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Enter the Crypt as John "The Unimonster" Stevenson and his merry band of ghouls rants and raves about the current state of Horror, as well as reviews Movies, Books, DVD's and more, both old and new.

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02 January, 2010

Horror… with a Critical Eye?

Someone recently, no doubt thinking they were flattering me, described me as a “… movie critic.” Not wanting to appear rude, I didn’t bother to correct them, but I certainly don’t consider myself a critic in any sense of the word. I have no formal education in either film history or film as an art form, hate “socially relevant” movies, and, quite frankly, don’t give a damn about the Oscars®. I don’t watch movies to be educated, and I don’t look to them for some politically-correct sense of edification or enlightenment. I simply have a love of movies, especially Horror and Science-Fiction movies. I know what I like and don’t like, and why, and have some small ability to communicate that to others. I don’t try to tell you what you should think about a movie; just what I do. Movies are entertainment to me; that’s why I turn to them to relax and escape the stresses and pressures of the day. And no type of movie does that for me as well as genre films do.

Horror is one of the most subjective genres of cinema because our fears are very personal things. Fear, like desire, is an individual, gut reaction. It happens without thought, without reason. When we see our object of either, we don’t need to think about, or force, the emotion to occur; it’s spontaneous, natural… as organic as our heartbeats, and just as easy to control. Just as a buxom redhead is guaranteed to kick-start my motor like the V-Twin on a Harley, sharks, clowns, and ventriloquist’s dummies just as reliably creep me out. You find a way to combine all three, and cast a group of red-haired centerfolds to star, and you’ve got my vote for movie of the year. How can any critic’s review take that into account?

Quite frankly, the more a critic likes a film, then the less inclined I am to watch it. My tastes are, as I’ve indicated, rather unique… the chance that there’s a critic out there whose taste in film parallels mine is roughly equal to the chance that I will win the Lotto on the same day that Jessica Simpson proposes to me. And where Horror Films are concerned, most critics miss the boat entirely… remember the rave reviews handed out for THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT? Critics, at least the mainstream ones, do not get horror, and are unable to fathom just what serious Horror Fans are looking for in a movie. True Horror Fans don’t care about cryptic notions such as social relevance or the cohesiveness of the plot; any plot at all will do, never mind how cohesive it may or may not be. A well-constructed plot is nice, and we certainly appreciate one when we see it. But we function quite well without one, thank you. And so do most of the movies we love.

In the case of films such as HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, FEAST, or SAW, mainstream critics deride the violence and gore as gratuitous or over-the-top, and proclaim the plots amateurish or insipid. They fail to understand what makes these films successful, because they fail to understand the Horror Fan and what he or she wants. Horror fans want films that push the boundaries, and push us beyond our comfort zones. An intelligent script would be a plus, but it’s not required, and we can be pleased without it. A good Horror Film is like an amusement park thrill ride; it’s not necessary for it to go somewhere for it to be great entertainment.

Nor do lavish budgets and big-name casts guarantee that a film will entertain. Take for instance the 2005 remake of WAR OF THE WORLDS. Directed by Steven Spielberg, arguably the greatest living American filmmaker, and starring one of the most bankable (until recently…) actors working, this film was, in this reviewer’s opinion, an utter flop; a failure of a film that couldn’t hold a candle to the 1953 original. Nothing about this pitiful excuse for a movie was satisfying to me, from the annoyingly bad performances by the leads to the ridiculous, syrupy-sweet ending. If I had bothered to waste the time writing a review of it, it would’ve earned one of the most disparaging reviews I’ve ever authored… nearly as scathing as that I gave to DARKNESS FALLS. (Ew, I thought I had repressed the memory of that one…) Conversely, some of the worst reviews I’ve ever read were for films that thoroughly entertained me, movies that I loved… movies such as THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS or 2000 MANIACS.
But that’s just my opinion… one person’s subjective take on a movie. That’s true no matter who the reviewer is… whether it’s a world-famous columnist with his own nationally-syndicated television show, or just a guy who happens to love Horror Films and has a blog. In the end analysis, all they can do is tell you what they thought about a movie, and why. They can’t tell you whether or not you’ll like it.

Don’t get me wrong… please don’t stop reading my reviews. Just remember, you’re the only one who can answer the most important question: How did you like the movie?



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