“It Follows” and the Tepid State of the Modern Horror Film

Any horror fan out there can attest to the staples of the late-70’s early 80’s tenants of horror. Be it the slow sprawl loaf of Michael Meyers in Carpenter’s 78′ original Halloween or the supreme gore that was Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre revered to the point that it’s inspired seven subsequent sequels and reboots, we can all agree that there’s an indistinguishable feel and atmosphere that made the golden age of horror such a spectacle–and an alluring one at that.

The “classic” horror movie is a slow burn. It’s the build-up alongside nuanced development that rises to some tumultuous and over-revealing climax, harnessing elements we as a society fear. It’s panic, dread, alarm, and outrage at events and instances well-outside the norm, and it’s glorious.

However, it’s clear with the critically-outstanding reception of David Robert Mitchell’s 2015 It Follows that the horror industry is in the midst of creative deadlock–a stalemate that needs more than the regurgitation of classic horror tropes for salvation.

The story is about Jay Height (Maika Monroe), as she contracts the dangers associated with “It” following her. What’s “it”? “It” is a slow-walking manifestation of some sort of supernatural force whose only purpose is to destroy its victim. “It” manifests itself throughout the film as a number of individuals all of which slowly walk in pursuit, deranged in their lope, and comical in their speed.

I can’t knock the film entirely. Where Mitchell’s concept strikes a chord is the fact that “It” is literally everything and appears slowly and surely. It encompasses a sort of universality and omnipotent appeal to the fact deep down we’re all scared of being chased–regardless of however slow said chase might be.

That being said, the story moves with the rapidity of its villains (that is to say, not at all). Jay’s fears of “It” although slightly spooky when it actually surfaces and shows its face, is about as terrifying as a barking dog revealed as a maltese.

Everything from the pace of the film to the sonorous synth lines that pierce and strike in calculated intervals throughout the picture’s entirety seems to be lifted from the world of the 80’s horror classics. The synths evoke Barker’s 1987 Hellraiser in their orchestrated cacophony, and the shots are grandiose and sweeping a la Kubrick’s (love it or hate it) 1980 The Shining.

Getting to the point, I’m tired of rehashed clichés and thematic tropes being recycled year after year. It seems as though the latest horror resurgence is nothing more than the recycled surety of directors who were once original.

It’s not the film that disappointed me so much as its reviews. It seems as though between the ivory-tower that has become the Cannes festival panels, Rolling Stone, and mainstream audiences everywhere It Follows is believed it to be some smash-hit original–groundbreaking in its inception and cinematographic brilliance.

On closer inspection–beneath the “originality” that critics praised so dutifully are the tenants of a genre long-since out to pasture. My only hope is that someone manages to bring it back.

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The Strain: Remaking the Vampire Classic

Since the abomination to the film/book industry that was the Twilight series, vampires have been dismissed as prissy prima donna hunks who sparkled when in sunlight. I remember my disappointment when I sat down to watch the first film out of curiosity and my hopes of witnessing one of the main vampires explode in some bloody, mucusey-jumble of limbs and organs. Lo and behold, you can imagine my thoughts when Robert Pattinson only managed to get more beautiful by glittering or sparkling or whatever the terrible term used in the books was.

Suffice it to say that by the time Breaking Dawn came to a close, society was done with the vampire porn of the silver-screen. Blade fanatics (like myself) were left reeling in the throes that one our favorite monsters had been transformed into some beautiful, pristine, teeny-bopper beefcake. Oh, the horror!

But there’s a light on the horizon in Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s The Strain which debuted on FX last year. The show itself is a classic story retold through the eyes of one of the most imaginative directors contemporary film-making has to offer.

For those of you unfamiliar with Del Toro’s work–get familiar. He’s a delightfully debauched combination of Tim Burton and Jim Henson, and he makes monster movies. Right? The creatures are terrifying and the writing is fantastic. Enough said.

The story follows a number of protagonists ranging from a latino-gang-banger, pest-control officer, and CDC big-wig–all of which attempting to stop an ancient Romanian vampiric parasite simply called Strigoi (risen dead). It’s a gruesome romp through the streets of NYC as our heroes confront one of the deadliest enemies the world has ever seen.

But the story is more than a simple vampire plague. Del Toro’s Strigoi is a horrific combination of new and old. His creatures of the night are reminiscent of Murnau’s 1922 Nosferatu, yet aggressive like the zombies in 28 Days Later. It’s a sight to behold.

Needless to say, I’m over-the-moon about The Strain. The show is currently in the midst of a phenomenal second season. If you haven’t given it a peek yet, be sure to do so. Just maybe keep the lights on when you do.

5 Reasons Why Everyone Should Love Mad Men

It’s remarkable how with the astounding amount of TV available, anything at all achieves any semblance of recognition. For those in the relative know, Mad Men is one of winningest shows out now weighing in with 4 Best Drama Emmys and a colossal 17 nominations (most ever).

And yet, it’s also one of the most strangely repellent shows out there–to the extent that the question of “Have you seen Mad Men?” is most often met with a ubiquitous “Boring.”

That being said, ignore the pleas for the melodramatic. Most dismissers discontent rises out of a failure to understand that Mad Men is not your everyday dramatic thriller. It’s something much greater.

  1. Tensity: For the doubters out there, Mad Men is not a thriller, so dispel that notion at the door. It’s a slow burn. Like the bars and clientele the show portrays in its pristine settings and side-cuts, Mad Men moves with the casual saunter of a man approaching a bar for a whiskey. It’s not a tour-de-force. Not a rocket blast. Not 24. And yet, it’s hard to disagree that there’s something there. Some distinctly poignant glimpse into a life that is both honest and accurate, and yet delightfully exaggerated.
  2. Characters: There’s no denying that the show’s protagonist Don Draper exhaustively shifts on the love/hate spectrum. And he’s just a small representation of a cast that’s as lifelike and realistic as a trip to the store for a carton of milk. They scream reality, which any writer will tell you is a serious feat for dramatic television.
  3. Writing: The dialogue shimmers with innuendo, cut-cheek jabs, and off-the-cuff dialogue that surprises and delights. Predictability being the bane of a program’s success, Mad Men never steers the course for the traditional and instead relies on the duplicitous personas driven by its characters for its plot.
  4. Verisimilitude: This being the lifelike quality of the show itself. Mad Men has this uncanny ability to render the slow undulations of life, the steady rhythmic lulls and flourishes of conversation, the turn of the cheek at the approach of an unwanted kiss. It’s is one of those shows that somehow reminds and educates us about a time in history in which the world was exceptionally different and similar at the same time.
  5. Consistency: This is something that most programs fail to recognize as vital to a show’s success. Just like Seinfeld’s ability to smash-cut between multiple plot lines and jokes, and Lost‘s ability to baffle and astound with consistently melodramatic shock-and-awe, Mad Men moves through it’s pre-established paces of bar-top banter and cut-throat business dealings, every week at the same pace without fail–which in and of itself is part of the magic.

So the next time you’re perusing the B-League Netflix stacks of Watch Instantly and casually gloss over the glory that is the world of Mad Men, remind yourself that its not about boredom or excitement. Great programming is more than just the gun-battle and explosion variety. Good drama and good stories are often those that play it close to the chest. Those that make us think and make us inquire into a world of the past that’s otherness from the world of today is so staggering it might as well be set on Mars.

And for that–watch Mad Men. You won’t be disappointed.