Like you, I love horror films, but let’s be real, I was born on a Wednesday, but not last Wednesday. It takes a lot for me to decide to spend $38 on a horror movie (two tickets plus popcorn, junior mints and soda). So while there are films I’ll pay to play, most I’m gonna watch courtesy of Redbox, Netflix or Amazon Prime. The good news is that for a horror fan there are a lot of films, many that never saw the big screen. Sometimes you watch these films and you appreciate that someone had the integrity to say, “No – straight to DVD/Stream for you.” Every so often though you come across a “gem.” A film that could have done well, but by its independent nature or country of origin, Hollywood took a pass.
I thought it might be fun to help these better films with a little grass roots marketing and so to add to my more generalized horror commentary I am going to throw in the Netflix Horror Gem of the Month. If you’ve got a suggestion please post. I currently (much to my wife’s dismay) have 42 films in my “instant cue” awaiting viewing. As you know, I don’t believe in just “random standards” of selection for anything. I need a system and a process (which does not extend to the organization of my closet). I appreciate “Rotten Tomatoes” and all, but I think just general opinions – Loved This/Hated That – don’t serve in making a more educated decision on seeing a film. Example, if you hate found footage, you’re probably not going to rate a “found footage” movie very high…etc., etc.
My rating system is fairly straightforward and based on what I believe to be important elements of a horror film. Dividing these elements out provides a better overall view of the value of the film. I use a five element ranking system and within each you get a 1 (great) 2 (good) 3 (terrible). It’s another pet peeve of mine – the five star system that is. I won’t belabor the reasons for my disdain but I think 4s are for people who “don’t believe in perfect” and 2s are for people who “don’t want to be really mean.” I say make a commitment – its either great, it’s alright or it sucked – end of story Mr. And Mrs. Wishy Washy Passive Aggressives. Any way here are the five elements I rank on.
* Smart: Horror does not and should not be the adopted half-wit inbred child of film or literature. It started as Gothic with the intention of exploring the dark side of things. “Smart” in horror films simply means it is an idea that has some believability or possibility to it and the story is well woven. If I can scream, “the butler did it” in the first thirty seconds and be right – that’s probably not “smart.”
*Suspense: You know that feeling when you know something is going to happen, your hand creeps up to start to cover your eyes and you’re repeating. “Oh damn here it comes, here it comes, here it comes.” That’s not always easy to achieve but it’s critical to a good horror movie.
*Shock: It’s the big reason we see these films. To jump, to scream, to feel that adrenaline rush. Shock is not “gore” and it’s best when you know it’s coming (See Suspense) and it still gets you. Of course it can’t be over done and even the best shocks aren’t all that make a horror film (I’ve jumped at things that aren’t horror).
*Script: If the film is solely relying on “optics” to pass the test, it won’t work. The script and delivery of that script is what often separates the good from the bad. I’m a big fan of dialog and it needs to be done well in a film. One of my favorite lines from Human Centipede was “my sweet three dog.” You need to see the movie to understand, but that’s the kind of thing that just stays with you. Sometimes this is about acting, but sometimes it’s just bad scripting. I’ll never forget watching the all star cast movie “The Untouchables” and cringing when Kevin Costner’s character says “lets do some good.” The complete opposite of Bruce Willis saying “yippie ki-ay mother f*$&ker in Die Hard.
*Sex or Sadistic: “It’s always by way of pain one arrives at pleasure,” wrote the Marquis de Sade. Fear is down there in the brain center that houses the rest of our more instinctual reptilian responses. Fear sits alongside sexual response and the pain centers – its all about electricity and chemical outputs – which is why chocolate and love are so close and why de Sade was kind of wrong, but not completely wrong. A good horror movie just has to include one or both of these elements. True a ghost story can be more cerebral but still throw in a good shower scene and your better off. Now my personal preference is to not combine the two (not a big fan of rape scenes), but there is a certain amount of guilty pleasure in the viewing of the two. So either show me the scene that makes me cringe like I just got a paper cut or show me a little skin – it’s horror, we need one or both. Now, I’m not certain how the skyrocketing popularity of horror films with the female gender may impact this, but it doesn’t seem to be – for the guys its pretty straightforward – Elizabeth Olsen’s role in Silent House would have been applauded if we had seen some skin LOL
So that’s the rating system – love it, hate it or create your own. You might even be asking, “why isn’t scary on the list?” First a horror film should be scary by definition. Second, scary is subjective, so for me if you put all these together – in a horror film – then you have scary. Regardless coming soon is my first Netflix Horror Gem of the Month! And the verdict is…VHS!