Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a veteran entertainment journalist whose writing and live photography has been featured in Blabbermouth.net, Dee Snider’s House of Hair Online, Fangoria.com, Horror News.net, About.com Heavy Metal, MetalManiacs, New Noise, Music Dish, AMP, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained,Noisecreep, Impose, Pit, The Big Takeover.com, Rough Edge.com, Pitriff and others. His blog The Metal Minute won a “Best Personal Blog” award in 2009 from Metal Hammer magazine and he wrote and produced his own hard rock e-zine, Retaliate.
He has contributed essays to UK author Neil Daniels’ Iron Maiden and ZZ Top biographies. Ray’s fiction has been published in various periodicals and anthologies, including his flash fiction piece “Off the Record” for Akashic Books’ “Mondays Are Murder” noir series. His recent short stories “Before the Ball” and “Widow” were featured in subsequent editions of Alex S. Johnson’s Axes of Evil anthologies. Ray wrote serialized original superhero fiction for Cyber Age Adventures and five of those stories appear in the anthology Playing Solitaire. He was the winner of Quantum Muse’s fiction contest in 1999.
Ray is a former NHL game analyst for The Hockey Nut and one-time host of the forum “Comic Books” at ReadWave. He has done beat reporting, photography and lifestyle articles for Metromix, an affiliate of The Baltimore Sun, Carroll Magazine, The Northern News and The Emmitsburg Dispatch.
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Some of the Most Reprehensible Horror Flicks Ever
Now comes that point of the holiday season where I sneak away from my wife and son as they sleep and throw on the most evil holiday flick ever conceived, the original Silent Night, Deadly Night. For some inexplicable reason, I end up tossing on this disgusting film without fail every Christmas. After enough hearings of Paul McCartney's syrupy synths on "Wonderful Christmastime," I'm ready to kick the nearest box of wrapping paper into oblivion. You understand, right?
Seriously, I do love Christmas, but call Silent Night, Deadly Night a weakness of mine. Half of the film is utterly shocking. Half of it is pure shlock. I suppose that's how I justify to myself the repetitive viewings of this trash classic. I can remember film critic Leonard Maltin condemning Silent Night, Deadly Night on Entertainment Tonight when it first hit theaters in 1984. It triggered that sinister gene which makes a boy a boy and I desperately wanted to see the film back in the day. When I eventually did on VHS, I actually felt dirty having watched it, even though I was morbidly fascinated. The abundant nudity was half the equation, I'll admit, but it really did feel like Christmas Americana thrown through a meat grinder. You really could fathom an innocent child being corrupted witnessing the gruesome murder of his parents by a rogue Santa Claus. Silent Night, Deadly Night goes against everything I stand for, particularly at Christmas time, yet it might be the one film so morally bankrupt that I can stomach to watch more than once. Its sequels, not so much, though if you watch the second Silent Night only, you'll kill two birds with one stone. You horror vets know what I'm getting at.
There have been a lion's share of foul, crude, vulgar and disconcerting horror films over the decades, be it Blood Feast, Behind the Green Door, Pieces, Teeth, Ichi the Killer, Hostel, Sick Girl, the Faces of Death series or both versions of I Spit On Your Grave. The methodology to most horror films today is to push past all previous limitations in the name of shock value. It's not so much the power of suggestion driving horror directors of this era. It used to be less is more. Our desensitized society has helped push modern filmmakers past all taboos and limits of good taste. Nowadays, you can't show enough and it's all focused upon sadism, torture and degredation.
The nefarious cannibal films of the early eighties (i.e. Cannibal Holocaust and Cannibal Ferox, aka Make Them Die Slowly) set the bar as the most nauseating horror flicks of all-time and today they remain the most brutal pictorials of human cruelty ever released. Interestingly enough, these two films are still the mark to beat beyond anything depicted in modern horror cinema.
The Cannibal movies hardly skimp on the extremity of violence; moreover, they force you to watch it all. You really are a part of the action, so don't eat beforehand. Castration, dismemberment, impalement through the breasts, vaginal mutilation, carving a fetus straight out of the womb and of course, unadulterated flesh eating, all testing your mettle. Only soldiers of war have seen worse. Survive these two flicks and you can take on any of them.
That is, until you're forced to watch slow and methodic geek grind from ruthless directors whose prime directive is to tweak your innards to the point of surrender. Castration has been a big hit with contemporary shock artists and it's no longer so much the act of penis removal that draws them. That no longer carries the punch it once did. No, you now have to endure a guy (half of them actually deserving of the dishonor) screaming for minutes on end as the severing act is drawn out sadistically. That's only part of the sequence. For poetic justice purposes, the man is now forced to eat his own bloody crank or he's slapped in the face with it. In the case of the inexplicably vile Sick Girl, an innocent victim is castrated, then the titular bad gal mounts his dick atop a protruding piece of steel which she makes into a makeshift strap-on and sodomizes a female victim with it.
Now that's entertainment, as The Jam would scoff. Then there's the now-legendary Human Centipede. No movie (other than Teeth, which does have a compelling enough story to back up its gut-churning vagina dentata motif) in the past decade has infiltrated past the underground on its sicko reputation than this one. Regardless of one's constitution for observing filmed cruelty, almost everyone hearing of The Human Centipede is drawn to it out of sheer curiosity. I'm almost stunned by the amount of non-horror fans who not only know about this drecky film, they've watched it. All of it.
The mere insinuation of the fecal matter dumping from one "piece" of the sewed-together human chain into the mouth of the connecting "piece" makes The Human Centipede reprehensible alone. Word has it the sequel actually shows the shit and the grue and if that's an attractive proposal to you, well, I'm not one to judge, but you're the reason these films keep being made.
Blame a good part of this Grand Guinol revival upon Eli Roth's Hostel films. They've literally opened the crimson floodgates and ushered a monsoon of celluloid barbarism. Herschell Gordon Lewis no doubt would've given Roth a hearty round of applause for the dastardly concept Roth devised in Hostel and Hostel Part II. To be fair, Roth stumbled upon a unique concept and his inherent social commentary about the moral standing of Americans in other parts of the world is dead-on. The fact Americans fetch a higher price for his stately torture mongers is straight out of global headlines as much as it is straight out of one of Cannibal Corpse's death-tech thrashers. The strenuous maiming and slicing are strictly for the gorehounds, yet it's the child-like, inquisitive nature of these murdering thrill-seekers which present the true horror behind the Hostel films. Some of Roth's well-versed killers treat their doings in the slaughterhouse as they would a brothel. Pay to play, get your rocks off. Leave the mess, it's taken care of in the asking price.
And that's where we're at in horror cinema. Go as far to the edge with your film as you're willing to risk a non-rating. These directors aren't interested in commercial breakouts. That was the Saw series, which aided and abetted Eli Roth's mission to push the limits of the genre. The original Saw was a nifty little number with a whoa kind of ending. The sequels ended up taking an entirely different direction through six more films filled with morality lessons on top of moist, sinewy and outrageous death traps. It's no wonder horror film directors believe the chains are off. The Fifth Amendment protects their freedom to speak boisterously onscreen, regardless of the MPAA's checks and balances system. Besides, it's more fashionable to withhold a deleted scene or two for the highly-marketable "Unrated" home video release.
It's not just American horror films. The British horror underground has been ripening nicely with the Descent and 28 Days Later films, as a couple of prime examples along with the hilarious Shaun of the Dead and Dead Set miniseries. Then you have the Asian horror market, which makes everyone else's look pussy. Used to be in the eighties the Italians ruled the horror world with their no-holds-barred gorefests, including those dastardly Cannibal films.
There's one British film I saw recently, however, which simply pissed me off. That would be Eden Lake, a smartly-executed film about a well-to-do couple getting lost in a backwoods section and literally tormented by a ruthless set of youngsters. The open-ended savagery these junior devils extol upon the couple is reflective of the American trend referred to as "torture porn," which was handed specifically to Eli Roth's Hostel films. It has since broadened to all horror films which opt to drag out scenes of animalistic nihilism. Eden Lake fits that category, even without nudity or sex. These kids are such bastards you want the female protagonist to trip across a conveniently left machete and chop them all to pieces. You especially want some avenging angel to come rescue the poor girl at the finale and annihilate all of the Britnecks who are insinuated to be handing her a Deliverance-styled demise as the credits roll and the nasty leader of the kid pack has gotten away with all of his atrocities. Fuck you, all involved.
Save for Let Me In and its Swedish originating source, Let the Right One In, I've grown way tired of the bad guys winning in the end of all of these films. It used to be clever and at one-time, the sight of a serial murderer actually getting away with his or her crimes was unnerving but damned good storytelling. Now it's cliche, as is the sight of fingernails being pulled out with forceps and seemingly normal doctors scarfing guts behind closed doors. Shrinks and sociologists observing depravity from one-way mirrors, cliche. Cops turned to the dark side, cliche. Pissed off chicks chopping up rapist thugs, eternally entertaining (the 2010 remake of I Spit On Your Grave might've become the greatest if harshest of all revenge flicks), but...cliche.
In the eighties, gore was amped twofold as were slasher flicks. They became cliche and nearly obsolete. At least back then the gore was intentionally fantastical, assuringly comical. Only George Romero's Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead seemed pliable with their overloads of grue, despite the fact there are no such things as zombies. Like AMC's The Walking Dead, the gore is shocking, yes, but not so much as the premise and the stories lending them credence. You have something tangible to connect with in those films because characterization is more important than a bucket of blood.
Still, I believe most modern filmmakers sat in awe of the slapstick splatter of Evil Dead 2, Bad Taste, Dead Alive and Re-Animator, along with the stalker films like Friday the 13th, Halloween, Slumber Party Massacre, Slaughterhouse and of course, Silent Night, Deadly Night and missed the point altogether. They were supposed to be horrific, yet intentionally stupid escapism. Once Maniac, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and American Psycho came along, the red writing of reality was slung upon the wall.
Yet none of those films graphically shoved a lopped-off cock up a cheerleader's creamy little bum. To think we used to laugh at the phrase, "Go stick it up your ass..."