Friday, July 01, 2005

Land of the Dead and horror

My friend Rob commented to me that he was disappointed with Land of the Dead for not being scary. This is a legitimate complaint in a way, but basically isn't really about George Romero's intent, as I see it, but about the marketing.

Here's how I replied -

I don't know. It cetainly wasn't movie whose true intent was to scare. I think it's a running problem with horror genre, which is actually largely built on the fantastique, or dark fantasy, which is considered a real genre of its own in much of the world but is ignored as existing in this country altogether, either for fairly cheap McDonald's horror or for simply making things that are dark fantasy and marketing it as "horror" for lack of another marketing technique.

George Romero made what for me is the scariest movie ever made, the original Night of the Living Dead, but while he's made some of the best dark fantasy movies of all times - Martin, Creepshow and the rest of The Dead Series - I can't think of another movie he's made that's actually scared me in any kind of leave a light on when I sleep kind of way. But then I can't think of the last time a movie has had that affect on me. I watch probably fifty new movies that American marketing would call "horror" in any given year and don't think I've been scared in that way... well, since the last time I watched Night of the Living Dead, but I couldn't say what the last new movie to cause that sensation in me was. Something in the 1980s? Maybe an older movie I saw in the early 1990s? Maybe a little the first time I saw Candyman.

The ideas and truths that can be exposed about humanity by showing them at the worst possible moments, however, is more thrilling to me than any thrill show is able to.

Land of the Dead was in the impossible marketing position of being essentially the societal equivalent of something like The Road Warrior. A world where the dread and horror of the apocalyptic events that precede it are past and the world has created its own kind of order. And yet it takes place alongside things we ordinarily associate with scary thrill shows and movies with a sense of impending doom and a future where things can only get worse. Day of the Dead already led the way in being a movie in which things can no longer get worse. This was the step beyond even that.

I don't know how it could have been marketed to show that in any standard Hollywood marketing niche. It simply doesn't fit them. It takes place in a world of horrors without simple overt scares. It's a satire of the world around us without laughs. It is, however, brutal and insightful.

I suspect that people looking for more thrills in the longer edition will be disappointed. It may open up more of the story and make it a little fuller, but it will likely make it less and not more of a thrill ride.

For the record, I watched Land of the Dead a second time tonight and feel even more that the film is rich, wonderful and already misunderstood.

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