Why is it that making money out of horror movies still seems to embarrass the major studios?
Back in the day famous names wheeled out long dormant companies to hide behind when they released such mini-blockbusters as FRIDAY THE 13TH and SUSPIRIA. It really was a case of Paramount in the former instance, Fox in the latter, wanting to get to grips with the exploitation movie racket but not having the guts to admit it.
In today's even safer market place where Hollywood screenwriter William Goldman's famous utterance "Nobody knows anything" has transformed into "Nobody learns anything", at least the main players now brand their "elevated genre" (how I hate that snobby jargon description!) material. So Sony is more than happy to own up to DON'T BREATHE or Warner Bros THE CONJURING 2. A shame then as a rule such mainstream horror fare is almost always so anodyne and pitched at an OMG-PG audience texting their shock at a cat jumping out of a closet in between their sound-designed screams.
I've been involved in the horror fantasy industry now for over 40 years as an all-round critic, broadcaster, specialist journalist and genre festival programmer and I've never known a time in film history where the disconnect between what the studio system thinks fan boys/girls want and what they actually wish for has been so stark. The SS (Studio System, what else?) want to give us reboots, rehashes and repeats. The GHOSTBUSTERS box-office returns just show well that's been working out.
But Horror Lives Matter too and its edgy ideas brilliantly realised, sinister imaginations at work, innovative direction and creative gore we all crave. That's why global fantasy festivals have a more important role to play than ever before in this fast-changing world of multi-screen/platform/delivery. You will hardly see any emerging fashion in the multiplex fodder being force-fed cinema audiences. Well, possibly one: the moment a specific movie becomes a sizeable hit, clones of it will be coming down the pike at the rate of knots! Interchangeable haunted houses anyone?
But those who have attended any FrightFest in the past 17 years of our existence, or downloaded one of our VOD releases, will have seen the rise of every single trend before those supposedly in the know even realised it was on-trend. From the Asian boom, French fear extremism and South American flavoured terror to Nordic Noir, ubiquitous Zombie invasions and advances in cruel Britannia as exemplified by GB poster boy Ben Wheatley, it's our crowd who are first cowed by the latest, the newest and the freshest.
Nor do we see this as restricting or ghettoising our audience in any way. We must be providing a service because why else does our audience increase every year? We are merely opening their eyes to novel ways to shiver and not to be satisfied by wallowing around in stale sloppy seconds. One of the questions I always get asked in interviews is "Why do we like to be scared?" Sure I could - and have - come up with the usual PC fudge about the cinema being a safe darkness where the collective jolt is comforting and because the world is such a scary place at the moment we all need a place to bond over our fears.
But if I were to tell the absolute truth it would be because I personally like the complete and utter joy of watching someone's face being sliced off with a hacksaw and everyone around me clapping in unison at its special effectiveness. Or the bad guy getting a red-hot poker rammed up his ass and being able to almost smell the sizzle. Or the realisation that we are all going to die someday so who cares what my or anyone's reaction to screen death is as long as we're having a great time in the here and now watching the genre movies we love.
If the moribund movers and shakers woke up to that hardcore reality and instead of apologising for grossing people out while still viewing horror as a third class genre and actually tried to cause the emotional distress such classics as THE EXORCIST, PSYCHO and THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE did then we might be getting somewhere. Want to know what the latest trend is I've divined from our FrightFest 2016 line-up? That anything goes, whether high or low budget, and that the sheer breadth of focus is truly astonishing. Take note powers-that-be and we could be heading for a new golden age of ghoulish delights.