Mike asks 'What happened to all the horror villains??'
What has happened to the horror villains of the 80s? Once upon a time we had Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, Charles Lee Ray (Chucky) and, of course, Jason and Mrs. Vorhees. This decade was the heyday for character-driven horrors that saw a particular spectre terrorise the lives of innocent civilians. Nowadays we just can't match that kind of wild imagination, we are stuck with churned out remakes (we've seen MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3-D and FRIDAY THE 13th already in the last month) or botched reworkings of Asian psychological and supernatural horrors (let's just not watch THE UNINVITED). The only thing that came close was SAW's Jigsaw, but he's been dragged on for so long that even some original fans have drifted away from the franchise. So where did it all go wrong? The horror villain has been around for as long as horror itself, so there's no point going way back. But the orgiastic killing held together purely by a frightening and well-constructed killing machine began to take shape in the 70s. Gone were all the draculas and mummies and indiscriminate ghosts, they metamorphosed into something far less recognisable. Ghosts inhabited bodies which themselves became scary, like in THE EXORCIST, and blood sucking vampires changed to cannibalistic country folk and their killing machine Leatherface in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. But it took the excess of the 80s to really run with these concepts and create the characters we, and unfortunately the studio execs, love so much today. The trouble is that such was the volume and variety of these villains that their popularity worked against them. Firstly, so popular were these bizarre creations that they became fuel for other genres - worst of all (for the horror world at least) comedy. GREMLINS, TREMORS, THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD and even BEETLEJUICE cashed in on various horror formats for comedy purposes. After such a massive swathe of comic slants on scary characters it was hard to regain credibility. Matters were made even worse by popular franchises running for so long that they undermined themselves. From BRIDE OF CHUCKY the little villain became a bit of a joke, and Wes Craven unpicked his own characters so far that he drove himself to making a film all about horror conventions. In the SCREAM series we are given a full and frank breakdown of the conventions of horror that had served us so well for so long. It made it impossible to create a character in the same mould as before without it seeming old and predictable or, God forbid, ironic. SCREAM became the challenge to horror writers to innovate, and few have risen to it. This forces us to ask: 'must horror fans have to suffer from character-deficiency for ever?' At the moment things look bleak. Remakes and crappy collections of stolen scenes (cough cough, THE UNBORN, cough) hover depressingly on the horizon like a big fat rain cloud. However, there is hope. Firstly, the lost art of 3-D is in the midst a long awaited revival. SCAR 3-D was a big disappointment but, although it's another remake, MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3-D was a massive improvement. What's more big studios are beginning to take advantage of Imax and several studios are regularly shooting scenes in the format. This re-opens the door for gory horrors that can senselessly scare for the hell of it, and that was a massive part of the cult of character that dominated the 80s. No real plot, just one awesome character and a heck of a lot of gory grandstanding. Another encouraging trend is that the horrors imported from Asia are beginning to change the way up-and-coming writers and directors are thinking of the genre, not just inviting producers to make a quick buck by stealing whole movies. Last year we saw great Spanish horrors REC and THE ORPHANAGE, which took on board the importance of concept and story respectively. Similarly the underrated slasher from American director Jonathan Levine ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE showed a playfulness that looked fresh and successfully dodged the risk of being an ironic commentary. Armed with the impact of Imax and 3-D, and the new confidence imported from up-and-coming filmmaking nations in Asia, perhaps horror will regain that credibility that the 80s unwittingly destroyed. Then, we hope, writing talent will flock back and produce some quality horror again.