessor – however it’s a hell of a lot weirder and creepier. It was directed by William Peter Blatty, who wrote the novel the original film was based on. It contains what is quite possibly the most well-orchestrated jump scare of all time.
What horror movies would you recommend for anybody trying to introduce somebody to the genre?
For the uninitiated, I’d probably start with something light. You never know what anyone’s personal level of tolerance is. So I’d choose something that’s scary yet not super gory.
John Carpenter’s Halloween is perfect example of a horror film that delivers all the necessary thrills and chills without relying on excessive gore or bloodshed. The most important element of a horror film is creating proper mood and atmosphere.John Carpenter’s Halloween has it in spades.
Carpenter also composed the film’s chilling score, which (alongside The Exorcist and Psycho) is probably one of the genre’s most memorable offerings. Peter Medak’s The Changeling and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining are also terrific examples of effective horror films that favour tone and style over extreme violence.
What in your estimation is the greatest horror movie of all time?
All of the classics are classics for a reason. Films like Psycho, Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, The Shining, and The Thing are all stellar examples of the genre.
Personally I would probably choose The Exorcist, simply because it hasn’t lost any of its potency in nearly 50 years. It can still go head-to-head with even the most deranged contemporary horror films.
There are things in that film that are still shocking today, and there’s no way some of those scenes could be made in today’s ultra-PC sociopolitical climate. The scene where 12-year-old Regan is raping herself with a crucifix, screaming “Let Jesus fuck you!!!” has to be one of the most demented things ever committed to celluloid.
My personal favourite horror movie is Roman Polanski’s The Tenant.
It’s hard to mention Polanski these days without getting taken to task – but excluding any of his personal baggage this film is a deliciously creepy little gem. It’s less recognized but in my opinion far more interesting than his infinitely more popular Rosemary’s Baby. Whereas Rosemary’s Baby deals with more recognizable tropes, the horrors of The Tenant are far more indefinable. It’s also one of those films that gets richer (and stranger) with each subsequent viewing.
At first it comes across as a supernatural thriller. Upon each subsequent re-watch it suddenly morphs into a psychological drama, and then a twisted black comedy.
As the final installment in Polanski’s Apartment Trilogy (which also includes Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby), The Tenant also features gorgeously muted cinematography by Bergman alumnus Sven Nykvist and a chilling score by Philipe Sarde. Bruce Campbell recently told me this was a favourite of his as well. As any horror fan worth their salt will tell you: Ash knows best.
It’s also worth mentioning that a lot of great horror films have emerged over the last few years. Films like Let the Right One In, Kill List, The Babadook, Goodnight Mommy, It Follows, The Blackcoat’s Daughter, The Witch, and the retro-styled television series Stranger Things are well worth checking out.
It Follows is a real throwback to those super fun chillers that were so popular back in the early ‘80s. Stuff like A Nightmare on Elm Street and the films of John Carpenter. It gets my personal vote for best (or at least most fun) horror film of the last decade.
A lot of unconventional horror films have also emerged over the past few years. The Cabin in the Woods is a highly amusing meta-deconstruction of the “deadly camping trip” genre. Only Lovers Left Alive is a truly unique “intellectual vampire film”. And What We Do in the Shadows is an absolutely hilarious This Is Spinal Tap-style mockumentary about a bunch of old school vampires rooming together in a contemporary New Zealand flat. That one comes highly recommended.
What was the last scene in a horror movie that made you say “That’s F’d Up!”?
I suppose the obvious answer would be the notorious “newborn porn” scene in Srđan Spasojević’s indescribably controversial A Serbian Film. There were a couple of scenes in Lars von Trier’s Antichrist that literally made me drop my jaw. Though I have to say the crown jewel would probably be Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs. Not one specific scene, but the just whole thing in general.
To this day it’s the most disturbing film I’ve ever seen, and the only film I’ve ever almost walked out of because it was getting under my skin to such a degree. And it wasn’t due to the film’s graphic violence or abundant gore, but rather the psychological and philosophical implications of what the film was saying. So if the goal of a horror film is to truly horrify, then this one sits at the top of the mountain.
See also: Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo’s Inside (aka À l’intérieur).
You recently helped produce the David Lynch Documentary “David Lynch: The Art Life”. What did your work on the documentary teach you about the film industry as a whole?
It taught me that the film industry (or at least the independent film industry) moves incredibly slowly. I got involved with this project sometime back around 2011, and the film was finally completely and released this year. So that’s seven years that I’ve personally been involved, but they’d already been working on it before I came along.
Lynch talks about how it took him six years to make Eraserhead, so I guess it’s fitting that it took us even longer to make a film about him making Eraserhead.
It also taught me that not everyone in the American film industry is a Harvey Weinstein-type villain who treats upstarts poorly and favours revenue over quality. The directors of this Lynch doc have been nothing but supportive and kind to me, and they even included my name in the opening credits of the film.
David Lynch has been a huge personal hero of mine since watching the original run of Twin Peaks back in 1990, so being involved with this project has literally been a dream come true for me – and the fact that our modest little film has been accepted into the legendary Criterion Collection is just icing on an already incredibly sweet cake.
One Last Question…
What’s your favourite Christmas movie?
Hands-down and without question my favourite Christmas movie would be Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s one of those beloved films that people had been raving about my entire life. Yet every time I would flip past it on basic cable it looked like the most boring thing imaginable.
I didn’t actually sit down and force myself to watch it until I was in my late twenties. I’m so glad I did because I was it utterly disarming. I don’t usually cry in movies, but by the end of this thing I was weeping like a schoolgirl with a scraped knee.
I don’t think most people understand how truly dark this film is.
It’s basically about a man who realizes that every dream he’s had in his entire life has been squandered by his own innate desire to help out his family and community. His mounting financial problems eventually drive him to attempt suicide on Christmas Eve.
Then in proper Dickensian fashion his bumbling guardian angel appears to show him that he really did have this incredible life that he’d simply failed to notice. The entire thing plays like a two-hour Twilight Zone episode. Adding to the madness is the fact that Jimmy Stewart, in both physical appearance and vocal timbre, is a dead ringer for a young David Lynch.
It’s one of those films that actually earns its reputation, yet not in the sappy ways one might assume.