Freddy-Discussing ELI ROTH’S HISTORY OF HORROR.
When AMC announced they were looking at the history of horror through Eli Roth’s eyes, I ignored it. Boy was I wrong.
It wasn’t my fault you see. I’d grown up with countless compilations on horror. Sure, I found all of them entertaining because I’m a horror fan but I can only remember TERROR IN THE AISLES (1984) and that’s because I had it on VHS. Most are seen and forgotten in about the same timeframe.
ELI ROTH’S HISTORY OF HORROR is a careful collection of all things horror. It’s bursting with countless interviews of those in the business:
Bruce Campbell, Kane Hodder, Elijah Wood, Jen Soska, Jen Moorman, Norman Reedus, Tom Savini, Jack Black, Jordan Peele, Josh Hartnett, Joe Hill, Edgar Wright, John Landis, Leonard Maltin, and Quentin Tarantino to name just a few.
Eli mixes that with a round table discussion with himself, Rob Zombie (THE DEVIL’S REJECTS) and Greg Nicotero (Pretty much everything horror). That and clips from popular to obscure horror. It’s both informative, funny and reflective of the eras the movies appear in.
The second season has begun, appropriately around Halloween.
I love the Blu-ray and absolutely recommend anyone that appreciates horror to check it out. It’s available pretty much everywhere now!
You get all seven episodes of the first season and the bonus disc covers extended interviews with:
Roger Corman 19:14 min, Joe Dante 19:50 min, Edgar Wright 22:30 min, Diablo Cody 12:25 min, John Landis 24:28 min, Stephen King 14:51 min, and Quentin Tarantino 24:09 min.
There’s a few featurettes that delve deeper into subjects touched on during the series:
SCARRED FOR LIFE (HD 3:22 min)
MAKING A MONSTER (2:48 min)
IS HORROR SEXIST OR FEMINIST? (2:42)
HOW VIDEO GAMES RESURRECTED THE ZOMBIE FILM (1:35 min)
And my personal favorite, HOW ABBOT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKESTEIN INFLUENCED TARANTINO (2:01 min)
The 7 episodes consist of chapters:
Chapter 1-Zombies -While the idea of the walking dead has been around for ages, it was relegated to voodoo and resurrection was more like creating a dead slave than someone hungry for your brains.
George A. Romero changed that bland history with “They’re coming to get you Barbara.” NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) broke on the scene and the undead found their purpose. To eat us alive. It also established the rules we all know: If you get bit by one you become one. Shoot them in the head! He followed that up 10 years later with what is revered as one of the best zombie movies ever, DAWN OF THE DEAD. It’s there, watching the mindless shamble in the empty mall we realize, they are us and we are them. In 1982, Michael Jackson’s Thriller hit and everyone loved the dead. Shortly after, they shambled back into the shadows. From the late 80’s through the 90’s the zombies had largely disappeared. The video game Resident Evil changed that and zombies came running back. Literally in the case of Danny Boyle’s running zombies epic 28 DAYS LATER (2002). Yes the purists will scream that there were running zombies in NIGHTMARE CITY (1983) and they aren’t wrong. If I’m not mistaken I think some of them ran in RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985) too. As long as they eat brains and the rules are established, I can handle either of these versions but the slow ones give me time to drum up more fear. Frankenstein might be the most famous zombie, though no one thinks of him like that. Probably because he comes off as a lovable lug. See Lennie from Of Mice and Men. No one wants that rabbit/woman murderer to die but he must for the greater good. SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004) came out and changed everything once more. Adding humor to a truly heartfelt tale of loneliness. I think it’s one of those rare perfect movies.
A random list of some of my favorite zombie movies:
Chapter 2-SLASHER MOVIES –PYSCHO (1960) blew people’s minds with the guy next door murdering the protagonist 45 minutes into the film. The shower scene expertly cut into 33 cuts. Showing nothing but making you feel like you saw it all. With the accepted rules of the time completely broken by one of the true first slashers, the audience was on a roller coaster until the wigged out ending. Slasher movies usually leave a final girl. This is where our “Scream Queens” established root. Most of them a victim turned survivor. Slasher movies had established the killer as the star. BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) may have started the idea of filming from the POV of the slasher but HALLOWEEN (1978) gets all the credit. John Carpenter was well aware he was casting Janet Leigh’s daughter for his horror Holiday surprise. Everything had changed a few years earlier with the release of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974). That one feels like you’re watching a snuff film the first time you view it. Everything is gritty and grimy and feels uncomfortable. FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980) made killing cool again. You were there to see the inventive kills as much as the guy behind the mask. Playing on the Cabbage Patch Kid craze CHILD’S PLAY (1988) entered and made it clear that slashers could come in all shapes and sizes.
A random list of some of my favorite Slasher movies:
Chapter 3-SLASHER MOVIES Part Deux – Slashers ruled the world from the late 70’s through 1985, then they died like their many nameless victims. NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) established fantasy as a viable landscape and the slashers were off and running in the shadows again. There were clearly no rules anymore. To boot, the audience was identifying with Freddy more than his victims. The burn victim child molester with knives for fingers was the star!
SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991) leant a hard to earn respectability to horror films. Jonathan Demme made a film that people that didn’t like horror could enjoy. Not too hard when you cast Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins. It also still gives today, with countless memes. “Put the lotion in the basket!” CANDYMAN (1992) used the backdrop of slavery and the projects in Cabrini-Green projects to tell a dark love story with Clive Barker’s slasher epic.
SCREAM (1996) opened eyes and throats by playing with its audience. Instilling “The rules” of horror after killing off the most famous actor in the first few minutes.
In the end, Slasher movies as a whole give the audience the opportunity to pretend they are in the hot seat. If put in similar circumstances, would they be resourceful and find a way to survive or simply end up another lifeless husk in an unmarked grave?
A random list of some more of my favorite slashers in no particular order:
Chapter 4-POSSESSION – Watching someone you care about become your worst nightmare is at the heart of possession films. The horror of not being able to help and save them while they systematically break you down as you try. While there’s been films delving into witchcraft/demons as far back as HAXAN (1922).
Roman Polanski probably started the most famous version of this horror film with REPULSION (1965). A woman afraid of sex ends up in a deep depression that holds sway over her as she falls apart. Big surprise Roman Polanski came up with that idea.
With ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968) he introduced Satanism in a way that hadn’t been done before. Mia Farrow played Rosemary Woodhouse as a naïve waif that sleeps with Satan in order to further her husband’s middling acting career. She’s a giver!
Then along came THE EXORCIST (1973) leaving everyone’s heads spinning. William Friedkin had created a horror film that is still hailed by many as the king of horror films. Like most good possession films it was all about the child on screen Linda Blair.
Another movie understanding the importance of that child actor took that a step further with THE OMEN (1976). Richard Donner took an enormous budget and the creepiest kid next to this one
with Damien (Harvey Stephens) to create a masterpiece of horror cinema. While most folks remember “Look at me, Damien. It’s all for you!” from a nanny hanging around. I will never forget the plate of glass removing Keith Jennings (David Warner’s) neck from his shoulders.
EVIL DEAD (1981) arrived and introduced the best fighter against the possessed Mr. Ashley “Ash” J. Williams (Bruce Campbell). He stays rooted, even with eyeballs flying around.
EVIL DEAD II(1987) brought taxidermy to life in that cabin. Ash’s girlfriend becomes a real cutup and refused to give Ash a hand up in their relationship.
The evolution of possession films took a unique turn with GET OUT (2017). Jordan Peele creating a place where one can feel helpless while totally aware and unable to respond. The sunken place, a tea induced road back to modern day slavery.
I don’t think possession films will ever fall out of favor. You can take anyone that audiences connect to and drag them in the mud and blame it all on a demon.
Some of my favorite possession movies:
Chapter 5-KILLER CREATURES –Where would horror be without the monsters of the Universal and Hammer Film pictures? It’s a scary thought. They made monsters relatable.
Frankenstein (1931) just wanted to be loved, DR. JEKYLL AND MISTER HYDE (1931) wanted to be famous, the CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) wanted a woman to see his inner beauty, as did his ape friend KING KONG (1933), even DRACULA (1931) was made into a sympathetic character while he tried draining you of your life juice.
Steven Spielberg removed that heart and gave it to the family fighting the monster in JAWS (1975). Leaving too many swimming pools left empty as a result.
CUJO (1983) ramped it up again with a rabid dog just trying to be poor Tad’s best friend. Stephen King has created many monsters over his lifetime but one stands above all the rest.
IT (2017) proved it wasn’t clowning around and that monster movies are here to stay!
Some of my favorite Killer Creatures are:
Chapter 6-VAMPIRES – Without Max Schreck portraying what is still one of the creepiest vampires in NOSFERATU (1922) I wonder how far along the vampires would have come.
DRACULA as played by Bela Lugosi gave the old creeper a much needed makeover and old world charm.
Christopher Lee favored this version with a little more class with his HORROR OF DRACULA (1958).
Favoring the uninventive titles of yore Francis Ford Coppola brought the epic DRACULA (1992) up to speed. Relating the long painful history of Count Vlad and his Elisabeta. Without Gary Oldman, I doubt this one would have been so perfect!
Then the women were invited to the party. Not with the effeminate Lestat (Tom Cruise) and Louis (Brad Pitt) but with Claudia (Kirsten Dunst) in INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE (1994). The immortal woman stuck in a child’s body for all of eternity. Or, until the sun comes out.
Vampires have creeped us out for ages and I suspect they will continue to evolve and haunt our rooms at night.
Some of my favorite Vampire flicks are:
NEAR DARK (1987), LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008), WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (2014), A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (2014), FRIGHT NIGHT (1985), SALEM’S LOT (1979), BLACULA (1972), LIFEFORCE (1985), and THE LOST BOYS (1987).
Chapter 7-GHOST STORIES – Ghost stories are even older than Vampire stories. The oldest ghost on film is from the short THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (1896). However THE HAUNTING (1963) brought the idea to a feature film and didn’t disappoint.
THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973) created a wonderful vision to Richard Matheson’s novel of the same name. I’m still waiting for a decent version of I AM LEGEND! (Sorry OMEGA MAN and Will Smith).
THE CHANGELING (1980) created a more sympathetic ghost if not a frightening one who refused to stop playing ball.
Ghost stories were already out there but no one brought them to the masses like Tobe Hooper did with POLTERGEIST (1982). To this day, when I hear white noise I’m remembered to head to the light Carol Anne.
Ghosts will never die and I guess that’s the issue at hand.
Some of my favorite ghost stories are:
THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE (2001), THE RING (2002 – The American one, not the Japanese original, which is also good), JU-ON: THE GRUDGE (2002) (the original Japanese one, do not bother with either American remakes), THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE (2016), GHOSTBUSTER (1984), THE FIGHTENERS (1996), HOUSE (1985), and THE ENTITY (1982).
I can’t wait for season 2 to finish so I can catch up. If he doesn’t have a chapter about Extra-Terrestrials this round I’ll be forever disappointed. Come on Eli!
What’s a favorite movie of yours in any of these categories?
I’m always looking for a new horror film and it is October after all. Drop one you think i may have missed in the talkbacks below.
I tried to make each list have respected titles, a couple surprises and maybe one or two thrown in just for the gore.
I rather enjoyed writing this one up and delving into the HISTORY OF HORROR.
Until the next time,