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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

21st Century Terrors, Part 7: 2006

If the early to mid '00s can be seen as a period of growth, rebirth and renewal for horror films, then it's entirely possible that 2006 was the year the horror bubble burst.

The media and the masses had witnessed the ascendancy of the genre into the mainstream, and Hollywood was apparently watching as well. As with many things, everybody wanted to jump on the bandwagon, and this, dear readers, is when things tend to get run into the ground. Seeing the success of horror at the box office, lots of people wanted, to quote Vic Tayback, a piece of the action.

Naturally, the conclusion lots of folks jump to when a phenomenon like this occurs is that what worked before will work again, and to an even greater level. But this discounts the law of diminished returns, and what tends to happen is that an initial good idea gets beaten to death (sort of like the point I've been making in the past three paragraphs).

To put an even finer point on things, 2006 was the year the infamous remake craze really went off the rails. What started as a semi-interesting concept, taking classic horror flicks of recent decades and retooling them for today's horror audience, suddenly became an exercise in extreme banality. I give you, for example, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning--a prequel to a remake, and the movie that let us know that the only reason Leatherface likes to dress in women's clothes and eat people is that he was picked on in the schoolyard.

We had films like When a Stranger Calls, The Omen and Black Christmas, slick redos of '70s horror fare tweaked for the YouTube generation, in the process completely missing the point of what made the originals work. Critically/commercially successful remakes of recent years, things like Dawn of the Dead, for example, seemed to have opened the floodgates for those who believed that just about any horror property of the past was fair game. And as the ensuing years wore on--and right into the present day--the practice continues, much to the consternation of genre die-hards everywhere.

But chief among all of these, and more than deserving of being singled out, would be the poster movie for horrifically bad remakes--The Wicker Man. This unintentionally perversely funny disaster of a film seemed to be the distillation of everything that was going wrong regarding Hollywood's new obsession with remaking horror movies. Every ounce of what made the immortal original film work so well seemed to have been scientifically removed, with the gripping Edward Woodward replaced by Nic Cage doing a caricature of himself, and the austere and foreboding Chris Lee replaced by a granola-crunching Ellen Burstyn.

On the positive side, the movie became a kind of camp classic in the MST3K mode, an instant cult fave for those who simply can't get enough of really bad movies. But the sad thing was that it was intended to be a serious, modern revision of a thriller revered by filmgoers for years. In other words, it was the product of folks completely out of touch with the genre they were representing, and the audience they were aiming it at.

That said, one particular remake of 2006, in all fairness, did stand out from the rest, gaining a bit more of a fan following, and that was Alexandre Aja's intense retelling of the Wes Craven chestnut The Hills Have Eyes. Some--this blogger included--even declared that one to be superior to the original. But sadly, Hills Have Eyes would prove to be part of a dwindling exception.

And if remakes weren't derivative enough, the sequel engine continued to churn 'em out, as well. Saw and Final Destination, two of the decade's chief horror franchises, put out their third chapters in 2006. The Grudge (in itself an American remake of an Asian film), also put out a sequel as well, one which was poorly received, to say the least.

But don't let it be said that 2006 didn't nevertheless offer some worthwhile stuff in the way of actual, original (or reasonably original) material and ideas. After all, 2006 was also the year of the deviantly funny Slither, and Poultrygeist. Love them or hate them, there were plenty of fans who would take them any day of the week over another dull remake/sequel.

A few of these non-remake/sequels particularly stand out. One of these is Hatchet. Putting my own personal preferences aside, Adam Green's Hatchet was a direct response to the glut of unimaginative stuff being foisted upon the populace, and admittedly tried to do something new--a fresh take on the horror movie sensibilities of the 1980s. Part Scream, part Rob Zombie. The buzz on the film was tremendous, and even though fans were divided between those who dug the film's quirky approach and those who found it a rather overhyped affair, it certainly got fans talking.

Another of these was Fido, a Canadian export which proved that despite the well-worn path carved by the likes of Return of the Living Dead and Shaun of the Dead, there was still great stuff to be mined in the subgenre of zombie comedy. Grafting the Romero mythos onto a retro-1950s aesthetic, Fido was somehow able to take a bunch of derivative sources and synthesize them into a truly fun and original idea. In a year in which horror seemed to be losing its creative way to a degree, Fido was a glimmer of hope.

And thirdly, from across the Pacific came The Host, a powerful reinvention of the old-school kaiji subgenre from South Korea. The most fascinating giant monster picture to come along in years, The Host managed to pack a terrific punch without becoming self-referential or relying on nostalgia for or knowledge of the lengthy tradition of Asian monster movies that had come before. It also pretty much directly led to the American marketing barrage known as Cloverfield.

Responding to the need for originality, albeit ignoring the need for quality, the After Dark Horrorfest series would also kick off in 2006. Yes, 2006 was the year that gave us "8 Films to Die For". The most widely distributed "filmfest" package of its kind, After Dark Horrorfest would assemble eight films from independent filmmakers, and grant them wide distribution across America.

It was a testament to the box office clout of horror that such a distribution deal was able to be struck, but with films like Penny Dreadful, The Gravedancers and Wicked Little Things, it became clear that for the most part they were typical direct-to-video specials. Nevertheless, the After Dark Horrorfest continues to this day, and is a viable conduit for B-horror flicks to still reach the public in a theatrical format.

The horror movie business may have begun to eat itself in 2006, but it was far from out of steam. Complaining or not, fans continued to turn out in droves, and the sheer number of projects was staggering. Although the horror bubble may arguably have burst, there would still be some major twists and turns in store before the end of the decade.

Also in 2006:
  • Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
  • Black Sheep
  • Night of the Living Dead: 3-D
  • See No Evil
  • Silent Hill
  • Snoop Dogg's Hood of Horror
  • Turistas
Part 1: 2000
Part 2: 2001
Part 3: 2002
Part 4: 2003
Part 5: 2004
Part 6: 2005


Christopher Zenga said...

All I can say is this,

Studios will always try to make the next big thing, and with the right marketing strategies they will attract enough at the box office to make another 7, next... big... things! These will all equally suck, but the boys and ghouls will attend because they will figure that " THIS, next big thing HAS to be better than the last one!" and so goes the cycle. I HAVE to believe that every now and again we will get an original "take" on a classic idea like Fido or Zombieland, Host or 30 days of night and they will wow the pants off me. And I will be the first to admit, I have been let down more than I have been rewarded by recent horror films, but I will keep attending films that are marketed well in hopes that they will produce ( The Wolfman, I'm looking at you) because if I loose my DESIRE to see a good monster film, then I've lost a large portion who I am entirely.

Later days,


the jaded viewer said...

Most excellent post B-Sol. The Hills Have Eyes remake put Aja on the map (sure he made High Tension but not alot of people saw it)

A couple of other notables that came out of 2006 are Severance, Feast, Hard Candy, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. (I think these may be 2005, not sure)

With Wicker Man came Snakes on a Plane. Bad movies to MST3K.

Thank the horror gods for Hatchet.

forestofthedead said...

Great post sir. An awesome installment in a look back at, holy crap it was four years ago.

B-Sol said...

Thanks for those additional titles, Jaded!
And Forest, I can't believe it's been six years, either...

RayRay said...

Excellent post, as usual. I was pleasantly surprised by Silent Hill, which was weird and scary and which did not pull many punches. But you are correct when you essentially imply that 2006 was a year where the horror film industry was coming close to jumping the shark [once again].

I am sure I have said this before, but long ago, during the decline of the Western Roman Empire new ideas - science, philosophy, literature - stopped being made. Instead, they began to copy the past, rewriting the hits, like Homer, Aristotle, Pliny, Livy, etc. With the overabundance of cheap remakes I often think that comparisons between our culture and Ancient Rome are more true than not.

B-Sol said...

Very interesting point, Ray. I was fascinated to learn that during the Middle Ages, original ideas were essentially frowned upon for writers.

The idea was that you were pompous to think that your own thoughts and ideas were as valuable as those of the ancients. It was essentially believed that they had already come up with all the great ideas, and all you could do was comment on it.

That's why writers like Chaucer (and even Shakespeare a little later) didn't really invent their stories from scratch, but rather adapted them from much, much older tales. To do otherwise would've been considered arrogant.

I Like Horror Movies said...

Glad to see THE HOST and FIDO receive proper recognition in a year chocked full of cheap remake cashins, another great post B-Sol!

Still keep posting my comments into the question section by mistake =D

B-Sol said...

Don't worry Carl, you'll get the hang of it!

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