And then there are all of these new remakes of the old ’70s and ’80s horror movies coming out, which are far worse than lazy homage films to me.
Yeah, I sort of share the same weariness towards remakes that all die-hard horror fans do. I really can’t stand bland remakes; it’s disheartening to see the movies you love get hurt in some ways, but, on the other hand, we’re stuck with them. These movies make a lot of money, and they’re not going away.
Rob Zombie’s Halloween is a great example. It wasn’t my cup of tea. He did give Michael Myers’ back-story, and that’s not what I’d prefer. On the other hand, though, what I respect about Rob Zombie and that movie was that he was willing to do something new and personal and that was clearly in a world that he cares about. He was reinventing Michael Myers to make something that mattered to him. Even though it wasn’t so successful, I’d rather have movies that try something and take a risk and come up with a new idea, even if they fail, than what so many of these remakes are, which is a pale imitation of the original. They feel really cynical and crass, and they exploit the fact that there’s a familiarity with the original to get audiences to see the movie.
I agree that the first section of Rob Zombie’s Halloween is pretty risky, but what bothers me about that movie is how the last 40-or-so minutes are this rushed and uninspired remake of Carpenter’s original, completely throwing away all of the prior back-story that was at least interesting and fresh.
That’s a really good point. I think this happens a lot; I think Rob Zombie started to get worried that he was going to piss off the audience. He departed more than most do, and maybe he got nervous that he wasn’t giving people enough of the familiar. I just wish that, when people make remakes, the studio would support them in changing the original.
I don’t need to see the same Carrie again; there are so many possibilities that could be explored. Carrie was about violence in schools, gender politics, and bullying, and all of those things are still around today—they’ve just changed a lot since the mid-’70s. You could update Carrie White in a way for a post-Columbine world, and you could make it really great, contemporary, and urgent, in a way that’s different from what made the original great. That’s what I hope more directors and producers focus on.
That would be ideal, yeah. I’m right there with you. Bringing it back to Shock Value, what do you think the book’s appeal is for casual movie fans who aren’t big on horror, and who know Brian De Palma more so for Scarface than for, say, Sisters? The horror community is a given, but there’s that second audience out there.
Right, right. As you suggest, there are two audiences. I really want the die-hard horror people to like this book; they’re obsessive about the field. I don’t want them to feel like they’ve heard all of these stories before, and this point-of-view before. I care a lot about the fact that they’re into the book.
But I also want this book to cross over, and the reason is…. I don’t think you can understand mainstream culture, or even politics today, without understanding horror. Fear drives this culture in a way that’s undeniable; all you need to do is watch cable news and see how much the vocabulary of political ads today is driven by images and tropes that were established in the book. I wrote about this in the book, how Hilary Clinton had some advertisements that seemed like an homage to Halloween, and if you look at mainstream movies like Black Swan and No Country For Old Men, movies that won Academy Awards that seem to me like they’re deeply influenced by ’70s horror.
These movies that were made on a dime back in the ’70s by these outlaw directors have become not only influential in horror, and not only influential in Hollywood, but it’s even bigger than that. When people go to bed at night and they have nightmares, the kind of visual vocabulary that they see is influenced by the scariest things they know, which, in many cases, if you trace it back are these horror films. I believe that if you want to understand American culture, and you want to understand the nature of fear, and what makes people vote a certain way, and why kids love the game of Peek-A-Boo and fairy tales, which are frightening, then you need to understand the people who understood the nature of fear better than anybody else has ever done.
This sounds like I’m exaggerating, but I actually stand by it: Those people were these guys discussed in the book, filmmakers back in the late ’60s and ’70s who were working in the horror field.
All that said, how the hell did you fit that entire argument and point-of-view into a 270-page book?
[Laughs.] It’s funny, the one complaint I keep hearing about the book is that it’s too short. I wanted to make it tight, I didn’t want to pad it; I wanted it to have a clear story, a clear, crisp narrative. But, yeah, sometimes I wish I could have had a few more 100 pages. I like the idea of having this book, picking it up, and finishing it in a day or a weekend or whatever—having it be like a horror movie. Horror movies aren’t long epics; they’re tight, taut, frightening scenes, and I wanted to write a book that’s a history and has ideas in it but is also still in that spirit.
Well, hopefully we’ll get to speak again when the second volume comes out in a few years.
[Laughs.] That would be great. I had a ball talking to you.