Dear Cinemasins Jeremy – On Horror

Sitting here listening to this video on the Dear Hollywood spinoff of Cinemasins has caused me to impulsively create in prose my open response as an unrelenting connoisseur of horror – in spite of really it not being recommended to take cinemasins seriously as a former of critical analysis, as there’s a significant amount of points here I disagree with and the rest I roll my eyes at. So, let me go ahead and do that.

Dear Cinemasins Jeremy,

…. You’re not wrong when you’re observing how a lot of people have bemoaned the state of modern horror films. It’s true. There’s a lot of bad horror movies out there. A significant amount.

But, that’s nothing new nor nothing old to horror.

There was just as much crap back then as there is now. The test of time has just been able to sift through the crap cleanly so that all that remains in the canon consciousness are pretty effective works like Evil Dead II, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Wicker Man. The same will happen (and has already been happening) to modern horror cinema. Nobody remembers Strangeland or Urban Legends, they remember The Blair Witch Project and Audition.

I also think you may be just thinking of American Filmmaking (in fact, you’re named Dear Hollywood for a reason), because let me tell you, internationally there’s been some good stuff shaking… The Orphanage, The Descent, Let the Right One In, 28 Days Later…, Shaun of the Dead, The Others and Antichrist (ok, Antichrist is pushing it since a lot of people hate it, but hey I love it) are among the films outside of America that pop in my mind and that have remained in the main consciousness have proven to be entertaining pieces of work and effective pieces of horror cinema. What’s more, they’ve all been acclaimed for other factors than just being able to scare people – their writing, direction and acting have put them in the forefront.

The other thing is that this surplus of bad movies is present every damn where. There’s no genre that you can’t see a relevant increase in subpar entertainment. You get bargain bin action movies starring C-grade stars all the time, just pass by your local Walmart. You get empty romantic comedies with the same ups and downs, just browse Netflix. There is a lot of factors a drama has to work on to be compelling without its own hook, which is why we have a bunch that don’t really have anything to them except soap opera levels of emotional manipulation.

That’s how movies work. You have a whole lot of bad and so you have to find the diamonds in the rough if you actually want a good time.

But, I digress. It worries me that you could not be bothered to be reminded of The Conjuring, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, The Lords of Salem, The Devil’s Rejects, Grindhouse, Drag Me to Hell, Paranormal Activity (strictly the first) or The Blair Witch Project when naming recent horror movies (using your mention of 1996’s Scream – a movie I love but pretty self-congratulatory and semi-annoying – as an end) worth a damn. Because they sure were. One could easily argue the latter two were a fucking phenomenon in recent cinema history (albeit more from advertising than the actual still fantastic content of the movie), so bad they broke the mold. Hell, even the recent remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Dawn of the Dead proved capable films (but only THOSE remakes. I shouldn’t need to say but just in case).

And you’re also not wrong that some horror movies will follow a formula. That’s just how movies roll again, though. Can you name me a noir film that doesn’t follow a strict formula? A romantic comedy? An action film? A Disney film even? Coherent storytelling is structured as it is, end of story, and how to define a movie depends on what you decide to embed into that structure. And if you want your movie to be recognizable as a work, you’re gonna have put in a lot of recognizable motifs, themes and devices.

Which doesn’t defend the formula.

Instead, movies that subvert formulas are prevalent, but a lot of them are able to do that effectively by actively participating in the formula first. You gotta learn the rules before you can break them and an audience friendly film is going to establish those rules as if you didn’t know them before.

Or movies that disguise their formula. They are around to. Yeah, once you get out of the theater and look back at the film, you’ll find a lot more of the formula sticking out, but when you’re watching the movie, it’s at least digestible. You’re not looking at the strings as much.

Now, your customized Ten Step Program to Fixing the Horror Genre is something I’m going to have to approach one by one, but let me just say, even though you’ve graciously given it for free, I wouldn’t give two cents to it. Or one cent. Or the lowest possible currency imaginable (I like to think it’s Goodwill credit). Or the lowest valuable thing imaginable (I like to think that’s the rubber used to make Crocs or Juggalo saliva). So let’s go:

1 – “No More Jump Scares”

You’re right. The jump scares have been overused and need to go. But they are not a bad device in themselves. The problem is that we’ve had horror directors over use to the point that now they just don’t work as well anymore. See, the way a jump scare needs to work is that it is a climax or catharsis of tension. The scene builds up to a point where the audience is on the edge of their seat and right when it builds to the pinnacle: the jump scare comes out. Formulaic, but I’ve already addressed that.

Movies either don’t bother doing that anymore or overfuckinguse it. They just have a pop-out pop out its thing just because they think it’s how scary works. No, it’s not.

It’s a tool. Use it right. You wouldn’t eat soup with a fucking fork unless you’re as awesome as I am.

As you put in better words than I could have, the jump scare has become the horror equivalent of the fart joke. I dislike using the term cheap thrills, but that’s what a jump scare is. There are many more ways to frighten someone. Why do you think Stephen King, Edgar Allen Poe and Clive Barker were able to shoot through stardom? You can’t put jump scares in a book.

Unless it’s a pop up book.

2 – “Let’s torture torture”

I also agree with this.

Torture porn has become the new slasher film. It became a popular trend and defined 00s horror just as slashers defined 80s horror. It also got to this point for the same reasons as slashers: Torture porn’s cheap, it’s easy to make and it thrives on exploitation. And I need to look again at Audition (as it seems to be the only one that has been any good – Maybe Passion of the Christ if you’re into that sort of thing), but there hasn’t been any that have been good or had any substance beyond just showing people losing their limbs and lives carelessly (the one exception to the “no substance” argument is A Serbian Film, which has a surprisingly self-aware theme. But it’s also still not good). Saw, Hostel, The Human Centipede, they don’t even try to thrill us so much as utilize scenarios and compositions that, in the hands of directors like the Farrelly Brothers, would probably come across as gross-out humor.

Torture porn either has to grow up or go home.

NOTE: I just realized how semi-hypocritical I am here – the short story I’m writing (and looking to write as a short screenplay) is a noir that largely features the getaway driver lead character being beaten and tortured by his former accomplices as he tries to rescue a kidnapping victim he was involved in before having a change of heart. It’s essentially torture noir.

3 – “People Love Tits”

I’m pretty sure this is a joke.

But I still can’t help but really wonder why you don’t see that the utilization of gratuitous and unnecessary nudity and sex is part of what brings modern horror down the drain. They are like the idiotic comedy moments of Michael Bay’s Transformers movies, narrative deadends just to add more unnecessary exploitation that really doesn’t give me pleasure anyway.

4 – “Watch Alien

Agreed. One of the best movies I’ve ever seen.

It’s also jampacked with jump scares. 80% of the movie’s scares are jump scares.

… I don’t think you’ve ever watched the movie if you’ve included points 1 and 4 in the same video.

5 – “Watch The Shining

… Ok, while I’m still extremely happy with the recommendation, I think it’s kind of weird to just say horror movies should base themselves on movies considered the greatest in their genre. It’s not that it’s too high a bar (which, when you’re comparing your movie to Alien, fuck yeah it is) but that there shouldn’t be a bar, period. It’s counter-productive to claim that your genre sucks because it follows a formula and then claim that “ok, you gotta make your movie just like this.”

That said, neither Alien nor The Shining are perfect movies. I know people who don’t like the movies. I know people who can name pretty spot-on flaws with the movie. Hell, I can name flaws with The Shining and I fucking love the movie, I’d just as quickly give it a 10/10.

6 – “Monsters in Moderation”

I really take it you haven’t been watching horror films in a while, because we do have a whole lot of “humans-as-monsters” storylines and a significant amount of them have not been any real good unless the idea of the “horror of humans” is more subtle than just as self-damning as The Village, The Last House on the Left or The Host (of course, the difference is The Host is an amazing movie). The monster movies have been significantly subdued for the latest serial killer chase or home invasion. Look, we just got back from the year of The Purge and You’re Next, both disappointing films while Evil Dead and The Conjuring both swept the floor – and you know what the dirty trick is? It’s that Evil Dead and The Conjuring make a shock out of revealing the evil in man with the supernatural element, not just making the malevolent spirits the monsters. Shit, the same is done in Alien and The Shining themselves. In fact, most horror movies thrive on the “humans are a lot worse than the monster” sort of storytelling more as a thematic factor than an out-and-out plot device. The zombie genre lives on it. Let me direct you to the classic literature piece “I Am Legend” by Richard Matheson (which the movie fucked up so you MUST read the book to get what I’m referring to) or the not-so-classic literature piece “This Book Is Full of Spiders, Seriously Dude, Don’t Touch It” by David Wong.

7 – “Eat Me”

I don’t even get it. Is this supposed to be humor?

8 – “Blood and Gore Do Not Equal Horror”

Again, we’re on the same wavelength here. Many of the lackluster horror films these days have outright denied any real scares, by claiming “but look how brutal and gory we are.”

That’s not scary. That’s just more empty exploitation and just as tasteless.

9 – “Stop screenwriting through sound effects”

I vehemently disagree with this point, it’s probably the biggest point I disagree with in the video (except maybe 7, but I don’t even know if that was a point is why). It’s also points like these that tell me why the guy doesn’t make movies. Horror – movies in general, but especially horror movies – are not just about what you can show the audience, but about how you can establish an atmosphere with the audience, get them immersed. Sound is one of the most neglected factors in a movie that when it’s used properly I can’t handle it, I have euphoria. I got more joy out of Gravity from its fucking sound work than its AMAZING VISUALS CAUSE IT WAS GRAVITY.

Bad sound mixing is on the part of the filmmaker, rather than the genre, but really when you’re mixing room tones and wind and other atmospheric sounds together alongside an empty hallway or a door, it mixes in a surrounding feeling of foreboding and dread that you can’t get unless its done perfectly.

Remember recommending The Shining?

75% of that effect?

Sound mixing and sound editing.

I now think you have not seen The Shining either.

10 – “Stop Making Horror Films for 10 Years”

Fuck no. Fuck you. Fuck off. Grow the fuck up. Fucking watch something else. You wouldn’t tell action movies to stop making action movies for 10 years just because the only amazing ones that came around in a while were The Dark Knight, Ong-Bak, Fast & Furious (and not even the series, just the last two movies), Haywire and The Raid movies.

You want to know how to fix horror movies?

This guy on reddit basically gave the right idea.

Lessen the budget. Movies are made by studios to make back double their budget and studios have kind of been putting a bit too much money in their horror properties?

So how can they attract the biggest audience possible to get their money back and then some?

They keep diluting the horror factor. They keep audience pandering, like how recommending Alien and The Shining and saying “Everybody loves tits” was audience pandering in this video.

So cut off their money. Just cut them off so that they don’t need to worry so much about getting everybody to see it.

I mean, come on, you can make horror films very cheap and easy and still be effective. Filmmakers like Moustapha Akkad, John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, Oren Peli, Sam Raimi and Don Coscarelli knew this. They had no problem with it.

You don’t need to make good horror movies. Because it seems the idea of making horror is something you’re focusing too much on that your brain has blood vessels popping.

Just focus on making a good movie, whether or not it be horror. Clean up your game.

Ok, it’s good to finally have that off my chest.

Sincerely, Salim…

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