By Jon DeRosa
Just like most other genres these days, successful horror movies spawn franchises. The studios have indulged lengthy strolls down Elm Street and at one point, seemed to have taken great care to make sure there was a fresh installment of “Friday the 13th” every time the calendar dictated.
I’ve never seen any of them, but does the number of times people wanted to sit through the same basic story to be scared in the same basic way tell us something of ourselves as a species? I’ll leave that for someone who watched those movies to decide.
In fact, to be a successful horror movie franchise, the film doesn’t even have to be a true horror movie. Both “The Evil Dead” and the “Scream” movies are horror-movie derivitives, distilling or reducing the elements of horror movies and packaging them up with laughs for a new twist.
“The Evil Dead” is a horror movie that has mostly discarded plot, writing, acting, sound, editing, cinematagrophy, and lighting. All that is left is gore, suspense and comedy. It’s poorly made but still spectacular – I challenge you to look away during a screening. The efforts appear earnest, and it’s hard to believe the people responsible for “The Evil Dead” (Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert) would someday create the best super hero fight on film (Raimi’s Doc Ock vs Spiderman on a skyscraper) and torment our hero John Schulian (Tapert).
That’s not to say the movie just a bucket of corn syrup dyed red and an eerie score. There’s a lovely moment where Ash, played by cult hero Bruce Campbell, holds a gift for his girlfriend, Linda, and pretends to be asleep. Linda wants to to grab the gift, but she suspects he’s faking. The camera catches just their eyes as she looks between him and the gift and Ash takes occasional peeks to see if his ruse is working. And then of course when Linda dies, Ash tries to bury her before she can turn into a zombie-monster. He’s too late, but she fakes him out with the same game, pretending to be dead while he digs her grave, sneaking peeks to see if her ruse is working.
When he slices her head off with the shovel, there’s an extra pang between the chuckles. The movie rightly has a devoted following for it’s knack of being bad in just the right ways. And now a remake? I wonder…
On the other side of the same coin are the “Scream” movies. These films are loaded with everything modern Hollywood does best, and then polished to a sheen. The derivative nature of “Scream” lies within the plot of the film as the psychotic killers and the hapless victims of the film are themsleves horror film fanatics. They know how horror movies work inside and out, and when they find themselves inside one, they keep track of what is happening like play-by-play commentators at a sporting event.
Most of them still die, but it’s a lot funnier when the victim does something stupid a few minutes after she discussed the universal stupidity of female horror movie victims.
Like Alex, I don’t seek out a lot of horror movies. However, consuming American popular culture for over thirty years ingrains horror movie formulae in the brain. So it doesn’t take an expert in scary movies to enjoy seeing them turned in on themselves in ingenious ways. And with all the laughs “Scream” and “The Evil Dead” bring to the table, suspense is such a potent ingredient that even these horror-comedies will take you to the edge of your seat before you’re rolling in the aisles.