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Existence is Horror: Has Horror Film Finally Stopped Sucking?

Rick Giordano, far left, of The Lion's Daughter
Rick Giordano, far left, of The Lion’s Daughter

Rick Giordano screams in St. Louis sludge outfit The Lion’s Daughter. Their last two albums, 2013’s A Black Sea and 2016’s Existence is Horror are both excellent. Giordano’s other passion, though, is horror film. This Friday the 13th, he writes about the genre’s creative drought in the late ’90s and it’s recent renaissance. If you’re looking to watch something frightening with someone you dig on tonight, here’s some options.

As a child of the 1980s, I was raised on all the horror film greats; The Thing, Reanimator, Return of the Living Dead, An American Werewolf in London.

Something happened around the mid 1990s; new horror movies turned into total dog shit. There were of course a few exceptions. Candyman, Event Horizon, In the Mouth of Madness, and Demon Knight (the last great practical effects movie of the era) were all excellent. But the majority of films became Scream-esque thrillers featuring cute boys and girls from whatever random WB series. Monsters, gore and anything resembling the slightest imagination were nowhere to be found on all the dull new floating-head movie posters. “Here are five better-looking-than-you bozos looking bored but slightly concerned.”

Fucking rad, no thanks.

The 2000s weren’t much better. Besides a few imports, stateside releases primarily consisted of “found footage” boredom and lots of spooky little kids. Little kids are not scary. Kick ’em in the fucking head. End of movie. Even the highly anticipated new George Romero zombie flicks, Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead were pretty underwhelming. Cloverfield and the Dawn of the Dead remake were both great, but also overshadowed by crap and those silly clusterfuck Saw movies.

I should mention at this point that I’m really just going to focus on American films here, because other countries didn’t really fuck up the genre the way that we did. We sure did a great job of making some turd remakes of their films though.

I’m not sure how or why (you do the research, I’m busy reading Dave Mustaine interviews and peeing my pants), but around 2010 things started to get a lot less shitty. On one end of the spectrum we got Beyond the Black Rainbow that year; a beautiful mind-bending Kubrick-like acid trip with a killer synth soundtrack and two heshers jamming a Venom cassette, and on the other end we got Piranha 3D, with dick-eating fish and a hefty dose of T&A [Staff writer Richard Street-Jammer will kill me if I don’t mention that Gianna Michaels has a cameo in this film – Ed.]

The semi-satire and total bat shit crazy final act of Cabin in the Woods was a refreshing change of pace in 2011, and the totally over the top Human Centipede II was pretty entertaining. Any movie that’s all black and white except for brown poop hitting the screen is a winner in my book.

The following year we got the long awaited Alien prequel/sequel/but-sorta-not-really, Prometheus, with lots of weird creatures and a goddamn laser-abortion machine. John Dies in the End from Don Coscarelli, the director of cult classic Phantasm. was also a short run but excellent theatrical release that same year.

I wanted to avoid talking about remakes here, but 2013’s Evil Dead was a nice surprise. I still can’t believe a movie that brutal and that gory was playing in mainstream theaters in towns everywhere. Bad Milo was a fun movie about a monster living inside a man’s butt (seriously), and as much as I’m not an Eli Roth fan, it was good to see a new cannibal movie hit the screens with Green Inferno.

The Babadook and Starry Eyes made 2014 quite the solid year. The former being a genuinely spooky, disturbing take on the classic boogeyman story, and the latter a synth-heavy nightmare of fame and insecurity. It Follows [My favorite American horror film released in my lifetime. – Ed.], The Town that Dreaded Sundown meta-sequel, and New Zealand’s Housebound (foreign, but too great not to mention) all made this year the best in some time for new horror.

Last year we saw the release of Bone Tomahawk. Cannibals and Kurt Russell? Yeah, I’m sold. The horror-western features a gruesome kill scene that’s especially hard to watch if you have any sort of regard for your own genitalia. Krampus was the first Christmas horror film since the Santa Clause 2… (okay Satan’s Slay and all those Gingerdead Man movies count I suppose), Freaks of Nature was a horror comedy that was actually funny thanks to Bob Odenkirk and the rest of the cast, and watching Keanu Reeves stumble his way through Knock Knock was even funnier.

But if Last Action Hero took place during Friday the 13th and was actually a good movie, you’d have what I consider the highlight of the year: The Final Girls. It’s a smart and creative play on the classic slasher films of the ’80s with clever twists and turns, actual interesting characters and plenty of great kills.

So far in 2016 10 Cloverfield Lane has been the highlight for me. Mostly psychological horror until the what-the-fuck ending, but an intense and unsettling film throughout. I’ll admit I haven’t seen The Witch yet (I thought the trailer looked stupid and I didn’t have $8 for a ticket that week) but I’ve heard that’s it’s actually quite good. The Invitation is a new film out there by a director from St. Louis, so my hometown pride may give it a slight advantage, but it’s a movie I highly recommend. To tell you anything about it would spoil it, and I suggest going in cold for this one. We shall see what the rest of the year brings. Hopefully more than Sharknado 4.

So sure, there have been a mountain of remakes lately, more good than bad (I can’t even talk about the Nightmare on Elm Street remake without foaming at the mouth and smashing everything in sight). But for the most part things are getting creative and interesting again. The spooky little kid and found footage crap (as well as too many damn zombies) is still out there for the casual horror fan, AKA teenagers, but we are finally getting some solid new horror hitting the screen. About fucking time.

—Rick Giordano

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