The horror films at this year's Sundance Film Festival were different. They generated as many laughs as thrills and though it's not the first time horror brought humor, it's a departure from straight-up gore flicks like the the films in the Saw franchise. The horror-comedy genre represented with films like Life After Beth, The Voices and The Raid 2: Berendal and today's guest blogger, produced two of the horror-comedy hits, Cooties and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Countless articles have been written about the evolution of horror films and how the genre changes to reflect current moods in society and specific cultural moments. Does this mean that there's more levity and hope in the world today than ten years ago? A professor from Bringham Young University, Carl Sederholm, teaches classes on the subject and recently talked to Desert News about the topic.
The rise of movies that center around torture, like Saw and Hostel, has no true explanation, but several theories. The gory body horror, depicting extreme violence and torture as a game, may have been inspired by current events. There was waterboarding and debates about Dick Cheney and whether he was moral in authorizing torture. So one of the theories about the emergence of torture-type films in that period was ... it's a way for horror movies to address the morality of torture.
Today's guest blogger, producer Daniel Noah, elaborates on this idea, reflecting about his own experience watching the film Jeepers Creepers shortly after 9/11.
Residing in downtown Manhattan on the second Tuesday of September in the year 2001 was a life changing experience to say the least, most of all for those affected directly by the tragedy, but also to those of us affected indirectly. To live in New York City that week was a profoundly unsettling experience; the sense of safety we had so blindly derived from a perfect grid of streets and avenues, reliably tardy subway lines and that predictable daily flow of nine-to-fivers crossing paths with late night bar flies was decimated, leaving the city that never sleeps in a state of chaotic terror. If we're not safe here - can we be safe anywhere?
Jeepers Creepers, a man-in-a-suit, off-season, horror programmer with no stars and a recently paroled writer-director had opened several weeks before. On September 14th, in desperate need of an escape from the real life horror all around me, I wandered into Times Square and found myself in a nearly empty multiplex theater, watching a surprisingly artful, slow-burn opening sequence during which a road tripping brother and sister gradually realize they are being stalked by a strange figure in a weird, tricked out pickup truck. After a Spielbergian highway duel, the driver of this strange vehicle emerged into the sunlight. The Creeper was introduced to my consciousness, where he will reside until the end of my days.
Watch the cast of Cooties talk about the Sundance hit.
For the next 90 minutes, I sat alone in the dark and experienced what I can only describe as full blown, tactile terror. The Creeper. A mysterious humanoid with an inhuman soul, mercilessly hunting two utterly unprepared civilians without the vaguest notion of what this killing machine wants from them, let alone what motivates him to get it. A false sense of safety shattered in one life-changing instant and replaced with an urgent and rapidly mounting terror. I was living out my emotional response to the World Trade Center attack in a monster movie.
As I left the theater, I found myself strangely adrenalized. Though the experience of watching the film had been anything but pleasant, the net effect of it was stunningly cathartic. Mysterious attackers could strike again at any moment in the real world, and I was powerless to do anything about it. But in Theater 7 at the E-Walk, I had confronted the demon and (spoiler alert:)) even submitted to it. The monster is victorious in Jeepers Creepers, the defenseless protagonists destroyed. Sound bleak? It is. But that terrifyingly bleak ending had provided me an invaluable gift: the chance to confront my fear.
A monster is anything that scares us. Cancer is a monster. So is abuse, addiction, betrayal, disappointment, loss. There is no one alive on this earth who does not fear that the demon in the truck will creep up on them as they cruise along the highway. No one is immune to fear.
Horror films offer us a chance to process and confront those fears, then walk back out into the daylight unharmed. When those tragedies happen for real, I'd like to think that we're a little more prepared because we've had a chance to practice within the virtual reality of the movies. I believe this one of the primary reasons we are drawn to horror films - they're dry runs for when the real monsters come. What could be more valuable than that?
Daniel Noah is a writer-director whose first feature, Max Rose premiered at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. Several years ago, he worked with Elijah Wood and Josh C. Waller on a comedy project that went into turnaround, but the trio discovered a shared passion for the fine art of the horror film, and SpectreVision was launched to celebrate and support the dark genre. 2014 marks the company's first presence at the Sundance Film Festival, where their comedy-horror film Cooties was the breakout hit of the Midnight section, selling to Lionsgate for a wide summer release, while the Iranian vampire western A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night has garnered some of the strongest critical responses of the festival. They are currently in production on The Boy.