I think it's pretty safe to say that nobody reading this right now would disagree with me when I say that horror movies made outside the states are generally better than those made here in the states. Though that's a pretty bold statement, one that obviously doesn't always ring true, it's one that can be strongly backed up by many of the better horror films in recent years, films like the French made High Tension, the Japanese made Audition, the Swedish made Let The Right One In, and the list goes on and on.
But have you ever thought about what exactly it is that makes foreign horror superior to the majority of American horror, aside from just saying things like "Uh, well, foreign filmmakers are smarter than ours are!"? This is exactly the topic I was pondering as I laid in bed last night, fresh off of a viewing of the Spanish home invasion flick Kidnapped, which by the way fucked my night up something fierce. I awoke this morning hungry to spew forth my opinions on the matter, so now that I'm finally home from the 9-5 and able to do just that, I'm gonna do just that.
I can really sum up my whole theory on the issue with one single word ...
In America, it's all about the almighty dollar when it comes to the movies, moreso even than the quality of those movies (Michael Bay, anyone?). If a particular movie lacks the star power or subject matter necessary to make millions off of the mass movie going public, that movie either isn't getting made or isn't getting released in the event that it already has been made, plain and simple. What does that mean for the horror genre? Well, that need for movies to make shitloads of money in order to even get made or released is unfortunately killing the genre here in the states. Aside from an exception here and there each year, the sad fact of the matter is that true horror movies don't get put out by the major studios these days. And even if good horror is made by indie filmmakers, outside of the studio system, they oftentimes never see mainstream release, or a release at all. Trick 'r Treat, anyone? All The Boys Love Mandy Lane, anyone?
American horror is dominated by unoriginal ideas, jump scares and lame teen star power. Why? Because, unfortunately, that's what makes money at the box office. Horror movies made in Hollywood aren't made for people like us, the true horror fans. They're made for teenagers who want to take their dates out to see 'scary movies', and who are lured into the theater by familiar faces and familiar ideas. The incredibly sad truth is that a PG-13 3D vampire movie starring Justin Bieber would make millions upon millions of dollars, while something like Stake Land wouldn't even make back its small budget at the box office. Thus, a film like that is relegated to a quiet straight to home video release, while the remakes and shitty PG-13 horror flicks make bank. Don't blame the studios, they're just being smart and churning out the shit that the masses want to see. If they catered to folks like you and I, well, they'd be out of a job real quick.
Bottom line is that mass accessibility makes money. Familiar and safe ideas, such as remakes and rehashings of tired concepts, make money. Truly brutal and well made original horror does not. Simple as that.
Because of this sad reality, many horror fans all around the net inevitably say things like this at the end of each year; "Well, no good horror movies came out this year. Fuck my life". But those of us who know better know the truth. Incredible horror movies come out every single year. You just have to know where to look to find them. And most times you have to look either outside the states, or at least outside the studio system.
Now when it comes to both foreign and indie horror, that need to make enough money off any given movie to buy a yacht and a time share in the Caribbean simply isn't there. If you're asking me, this is exactly why those two groups of filmmakers are the ones making the really great horror movies these days. It aint about the money for them, it's about truly delivering a solid horror movie. Nothing more, nothing less.
Foreign made horror movies in particular tend to be very dark and extremely violent, exploring the deepest and darkest sides of humanity. These are personally my favorite kinds of horror films, the ones that truly unnerve you and have a genuine sense of real danger about them. To me, that's what horror is all about, and it's something that most American filmmakers have no interest in exploring. Again, they just want, and need, to make money.
Without that pressure from a Hollywood system, foreign and indie filmmakers are totally free to do whatever the fuck they want, without worrying about turning off their audience or appealing to as wide a group of people as possible. And thus, we end up with films like Martyrs, repellant and utterly horrifying films that truly embody the word HORROR in every sense of its meaning. You would simply never find something like Martyrs in a mainstream American movie theater, as it's quite frankly just too damn horrifying. It's too raw, it's too real, and nobody but folks like ourselves would ever look at it as anything more than a worthless piece of trash, made by and for sick twisted individuals who should be locked away from society. Of course, we feel the same way about those who get off on a Justin Bieber 3D vampire flick, so who is anyone to judge anyone?
Horror movies made outside of the American studio system are really the only horror movies that seem to have the balls to bring any new ideas and concepts to the table, which in my opinion has everything to do with the fact that those filmmakers are not inhibited by appealing to society at large and in turn, making a shit ton of the green stuff. As a direct result, we get horror movies that actually bring true horror to the screen, palpable and raw. If you're asking me, it's all about filmmakers being able to just let go and make the movies they want to make. Unfortunately, with studio interference dictating you keep things PC as well as familiar and appealing to the masses, there's just no room for that in Hollywood.
Alexandre Aja made High Tension independently in France. Came to Hollywood and made Mirrors. I rest my case.
Just one other thing I want to touch on a bit that makes foreign horror movies more effective to me personally. That being the lack of familiar faces in the cast, both wielding the weapons and getting their organs punctured with the weapons.
For me, for a horror movie to truly creep me the fuck out and totally get me to suspend disbelief and buy into it being real for an hour and a half, it pretty much has to have a cast of actors that I know nothing about, and preferably have never seen before. This is something that rarely happens in Hollywood horror because again, actors that lack established names don't make money for the studios. While a big named star in a horror movie may help rake in the dough at the box office, it can only hurt my enjoyment of any given genre film.
I always like to reference Mary Shelley's Frankenstein when I'm trying to get this point across to people, the one from 1994 that featured Robert DeNiro as Frankenstein's monster. I don't know about you, but I can't get into a Frankenstein tale for a second if I can clearly recognize the man behind the makeup. That's fuckin' Robert DeNiro, says I, not goddamned Frankenstein!
The bottom line is that we just know too much about American celebrities to really get into being scared for them or by them in horror movies. We know what they last ate and who they last fucked. We know that they give money to the kids with flies on them in Africa. Why the hell are we gonna be scared of them when they're wielding a knife?!
When it comes to foreign (or once again indie) horror movies, the actors are for the most part unrecognizable to most of us here in the states. We've never seen them before and we know nothing of what they're like in real life, so we can really buy into the idea of being scared of them or fearing for them as victims. When I was watching Kidnapped last night I found myself truly scared of the bad guys, fully convinced that they were actually evil human beings. If those bad guys were Taylor Lautner and Shia LaBeouf ... not so much.
Obviously what I just said sounds a bit silly because we know at the end of the day that any given movie is just a movie, and that nobody is really hurting anyone or getting hurt, but that ability to suspend disbelief while watching a horror movie really goes a long way when it comes to this particular genre.
I really don't mean to criticize American studios or filmmakers here. I understand that the studios need to make money to stay in business and I get that the filmmakers just want to keep working too. It's not their fault that Hollywood is an entirely money driven system, it really isn't. All I'm saying is, if you want true horror, you're probably not gonna find it inside of an American movie theater. But I'm pretty sure you've figured that out by now.
Anyways, I think I've rambled on enough about this topic. Feel free to do the same in the comments section below. Would love to hear your thoughts!