Wednesday, November 9, 2011

HORROR HARVEST: Part Ten: The Three C’s – Craven, Carpenter and Cronenberg (OK, and Hooper and Raimi)

John Carpenter's "They Live" -- existence as conspiracy.
What happened? Why were the last 30 years of the 20th century the most fruitful, penetrating and transgressive years for American horror cinema?

A lot of factors fed in to the widespread success of the horror film period (and the subsequent writing of countless studies, dissertations and theses on same). The graphic intrusion of the horrors of Vietnam and domestic crimes visa television lowered the resistance of the potential audience to explicit terror. By the end of Nixon administration, the American dream had begun to sour and curl at the edges, and it was hard not to be caught up in a feeling of hopelessness and ennui.

On more a practical level, there were more teenagers to frighten. The 1970s saw the coming of age of the tail end of the Baby Boom – the last generation to date to experience material well-being and economic abundance as a group to date. Additionally, advances in movie technology in terms of makeup, prosthetics and effects (pre-CGI) made it possible to stage more ambitious and convincing scenes of horror.
"Videodrome" -- disgusting virtuosity.

Finally, the time was right -- to question EVERYTHING. Whatever cultural, political or psychosocial reasons are given for their popularity, these films represented a catharsis and a way to think through implications of reality onscreen that were powerful and influential.

Carpenter’s deep suspicions about society, systems of belief and consensus reality come to the fore in “The Thing” and “They Live”; his out-and-out solid cinematic abilities make “Halloween” a classic film text that would serve as a template for countless others. “Prince of Darkness” and “Mouth of Madness” would push his sensibilities into even more breathtaking territory – one in which the dominion of evil was only a flip of perception or an accident of fate away from the world.

Cronenberg delves even further into the underlying terrors of existence, especially the fragility and unreliability of the human body. His “body horror” palette is broad enough to tackle numerous levels of meaning on any given project, and has pushed him, like Carpenter and Raimi, into more mainstream and “legitimate” projects.

Of the five directors listed in this chapter, it seems clear now that only Carpenter, Cronenberg and Raimi will be canonized (and Raimi will be praised primarily as a stylist, not as a “thinker”), while Craven and Hooper will be seen as opportunistic journeymen. This seems odd. Craven’s “Last House on the Left,” along with Friedkin’s “Exorcist” three years later and Hooper’s “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” broke all the filmmaking taboos -- and made tons of money doing so.
"The Exorcist" -- no safety anywhere.
Unfortunately, lesser talents could only see the gore on screen, not the even more disturbing ideas behind them. “Last House on the Left” would not be remembered an essay on the senselessness of revenge, but as a precursor of torture porn. “The Exorcist,” although it contains a redemptive ending, merciless tormented a child and her family. “Massacre” offers a perverted All-American family, and lingers on the savaging of women. This misogyny and sadistic Puritanism would continue, sanctified by financial success. Horror was leaving the drive-in and entering the multiplex.


Last House on the Left
Wes Craven
1972





The Exorcist
William Friedkin
1973



The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
Tobe Hooper
1974



The Hills Have Eyes
Wes Craven
1975



They Came from Within
David Cronenberg
1975





Rabid
David Cronenberg
1977



Halloween
John Carpenter
1978





Salem’s Lot
Tobe Hooper
1979



The Brood
David Cronenberg
1979



Scanners
David Cronenberg
1981





The Evil Dead
Sam Raimi
1981



The Thing
John Carpenter
1982



Poltergeist
Tobe Hooper
1982





Videodrome
David Cronenberg
1983



The Dead Zone
David Cronenberg
1983



A Nightmare on Elm Street
Wes Craven
1984





Lifeforce
Tobe Hooper
1985



The Fly
David Cronenberg
1986



Evil Dead II
Sam Raimi
1987





Prince of Darkness
John Carpenter
1987



The Serpent and the Rainbow
Wes Craven
1988





They Live
John Carpenter
1988





Dead Ringers
David Cronenberg
1988





Darkman
Sam Raimi
1990



The People Under the Stairs
Wes Craven
1991





In the Mouth of Madness
John Carpenter
1994





Scream
Wes Craven
1996



Crash
David Cronenberg
1996



Vampires
John Carpenter
1998





eXistenZ
David Cronenberg
1999