Monday, November 11, 2019

The Soul of Wit


Not a new conceit.  But one I think current filmmakers are forgetting, under the misconception that length equals import: an idea that has found its way into the horror genre with a horrible result.

I posted about this on social media and the response was voluminous and almost unanimous: people don’t like long movies when the story does not support the run-time.  There are many films that bear rich, dynamic tapestries of story that fill more than two hours: historical epics and musicals are two genres that often do so.  Some of my favorite films do. But they are the exceptions to the rule. Most films do not; horror, for my taste, particularly suffers from a longer run-time.  I began to wonder why that was and, more to the current trend, why some filmmakers don’t seem to care.

I think to some degree, horror films don’t require as much story: they are often about a single situation, set in a single time with a small group of characters.  We don’t need to know much (if anything) about a character’s past, if—as is often the case—it bears no importance to the story. Furthermore, the tension wanes if a film spends too long on a scene that isn’t riddled with terror, mystery or at least some sense of unease. Most longer films have too much time go by where we’re not scared or intrigued; they become horror films trapped in drawn-out dramas.

This seems to be true for what has become labeled as “elevated horror”—perhaps the most offensive term to come along in a while. Elevated from what?  The term is instantly elitist.  What makes these films so lofty?  Because they are “about something”?  Horror films have been “about something” for forever: mindless conformity (1956’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”), selling your (baby’s) soul for fame (1968’s “Rosemary’s Baby”), feminism vs. toxic masculinity (1975’s “The Stepford Wives”), homophobia (1985’s “A Nightmare On Elm Street 2”) and so on.  Is it because they display exceptional cinematic craft?  So did 1922’s “Nosferatu”, 1960’s “Psycho”, 1977’s “Suspiria” and so on.  I find the term and the mindset for its need insulting.

And, yet, here we are: having pretentious horror films over two hours being foisted on us poor plebeians because we are so clearly in desperate need of edjumacation and “Art” with a capital “A”.  Puh-lease! Good horror is like good sex: the filmmaker gets in, makes passionate love to us, and then leaves us breathless. These “elevated”, over-long films are just so much masturbation, leaving us cold on the couch and wondering what’s in the fridge.

Make horror sexy again.  Make it short and sweet.

And scare the crap out of us.