Whatever happened to the humble monster movie?

Matthew H

6th September 2009

It seems for a good few years now we've been stuck in a rut when it comes to contemporary horror. That rut has earned itself the label of "torture porn," a genre of horror films whose storylines revolve around sadistic killers torturing helpless victims while the camera swoops, pans around and zooms in, capturing every severed artery and globule of blood in almost loving detail.

This has thrown up all sorts of arguments as to the nature of the horror genre and its effect on society. Is it all just harmless fun, or are we implicated in the violence simply because we are prepared to sit back and observe these inhumane acts with our voyeur goggles?

Of course, try to dissect these films in an unbiased way, and a million horror fans will rally round their cherished gore, often trying to dissolve the argument with shouts of "Daily Mail reader!" I count myself as a big horror fan, but even I think it's impossible to watch a film that contains torture or rape and not feel the clammy chill of guilt afterwards. Some will argue it's not real, but when we know some of these events do take place in our world, how easy is it to merely brush off these depictions of violence as "unrealistic?"

While the verdict is still out regarding the impact of these films, it seems veteran filmmakers themselves have grown tired of the wave of torture porn that's drenched our screens in recent times. Rob Zombie is all set to direct a new version of The Blob, the kitschy B-Movie from the 1950s that perfectly exemplifies the appeal of trashy monster horror. According to Variety, Zombie said: "My intention is not to have a big red blobby thing -- that's the first thing I want to change. That gigantic Jello-looking thing might have been scary to audiences in the 1950s, but people would laugh now. I intend to make it scary, and the great thing is I have the freedom once again to take it in any crazy direction I want to."

Undoubtedly there will be cries that originality is dead, with many a beloved "classic" film finding itself at the mercy of our modern filmmakers. To be fair, it could be argued that nothing is truly original, that any story you wish to tell and project on the big screen is merely a version of what's gone before. With this in mind, taking a new approach to an old idea is all we can really expect from our directors, and it should be praised rather than criticised (of course I'm excluding here the crop of MTV-style remakes of good films that simply butcher everything the original director had in mind while offering nothing new.)

Similarly, Joe Johnston intends to bring us his vision of The Wolfman in early 2010, and it was music to this writer's ears that the use of CGI has been ditched in favour of makeup and animatronics. Many a potentially good film has had its suspense dashed in a second by the arrival of some wishy-washy, digitised ghoul loping across the screen in a blur of pixels, so a return to more traditional ways of rendering the baddie is surely a good sign. It certainly seems to have done no harm, if the promotional images are anything to go by!

With all this in mind, I want to know whatever happened to the idea of the monster movie? What happened to the wisecracks of Freddy Krueger as he picked off another dreaming teen; or the impossibly huge-mouthed vampires of Fright Night? Where are our Critters and Gremlins, our spooky clowns that live in drains and eat worlds and children?

Today's crop of sweaty, filthy loonies with their array of pliers and buzz saws just seems to originate from a far more cold, brutal and ultimately dehumanised place than the B-Movie horror of yore. Perhaps the most important point is that it's not enjoyable, at least not in the same way as a good monster movie can be.

I'm not advocating the banning of films that feature torture, but there needs to be a greater variety on offer for the casual horror fan, as well as the fanatic, than we currently have showing in our cinemas. Cloverfield was a good start, and with The Blob and The Wolfman on the way, perhaps our humble man in a scary suit is about to see a renaissance.

More:  Monster  B-movie
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