Genre fans have a tendency to over hype certain films, actors and directors. Ask any self respecting horror nerd what they think of Dario Argento and your likely to hear words like “brilliant” and “genius” peppered into an answer.
It’s not that they’re lying, some truly feel their descriptions are accurate, but more often than not, they are trying to get the point across, that a director is much better than they’re given credit for. Case in point, Argento has done things in cinema that are truly out standing. Compare Suspiria with Children of the Corn and you’ll see where one exceeds in elements like visuals, music and visceral violence, over the other.
But, I find more often that not that, this very enthusiasm often does a disservice. Newcomers to the genre will check out a person’s work only to feel disappointed or cheated that said work never lived up to the hype.
Let’s face it, a Lucio Fulci film will never impress any newcomer to the horror genre, let alone cinema, so I often feel compelled to offer a view with a variety of caveats before watching and hopefully then, a persons talents can rise above.
So let’s take horror’s top American Directors and, with crystal clear honesty in mind, let me break ‘em down:
George Romero: I love me some Romero. Even beyond his Dead films he has contributed a solid line up of horror and genre. (i.e. The Crazies & Creepshow) That said, here’s the deal: He shoots all his films like a made for TV movie. Ham fisted acting, slow pace, traditional cinematography and corny characters riddle his movies. Simply compare his Land of the Dead with his remade Dawn of the Dead from Zack Snyder to see the drastic differences between his movies and what most expect from modern film making. It’s only upon reflection, and re-watches that I discover that he’s has compelling ideas percolating beneath his cliche filled movies. Diary of the Dead has very awful storytelling but the idea, of the first person meets living dead experience colliding with societies horrible reaction to chaos, is a really cool idea. But if you actually want to see it done well, try The Zombie Diaries instead. Watch 28 Days Later in lieu of The Crazies. And Frankly Shaun of the Dead will always resonate better than the movies they so purposely serve. Sorry, it’s true.
Tobe Hooper: Now here’s a guy who managed to capture lightning in a bottle, then only to wind up chasing it for the next 40 years. Hooper made, in my humblest of opinions, the best horror film in the genre: Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Not my favorite but simply the best. If you want all the potential elements of a perfect horror film, Texas Chainsaw has them all. But then he followed it up with one of the very worst movies ever made: Eaten Alive. A overwrought spastic mess that often seems like Tennessee Williams meets Hostel 3. And while his career would ebb and flow over the years, he would never hit the same level as his first movie. Even his other ‘classic’; Poltergeist, is thought more as a Spielberg rather than a Hooper. Confounding plot twists, bad dialogue and pacing are often the standout elements in his movies. He seems. in many ways. the prototype for a direct to video film maker rather than a master of the genre. Occasionally he stumbles into pure entertainment on accident, like The Funhouse, but more often, even with a big budget and solid production, he turns out embarrassing messes like Lifeforce or Spontaneous Combustion. So that most of his other classics are only “So Bad they’re Goods”.
Wes Craven: To me this guy has been given way, way, waaaay too much credit over the years. I don’t care if they’re “grindhouse classics”, Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes are bad movies. Yes, they have a sleazy 70s feel but, again, if you watch them with fresh eyes, I doubt anyone will feel the visceral nature of those movies and will be more annoyed that characters are so dumb to put themselves in that situation to begin with. His other movies like Deadly Friend, Deadly Blessing, Shocker, The People Under The Stairs (like Romero) feel more like shitty plays than classic horror movies. That said he did mange a few times to make some solid horror like the vastly underrated Serpent and the Rainbow and, albeit classic, Nightmare on Elm Street. But anyone who has watched New Nightmare or Vampire to Brooklyn can tell you, more hands were in the til, than not, when he made his unbelievable success: Scream. Case in point, take a look at the recent Scream 4 to see where the wheels come off.
John Carpenter: It is with a heavy heart that I must take apart my favorite director. But after thinking about ‘Memoirs of an Invisible Man’ all I can say is, maybe, he has it coming. By the 90s, the standard Carpenter elements, panavision, long takes, synth music and an eye for fun over realism, started to fade away. Giving way to a desire to stay current. Fast edits, over done special FX and, even, sensationalistic gore, never sat well for the director who aways waved the “less is more” flag. Also, a certain laziness started to creep into his filmmaking. ‘Vampire’ and ‘Ghost of Mars felt phoned in and, the less said about his Masters of Horror entries, the better. (Crap!) His movies only seem right from the 80s era his movies helped build and anything beyond that is nostalgia.
Now that’s not to say I don’t enjoy these film makers and their movies. I love a lot of their work, even their bad stuff, but, I believe it’s important to be clear and admit when their shortcomings are apparent. Otherwise, we’re creating world without any scale of talent, where fanboys rule only and there childish whims are the only geiger counter. If you’ve seen Comic Con footage of fans cheering virtual anything, you’ll know what I mean. Let’s be honest, we like some stuff because it’s bad and there is no reason to justify but we do need to recognize it.
So there you have it. Four scathing refections on the genres “top” directors. It’s important to realize, if you’re new to the genre, that in order to love it you must embrace it’s foibles as well as it’s perks. While that Michael Myers T-Shirt may look good on the Suicide Girl wearing it, doubtful she sat through the movie with zero distraction. Or anyone for that matter. Becasue Horror, like casual sex, is cool but you’ll have to lower your standards, to get it.