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Reel Dread
Zeitgeist Showdown!

By Desmond Reddick
27 August 2007 It is an interesting time in the horror genre right now. It might have more to do with my heightened awareness of genre conventions or it may be that the Internet has laid the entire genre bare, but we are at a time when we can almost predict the zeitgeist for horror films. "Torture porn" has come and gone, so what's the next trend Hollywood will exploit? Let's take a look.

As mentioned in an earlier edition of Reel Dread, "torture porn" is nothing more than a modernized / tamer exploitation film. As anyone can tell you, the genre's zeitgeist is cyclical in nature. The early 80s gave us werewolves before vampires, child-friendly monster flicks, then zombies and on to sci-fi / horror before wallowing for a long time in slashers. All these, of course have seen the light at least once since then as well. Now that "torture porn" is dead and buried, what well-traveled genre trope will resurface next? I see one of two options: the monster movie and the slasher.

Before I make a case for each of the subgenres, I suppose I should mention how it is we are currently able to predict the zeitgeist. Anyone can tell you that as far as artistic movements go, North America is rarely on the cutting edge. Take fashion for example: Europe is always a barometer for what will be "hot" in a month or two, right? This is a good analogy for how horror works as well. But, it is only recently that we have been able to see foreign films and independent films thanks to the Internet. The recent mass of Japanese remakes is a perfect example of this.

The availability of these films has opened everyone's eyes to how other countries make scary movies, and it has obviously had an influence on those eyes. Other countries go through their own cycles as well; it's only that we are a few steps behind.

So I will be looking at the emergence of the new subgenre in relation to foreign and independent films that have recently come out as I try and decide where the genre is headed in the coming year or two.

The monster movie and by that I mean all other monsters besides the regular vampires, werewolves and zombies is one of the options I'm putting forth. It has the least amount of evidence to back it, but a recent phenomenon makes it the most likely of the two in my eyes. The recent American release of the Korean film The Host showed everyone that giant sea monsters weren't dead. There hasn't, in my opinion, been an Asian film that has captured American viewers like this since Godzilla: King of the Monsters (for you purists out there, America has only recently been able to see the original Gojira film which is why I went with the American title). Before you get up in arms about Ringu and Ju-on, remember that those films really all seemed to work together in their infiltration of America. And really, how many general film viewers even knew Ringu existed let alone watched it before The Ring. That was a movement affecting a genre; I'm talking about single films here. Recent releases like the Irish cow fetus film Isolation and killer sheep comedy Black Sheep show both a strengthening of the idea of a monster film as well as being relatively new takes on the subgenre. Abominable was an independent film from a few years back that was successful in bringing Yeti back (see what I did there?).

There is no better example of the monster movie being the culprit in question than J.J. Abrams' upcoming Furious (or whatever the title may be in the next few days). The film that apparently has giant monsters descending to earth and sending out man-sized creatures to eat humans depicts the Statue of Liberty being decapitated in the trailer, and if that isn't harkening back to a Godzilla-like attack, I don't know what is. The buzz alone generated by this film ensures it will be a mainstream hit and will most certainly bring on many copycats and hangers on. Add that to the upcoming Aja remake of Piranha, and you can be certain there will be tons of creepy-crawlies and hulking monsters in our near future.

While in normal circumstances the above argument would be a lock, in my mind, I have to point out that the other option is the single most unstoppable force in the horror genre: the slasher film. From Psycho to Italian giallo to the late-70s resurgence and then the lingering mass over the 80s and 90s, the slasher film is what most people think of when they think of the horror genre. And it has had a resurgence as of late with the recent fat chunk of remakes like When a Stranger Calls and Black Christmas. For me, it was evident in last year's Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon that it was okay to make slasher films again. With Rob Zombie's Halloween mere days away and All the Boys Love Mandy Lane not far off, it appears there will be no end to the modern slasher any time soon.

It's tricky to say that a bunch of slasher films being made makes it the next zeitgeist, but I'm basing it more on the sheer glut of releases already in the offering. You see, I can't remember a year without at least one notable slasher release in my lifetime. Where we can go years without a werewolf film worth any salt, slashers are very closely tied to the genre itself, and they're cheap to make.

My personal preference would be for the monster movie to make a move to the forefront for a year or two because, while the sheer amount of slashers suggest otherwise, most slashers are either remakes or just retreading the same old shit. I can watch a lizard karate chop a skyscraper over and over; it takes a very special selection of stabs to keep me interested in a slasher. I truly hope that there's something backing up all the hype behind Furious, because they're always making slasher films.

What do you think: slashers or monsters? I didn't really promise an answer did I? Like me, you'll have to wait and see.

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