Seeing the early reviews -- early as in, only 11 of them by Thursday afternoon -- of Sam Raimi's latest, Drag Me to Hell, it's hard for a horror fan not to get a little giddy.
Because good horror is a mysterious (and elusive) fig.
(Thanks to Screen Rant for the pic)
Aside from the very, very, VERY exceptional cases -- and this is true for any genre (comedy, sci-fi, action, etc.) -- rarely does an offering reach an all-time-great level. But there's just something about a solid scare-fest -- say, Quarantine -- that's so much more satisfying than your typical entertaining actioner.
Also, and let me say this very quietly ... IT'S NOT THAT HARD TO MAKE!
Seems to me, good horror needs three elements to succeed (succeed = not suck):
1) An ominous, uncomfortable atmosphere -- a looming sense of dread that doesn't let up until the credits roll. Basically, just create likable (or at least tolerable) characters and threaten their lives somehow. Done.
2) A script that isn't riddled with horrifically stupid dialogue or nonsensical, eye-rolling plot points. We don't need Elmore Leonard exchanges and a Usual Suspects-level storyline here, just a little bit of logic and realism, even in an unreal world.
3) A lack of excess. There's nothing wrong with a little violence/gore, but sometimes it's just too much, and too mean. A great example is Hostel -- it kills in the atmosphere department and has a solid script ... but once it reaches its payoff, it's just too much.
Sure, this doesn't account for everything*. But it's a pretty simple set of rules that shouldn't be that hard to follow. No, you're not necessarily going to get huge critical success -- but hey, Anchorman only hit 64% on RottenTomatoes, and if that's not a legend in the world of genre films, nothing is. Like comedy fans, horror-philes have relatively low expectations, too.
*Let's not forget about side genres such as the cheesy, over-the-top slasher/monster flick (e.g. the old Friday the 13th series) or the action-horror hybrid (you could throw Aliens into this basket). There's also the bizarro-horror, which Raimi himself nailed in Evil Dead II.
I was going to rant on a couple of horror entries I've sampled lately (Thir13en Ghosts going on 30 Days of Night) -- but why waste time? I already did that watching them. In short, they didn't follow the rules -- brainless plots and dumb dialogue that waste a few pretty cool kills and effects.
Instead I'll just sit here hoping Drag Me to Hell doesn't fall into same traps. I don't want to scream its title as I leave the theater, thinking about another $10 and two hours wasted on bad horror.
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