I was chatting with this kid in my neighborhood about movies. He’s maybe 12 or 13 years old, and he said something that I seem to be hearing more and more these days.
We were talking about Joe Dante’s flick Gremlins, this “cool, new movie” he had just been introduced to by his parents, and he suddenly looked wistful and a little bid sad.
“Man,” he said, shaking his head. “I bet the 80’s totally rocked.”
“The 80’s?” I thought, arching my eyebrows…
I largely wrote off the 80’s when I was in college. They seemed to me to be the most boring decade in the history of Western Civilization. Now, though, boring doesn’t sound so bad. It was sort of nice not to worry about the Draft. It was oddly reassuring to have the simple terms of the Cold War clearly define our demarcations. If we were relatively confident that shows like Fantasy Island were about as good as it was going to get on TV, we probably were more likely to go outside a little bit more often. Boring, sure…but not so bad.
In fact, I look back at that decade now through much less jaded glasses. The 80’s did sort of rock. Judging from current trends in popular culture, the rest of the country is feeling nostalgic for that heretofore forgotten decade as well.
Nowhere, in fact, is this trend more apparent than in some of our best current movies, and perhaps nowhere is this more specifically apparent than in some of our best horror movies. I think we even can make a case that the 80’s were a sort of golden age for horror. Scary movies back then often felt more innocent than today; the stories seemed to embrace friendship more than gore…in the end, I’d argue, a good scary movie from the 1980’s was always funny, often frightening, but ultimately redemptive. The scary thing was basically just the thing that happened. The story was about how a group of people or maybe a pair of kids could handle the scary thing and in the end come out on top.
Let’s look at Gremlins. What fun to have those cute fuzzy things turn just demonic enough! How morbidly hilarious to hear of the kindly father who got stuck in the chimney while pretending to be Santa and was not found by his family until days later. Hell, we weren’t dumb. The metaphor of “father knows best” had long ago run its course, and when we found out that the dad in Gremlins died in the chimney, it pretty much confirmed for us that the apparent apathy of the 80’s was going nowhere good unless the kids took charge.
And, maybe because of the long, plodding course of the Cold War, the seemingly endless tension and listlessness of détente - maybe it was precisely because we took our time getting worried over completely deranged circumstances - that our movies also took their time in getting us scared.
Poltergeist sure took its time. Salem’s Lot was sometimes downright plodding. Even The Shining, a movie that scared the pants off of me and a whole lot of other people too,didn’t jump right in with the fear. You had to get to know folks first. That gave your fear empathy – it established connection. (I know – Salem’s Lost was from 1979, but you get my point.)
Some of the best horror movies today are now mimicking the emblematic slow escalation of fear characteristic of this style of story telling. You need time for the characters themselves to work through their own conflicts. Then they can face their demons. Think of The House of the Devil, or the recent remake of Fright Night.
With all this in mind, may I strongly recommend a new movie from an (old) master? Joe Dante’s long anticipated film The Hole is finally making its American mainstream premier. It won numerous awards at film festivals all over the world, including best 3D film from the prestigious Venice Film Festival in 2009. I had the pleasure of watching an early release DVD, and I gotta tell you that if you’re lucky enough to be in one of the towns where the movie is playing (check out this website for information), go see this one in the theater. There’s no way this film isn’t more fun with a crowd. Get a slushy and don’t worry about the artificial flavoring. Relish the moist, yellow, rubbery popcorn.
And enjoy a story (which I will not spoil) in which kids join together and struggle as much with coming of age as they do with the supernatural. Enjoy a movie that looks you square in the eye and tells you that the old creepy man who used to live in the house with the spooky basement now lives at the glove factory at the other side of town.
The Glove Factory! An abandoned factory that basically makes fake hands! And of course, you gotta break into that factory…it’s all locked up, but you just gotta break in. After all, the pretty girl is watching.
I can’t bear to write any more of this post without giving the story away, so I’m going to stop here, except to say one more thing, and this one thing is I think the common ground behind much of the scary movies I enjoy.
Don’t expect any super-fantastic-CGI-more-real-than-life-special-effects. Expect something even better. Expect things to be scary and freaky, just like they are in our funniest and more frightening dreams. Those dreams are, after all, where our best and most popular fears reside.
Schlozman's novel, The Zombie Autopsies, was published in 2011 and is currently being adapted for film