Sunday, 7 September 2008
Sarah Jahier 'Fatally Yours' interview
How old were you when you first developed an interest in horror and which film in particular sparked that interest?
"I was always drawn to the darker side when I was growing up, but I stuck more to reading horror novels like Stephen King's books instead of watching horror movies. I didn't really get into horror films until high school, when I watched The Texas Chain Saw Massacre for the very first time…and was blown away by its brutality. After recovering from shell-shock, I was completely hooked on horror! I even went on to write my thesis in college on TCM!"
What is it about horror that appeals to you so much? Do you feel that these kinds of movies serve any other purpose than to entertain, such as helping the viewer to confront their own fears or learn about morality? Some writers have made comparisons between modern horror and both nursery rhymes and urban legends, as they contain messages to help guide their young readers.
"For me, horror acts as a catharsis. After a bad day, there's nothing better than sprawling on the couch and watching a particularly spooky, or even cheesy, horror movie. Compared with the troubles the on-screen characters face, your problems just don't seem so terrible. I think horror movies have this affect on many people. They also allow us to confront our fears in a very controlled environment. Even if we get scared, we know that it's "just a movie." Yet, that adrenaline rush and release of emotions (our bodies' fight or flight response) are real. Horror movies are a great way to experience this rush while not actually being put in any real danger (unless you have a heart condition!). There are plenty of horror movies that convey deeper messages than the blood and grue they splash across the screen, but I think many viewers just wish to be entertained. Really, it's all about what the viewer personally takes away from their viewing experience, whether they are watching purely for entertainment or if they are willing to look a little deeper into the film and take something more meaningful away from it."
Horror, more than any other genre, has had such a mixed reception over the years. Whilst conventions the world over are packed with hardcore fans, many people still look upon this type of movie as one step up from pornography; either sleazy and corruptive or simply juvenile. Why do you think horror provokes such strong emotions, both positive and negative?
"Horror fans "get it." They understand fear and love the emotions horror movies evoke in them. Others outside the genre just don't see the value of such catharsis. While horror fans are drawn to the darker aspects in life and can acknowledge them, while most other people just want to ignore death. Horror embraces the ugly side of human (or inhuman) nature, fear and death while other genres tend to shy away from these things. Instead, other genres tend to focus on unrealistic ideals, like romantic comedies representing skewed views on love. I think horror fans prefer the nitty-gritty truth over unattainable ideals! I also think horror's popularity has a lot to do with the many different subgenres of horror we have to choose from. Some fans might like cheesy, funny horror while others prefer the gory exploitation flicks. Horror fans have a wide spectrum of films to choose from, and I think that's a big part of what makes horror such an appealing genre to many and why there is such a rock solid fan base for it."
So many horror films have been blamed for real life violence, why do you think it makes such as easy scapegoat? The censors have been stricter with horror over the years than any other genre, despite most action movies featuring more graphic deaths than your average horror, and many critics are hesitant to discuss the positive aspects of horror, showing that these kinds of films are still a kind of taboo.
"Horror films are visual representations of our deepest fears, and when violence (which itself is feared) is perpetrated in real life it is easy to look at them as a mirror for the horrifying crimes. People believe the old saying "Monkey see, monkey do," especially when it pertains to individuals who commit violence, but they tend to ignore other factors that would be more likely for causing violence. Saying horror films are solely to blame for someone committing violence is like blaming comedy movies when someone makes a bad joke. It's completely silly!"
How would you say gender and sexuality are portrayed in horror? Do you think the 'sex equals death' morality is an important theme and are women portrayed and treated as fairly as their male counterparts? Some have discussed that films such as slashers are misogynistic, while others say the image of the heroine celebrates feminism. How do you feel on this subject?
"I think most of the time women in horror are portrayed far worse than the men. They usually suffer the most prolonged and visible deaths, they are usually most likely to be humiliated before they die, usually treated solely as sexual objects instead of real people and their characters are usually the least developed. Of course, things are always improving, and I think people in the genre have come very far from how women were portrayed in horror in the past. The "Final Girl" in most slashers is the only person to survive and some think that signals some kind of celebration of feminism, but I prefer to look at how her character was treated throughout the entire film before jumping to any conclusions. It is true that many films celebrate the strength of females, but many others are still stuck putting women into stereotypical roles…even when their film is hailed as a great feminist achievement. Case in point is the recent film Teeth (review), which I absolutely loathed. I felt that it was completely anti-woman and that people got the fleece pulled over their eyes just because it was "different." It was one of the most misogynistic movies I've seen!"
How often would you say that nudity and sex scenes are actually relevant to the story or are they usually just to keep the young audience interested or help revive a film that is running its course?
"For me, a lot of nudity and sex scenes tend to slow down the story. It's like, come on, get on with it, I wanna see some REAL action! Sometimes it's justifiable for the film, but most of the time it's just gratuitous."
Another aspect of modern horror which is often discussed is voyeurism and the use of point-of-view camerawork, which often forces the viewer to watch the murders through the killer's eyes, placing them in the role of the antagonist, instead of allowing them to sympathize with the victim. What is your opinion on this?
"Much has been made about this technique, with critics of the genre complaining that the audience will start to relate with the killer as opposed to the victims, but I think that is mostly BS! The POV from the killer fully allows the audience to realize the horror of what is really happening, and be able to fully see the terrified reaction from the victim. If anything, seeing the terror of the victim from the killer's point-of-view should allow the audience to sympathize more with the victim, because they are seeing exactly how scared they are!"
Do you think that the advancements in special effects over recent years (both prosthetics and CGI) has allowed filmmakers the chance to help create tension and excitement or has it taken too much attention away from the story; as many older films relied on the cast and script while many recent films have been saturated in effects and the expense of a coherent plot?
"Special effects have gotten pretty nifty over the years, but it's the story that really matters in a film. Filmmakers should learn to work within their means before staging elaborate scenes that require many special effects, because sometimes they just can't pull their vision off. I think we as an audience have focused too much on how stuff looks rather than focusing on how well a story is told. Some of the best films were made without any of the special effects we have available today, and they still stand the test of time…all because of the substance of their story, not their special effects."
What is your opinion the current horror climate? How do you feel about the countless remakes, as it seems that Hollywood is updating both the timeless classics and the more obscure cult favourites?
"I think horror fans have to look beyond Hollywood for quality horror flicks. The indie and foreign markets is just teeming with excellent horror films that not very many people have had the pleasure to check out. Hollywood will just keep remaking and making films that are horrible representations of the horror genre. This "bubblegum horror" is not geared toward horror fans, but at the younger set of moviegoers and the more mainstream audience in mind. Now, with quality horror films that horror fans actually want to see, like Midnight Meat Train and Repo! The Genetic Opera, in jeopardy of being yanked from theatrical release (with the possibility they'll just be dropped straight to DVD), the horror community shouldn't be relying on the big studios for quality horror anymore."
Horror seems more acceptable now than ever, with many of them designed as 'safe movies' aimed at the PG-13 MTV crowd. Many of these films are generic and refuse to take any real risks to shock their audience. At the same time, there have been the so-called 'torture porn' movies that specialize in elaborate deaths and graphic violence. Both styles have been extremely successful over the last few years. How do you feel about modern horror and the industry in general?
"I avoid PG-13 films that are geared for teeny-boppers, what I call "bubblegum horror." Films like the Prom Night remake just don't do it for me, so I refuse to shell out cash just to be disappointed. The so-called "torture porn" sub-genre worked for a while, but has long worn out its welcome. And you know what both of these types of films lack? A solid, scary story to keep me glued to my seat. If you just throw CW actors and buckets of gore at me without an interesting story, I'm just not going to care about the film at all. So, like I mentioned earlier, I think we as a community should be turning to independent or foreign horror films, ones that feature new surprises!"
Do you feel that independent filmmakers are given enough support, by both the studios and critics, and how do you feel the likes of MySpace and YouTube have changed the way in which these films are publicized?
"I believe that MySpace and YouTube have been amazing for independent filmmakers. It has really leveled the playing field for them and has allowed them more exposure. It's been excellent for the horror fans as well, because it is easier to find fantastic, independent horror films now. Still, many moviegoers are turned off by the low-budget look of some films…to those I say, get over it and give these talented filmmakers a chance! They are the future of the horror genre!
Christian Sellers: In your opinion do the producers in Hollywood really understand what makes a good horror film or are they only interested in profit, sometimes at the expense of artistic freedom. Which filmmakers working today do you respect the most and why?
"I respect indie filmmakers who really are doing it "for the love of horror." They are usually fans of the genre and know how to scare an audience, unlike the big studios who are pushing out the tame horror remakes just to make a quick buck. It's sad to say, but major studios are in a business and are out to make money. Of course they want to entertain audiences, but what they really want to do is get the maximum number of butts in seats to watch their new movie. So, to do so they must cater to wider, more mainstream tastes, which are much tamer than the horror crowd's robust palate. The result is watered-down horror movies…so, again, we can't solely rely on Hollywood for our horror fix. We must look elsewhere. There are some studio films that have their hearts in the right place, though these are usually far and in-between. Whatever horror films we seek out, we must make sure they are being made "for the love of horror!""