- Academic Film Criticism, the Rhetoric of Crisis, and the Current State of American Horror Cinema:Thoughts on Canonicity and Academic Anxiety
Ask any fans, and they will tell you that American horror film is in a slump. Not that no more horror films are being made; on the contrary, as far as popularity and profitability go, the horror film seems near the top of its game as Hollywood lavishes a steady stream primarily of mid-budget films upon its audience. And yet the vast majority of these films just aren't any good. The current slump, according to many fans, began in the 1990s with the so-called neo-slasher. Successful with large audiences but received with apprehension by fans and critics, Wes Craven's Scream was, depending on who you asked, either the best or the worst thing to happen to horror film. According to the critical voices, Scream's recycling of "classic" precursors transformed the more politically [End Page 191] attuned horror film of the previous generation into self-indulgent postmodern play.1 If this wasn't bad enough, what came after the neo-slasher was even worse—a mindless series of remakes, starting with Joel Silver's and Robert Zemeckis' production company Dark Castle and its remakes of gimmicky William Castle films from the 1950s and 1960s, and leading up to the indiscriminate plunder of Asian horror films like The Ring or The Grudge. While more of these so-called J-horror films were still in the pipeline, Hollywood lowered its sights yet again, from foreign to domestic remakes, churning out new versions of Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes, Robert Harmon's The Hitcher, or Fred Walton's When a Stranger Calls. While the Craven remake can at least boast directorial hopeful Alexandre Aja, the remake of the Walton film is nothing but a pointless exercise in style—and not a very successful one at that.2 At what must be considered the bottom of the slump, even remakes of remakes are possible now; the recent announcement of a new version of "John Carpenter's The Thing" in The Guardian, for example, omits any reference to Christian Nyby's The Thing from Another World (1951). As the boundary between original and remake vanishes, all concepts of originality, genealogy, or history go out the window as well.3 One wonders how long it will take, after this latest remake has been released, until someone will begin thinking about remaking the remake of John Carpenter's remake of The Thing from Another World. And after that, if the money's right, remaking that one . . . and after that . . . sky's the limit!
Not surprisingly, then, the fans complain. "It seems to me that the genre has hit a crisis point creatively," Scott Tobias states. "J-horror is dying off, Hollywood is running out of '70s and '80s horror staples to remake, and surely at some point, the Saw and Final Destination franchises will lose their novelty" ("Crosstalk"). Larry Fessenden sees this slump commencing even earlier: "Recently, horror movies have fetishized [sic] serial killers and clinically gruesome effects, as we become possessed by the arbitrariness of violence and our ability to recreate it in the movies. This is a slump" (Glass Eye Pictures). The fact that horror film web site Bloody-Disgusting.com even hosted a discussion among its readers in the late fall of 2005 in which the basic question—Do you think horror movies are done for?"—itself is indicative of the mood among the fans of horror cinema.4 Speaking somewhat more objectively, even the Wikipedia entry on horror film, while noting recent developments in the genre past 2005, confirms this trend:
The start of the 2000s saw the horror genre going into a slump as movies dealing with the supernatural had mild but not memorable success. Even the re-release of a restored version of The Exorcist in September of 2000 didn't quite cause a stir. Also, near-defunct franchises such as Freddy Vs. Jason somehow made it into theatres.(en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horror_film) [End Page 192]
Academic critics writing roughly in the time period between 2002 and 2006 chime...