Monday, April 8, 2013

Memories of Dark Corners and Diabolical Places

by MJ Preston

     One of the things I note about film-making today is the lack of imagination on the part of many production companies. Perhaps it is isn't so much their lack of imagination as it is my perception that films were much better way back when.

      When I was a kid, I was a regular movie-goer to the Chilliwack Drive-in which was immortalized in the Bryan Adams video: Summer of 69. The Chilliwack Drive-in ran films in (for lack of a better phrase) grind-house fashion. These were often low budget – over the top – titillating – films. Films I might add, they wouldn't dare run at the Paramount theater downtown, because the small Christian community in our town would have been outraged.
      I have been binging on film, writing, art and photography. These
TCM's Leatherface epitomized the 70's horror villain
four mediums are a big part of what I do, photography being the newest. Some folks are into extreme sports, others dig physical fitness, me, I have always loved the arts. Especially film. Unfortunately, when eating is an essential, the stuff I love doing takes a back seat to earning a buck, so when time allows I sit down to a good horror flick, do a bit of reading, dabble in photos and art and try to get my ass down that rabbit hole and find my muse.

     The other thing I tend to do is wander off into an almost lethargic state as I consider and think about ideas. This can happen almost anywhere, the shower, on the couch, even behind the screen of my Toshiba laptop. My mother used to affectionately call me the Nowhere Man because I'd be day-dreaming about one thing or another, not unlike the fellow the Beatles used to sing about. During these times, I'd be plotting a chapter in a book, thinking about a blank canvas or just riffing on some old film that left its mark on me.

     The other day in the shower I was enjoying the hot water beating against my shoulders as I began to consider the movies I'd seen and the impression they left on me. One film from my youth that still stands out is THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. This film has left such a lasting impression that modern day film-makers have been trying to capture the gritty horrific feel of it in many of the new movies marketed today. In retrospect, TCM likely stands up the best, but there were other films still that left their mark on my adolescence. I remember going to see: Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things, Carrie, The Velvet Vampire, Beware the Blob and a number of other movies that scared the living shit out of me.

     The Velvet Vampire can actually be watched through Google video, but I remember revisiting it with my girlfriend (now wife) Karen, and pitching it to her as one of the scariest vampire flicks I'd ever seen as a kid. When we watched it together on VHS I was thoroughly embarrassed at my pitch and to this day she reminds me what a horrible low budget movie it was. In fact, as the seductress vampire Diane LeFanu talks seductively to the couple it feels more like the plot of a 70's porno. There were things about TVV that made it a very scarey film and that was it's ability to invade the imagination of a nine year old boy. I didn't know much about vampires back then, I knew about Dracula, but the idea of a beautiful seductive woman who used her sexuality to trap her victims was both terrifying and exciting at the same time. The same applied to Beware the Blob and Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things. What did they offer except horrible acting, and a ridiculous plot? But there was something else. The seed they planted in my mind unleashed a fury of excitement that pulsed through me as I recounted these films and how they effected me.

     As I got older, keeping in mind this was before most folks could afford video player/recorder, I watched films evolve with better special effects, better plots and they delivered. The original Evil Dead was filmed on a shoe string budget, made by college kids still wet behind the ears, but for the most part they delivered. In fact it caught the attention of Stephen King who gave it the plug: THE MOST FEROSCIOUSLY ORIGINAL HORROR FILM OF THE YEAR. King was already cemented into the minds of the genre as the “King of Horror” and his plug helped capture the attention of New Line Cinema which eventually picked the the low budget film up and ran it in theaters.

     The recent release of what was thought to be an EVIL DEAD
remake, allowed me to talk my wife Karen into attending an afternoon viewing of the film so that I could join a round table palaver about it on an upcoming episode of Dark Discussions. We watched it and I am reserving my comments about the new film until that episode airs, but it spurred me to go back and re-watch the original.

     From a technical point of view, the original ED is a work of art. Yes, the special effects are very dated, the score is over-dramatic and the acting is, well, kind of amateur. But what makes this film great is the very fact that it has become a template for other films and it was able to evolve from serious horror to comic book horror with two successful sequels.

     After sitting through the original I was again reminded that the memory of a young person draws on their imagination in recalling  a film that impressed them. Not everything is what it seemsm but for me, Evil Dead was a scary film. The effects, the weird spiraling octaves of sound and the evil force moving through the woods certainly seemed far better when recalled and now seem rather dated when watched. But in contrast to many of today's horror films that are so dependent on CGI and the “Gross Out factor” – the original Evil Dead is a superior film.

     That is not to say that all new productions are shit. This year and last I saw a couple films that really captured that old black magic of TCM and EVIL DEAD. Films like: INSIDIOUS, SINISTER are two very solid modern horror films.
     Yesterday I spent a good number of hours comparing a remakes to the originals and have to say that I enjoyed some of the remakes more. This will get me in trouble with the Purists, but I thought the new Dawn of the Dead was way better than the original. It was scary, fun, and the effects were great. The other film I watched that outdid its predecessor was The Crazies. I'd never seen the original and gave it a watch yesterday. Good grief, I guess you can improve on the past if you have the right vision.

      So that's it, a "ramble on" about movies new and old. I'm sure if you're like me you'll keep those memories near a dear as you recall that movie which hooked you. I guess the real challenge today is not to remake and surpass it, but to make something new and original that has the power to set the movie-goers imagination on fire.

MJ Preston is the Author of the Horror Novel: THE EQUINOX
His new novel ACADIA EVENT is forecasted for release in late 
'The Equinox' is a tour de force of brilliant writing, fast-paced action, and gritty characterisation. 
Get your copy of The Equinox  
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