To start off this week, I’ve got a special guest post for you! The wonderful Adam P. Knave graciously agreed to share what it is about the horror genre that gets him. I’ll be writing about a couple of the movies he mentions about this week so watch out for those too!
Without further ado, I give you Mr. Adam P. Knave and some thoughts on why horror movies are great.
I have an odd relationship with the horror genre. I got my start writing fiction for money by doing supposed horror stories. I say supposed because they never felt like horror to me. I don’t actually tend to like horror fiction, honestly. I like horror movies.
Movies can do things in horror that the written word can’t pull off quite as well. The sudden shock, the fun of silly gore, these are things that people mangle all the time when writing prose. And so my fiction strayed toward the end to horror I loved the best, and frankly, the stuff that worked best in prose: the psychological horror.
The most horrific thing there isn’t a monster with knives for eyes – it’s us. Simple, ordinary humans can be the deepest darkest bringers of nightmares ever created. Those are the movies and books in the horror genre that I truly adore. Those are the ones that keep my brain spinning late into the night as I scan the darkness for meaning.
The Romero films, which on the surface can seem just gore-filled silly things have always been more about society than flesh eating. The horrors that Romero shows us, in how we treat each other and how that never changes even as the world grows more desperate and dark, are the bits that chill me.
Movies like May and The Hitcher, that grace us with some of the best, most twisted, looks at how a mind can break and still function and also wobble around warped and dangerous, are the things I turn to when I want to say “This, this is horror.”
There’s also Shallow Grave. An early Danny Boyle film, this thing stars Ewan McGregor, Christopher Eccleston and Kerry Fox. Commence wondering why you’ve probably never heard of it. The story is simple – three friends who are also roommates try to find a fourth to split the costs. They get a guy, except they find him dead and they also find his suitcase full of money. At which point everyone loses their mind. They go insane. Money does things to people.
The film is worth it to watch McGregor and Eccleston get down and dirty in this. Not to ignore Kerry Fox, but it really is spectacular watching these two actors go at it with everything they have. It stayed with me for years, to the point where when I first saw Eccleston as the Doctor in his one Doctor Who season I chanted, under my breath “don’t trust him don’t trust him don’t trust him.” It’s not well known but it is spectacular.
And then there’s April Fools Day. No, not the 2008 remake. Never saw it. I mean the 1986 original. It isn’t a great horror film, really. I mean judging it in terms of cinematography and lighting and directorial skill and such it falls over. But it shines like a beacon when looked at for how to have fun and still get people going.
I saw it first in the late 80’s, one night around October, on HBO or something like it. It’s a simple film – a bunch of kids go to a remote mansion and start to die. They start to get killed off. I am going to ruin this movie for you, so if you’re adverse to that sort of thing stop reading and skip the next paragraph. The one after the spoilers will start with “See?” When you get to it, start reading again.
We have a main character and her friends and she’s playing jokes on them and all is fine. And then one by one they all start to die in various slasher film kinds of ways. They vanish. They’re found. Things are going horribly wrong. Then they find their hostess is dead and her deranged twin sister who was trapped in the mansion escaped and is killing them all. We’re down to the last two characters. They run from the sister and… find out the whole thing was a ruse. It was set up by the hostess and explained to each “victim” in turn to play along as she play tests her idea to turn the place into kind of vacation home that puts on a slasher film horror show each weekend. Everyone laughs and celebrates and then at the end the hostess goes back to her room and settles in and one of the characters comes by and slits her throat. The hostess screams and then realizes her neck isn’t cut it was a final prank. Fade to black.
See? It’s a great psychological horror film and a slasher film and a huge playful romp all at once. Not the best film, and if you’ve seen it once it isn’t worth rewatching, really, but that first time, if you go in 100% unprepared, the way I did, it is spectacular. Of course, I may have ruined that for you, so uhm, woops.
Still. That’s what this season and this genre are about, for me. Little films that are willing to take your head and twist it around until your spine snaps – nice and slow and steady so that you welcome it when it happens and ask for more. The movies that keep you tense until long after the credits. The ones you watch over and over again, picking up nuance and little games the filmmakers are playing. The films that colonize your brain and set up camp and never leave you alone again.
Those are the ones I live for.
Adam P. Knave is a, Eisner and Harvey writer and editor who has written fiction (CRAZY LITTLE THINGS and STRANGE ANGEL, STAYS CRUNCHY IN MILK), comics (LEGEND OF THE BURRITO BLADE and THINGS WRONG WITH ME and stories appearing in Image’s POPGUN anthology) and columns for sites such as thefoonote, TwoHeadedCat, PopCultureShock and MamaPop. He is also one of the editors of Image’s POPGUN anthology as well as other comic projects.