Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Few Really Scary Movies: Horror for October

Franz v. Stuck's Lucifer (1890)

Horror movies are not a genre that I'm particularly fond of. That's not unusual, but unusually, I'm conversely a fairly enthusiastic fan of horror literature. My problem with horror as a film genre lies in it's seeming inability to hit the emotional profundity regularly encountered within the best horror literature.

The greatest horror literature in my opinion was created in two short time periods: the three decades of the 1890s and 1910s (until about 1913), and the period of 1945-1975. I find most horror works before 1880 or so to be personally less appealing. The Yellow Nineties and Double Oughts however produced a cornucopia of the most excellent horror literature, ranging from Henry James, Edith Wharton, Gertrude Atherton, Oliver Onions, Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, E.F. Benson, M.R. James, Lafcadio Hearne, W.W. Jacobs, Robert W. Chambers, William Hope Hodgson, Ambrose Bierce, M.P. Shiel and many others. Writing at least an occasional ghost story was almost required to be a fiction writer of the time – beyond the aforementioned Henry James, Wharton and Bierce, such figures as Maupassant, Wilde, Twain, Hardy, Beerbohm, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, O. Henry, and many more would at least try their hands at a ghost story.

Odilon Redon's Crying Spider, 1881 (charcoal, private collection)

Conversely, while the immediate after-war period produced many excellent horror works, they were largely written by writers who specialized in horror writing, and many of whom were neither well-known during the time nor today. The best of these figures were Richard Matheson, Robert Aickman, Fritz Leiber, Fred Chappell, Ramsey Campbell and Gerald Kersh.

However, the horror movie has not been as successful as the literary genre has been. Notable stand-outs tend to be few and already widely heralded: such stand-by's as Dreyer's Vampyr, Tourneur's Cat People, Mizoguchi's Ugetsu Monogatari, Wiene's Kabinett of Docktor Kaligari, Murnau's Nosferatu, James Whales' 1930s films............and that's about it.

Furthermore, perhaps more than most other genres, horror movies made outside of the Anglosphere received little attention until the recent recognition of J-horror. Even the recognition of J-horror has largely been limited to recent Japanese horror productions, and ignored that the ghost and demon story genre is many centuries old in both Japan and China. Even worse has been the almost total ignorance of continental European horror except for a narrow genre of movies made in Italy.
So, I'd like to celebrate Halloween this year by focusing a month's writing upon lesser known horror films and also trying to avoid the Anglosphere as much as possible.

Here's some potential topics:

Jean Epstein's Fall of the House of Usher
Paranoia Quartet: Rivette's Paris Belongs to Us, Kachyna's The Ear, Mark Robson's The Seventh Victim and Friedkin's Bug
Pereira dos Santos' How Tasty was My Little Frenchman
Franju's Blood of the Beasts

As usual, I'll be decorating with my posts with appropriately frightening artworks.

Michael Wolgemut's Dance of Death, 1493 (woodcut print, illustration for Schedel's Chronicle of the World, Nuremburg, 1493)


Blogger ARBOGAST said...

Even the recognition of J-horror has largely been limited to recent Japanese horror productions, and ignored that the ghost and demon story genre is many centuries old in both Japan and China.

I'll always be indebted to Ivan Butler's THE HORROR CINEMA, warts and all, for introducing me to discussion of Japanese ghost movies primarily of the 1960s and including in the discussion photographs that scarred my soul. Unfortunately, not much more was widely written about these films until Phil Hardy compiled his horror encyclopedias in the 1980s and 90s. At least the success of J-horror has whetted appetites for older stuff and a lot of the new stuff is pretty good, too.

1:28 PM  
Blogger Campaspe said...

Oliver Onions! did you read "The Beckoning Fair One"? very cinematic story, that. Begging for a screen translation. Unless it got one I missed.

1:51 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

The Beckoning Fair One seems to me to be quite impossibly unfilmable, no? Perhaps I'm not remembering the story well enough. No, I think I've got the right one. If it could be pulled off, it would be a supreme acting tour-de-force (the star would practically be the only human face seen throughout).

11:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


11:56 PM  
Blogger pnr-status said...

Horror the invisible one for every human life everybody would like to know what is this ? That's why movies are still renewable one the great example is The wolf man 1941 best horror movie remake is now getting to be released in 2010.

3:12 AM  

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