Prior to the Oscar telecast on Sunday night, I was bemoaning the fact that horror movies never get much respect from the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Then during the show, Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner from the tween-friendly Twilight Saga: New Moon introduced a three-minute montage of memorable scary moments in film from the last 100 years. This may be the closest we’ll get to seeing Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers or Jason onstage at the Kodak Theatre. That was a pleasant surprise and nice lip service, but seriously, where are the nominations, people?
One of the ironies behind the genre being bereft of Academy accolades is the fact that horror films are usually less expensive than many of their big budget fantasy and action counterparts yet often reap big dividends at the box office, sometimes as big as the behemoths they are competing against. Don’t get me wrong — I love Lord Of The Rings, Harry Potter and so forth, but I also love imaginative, low budget films that take me on a thrill ride through intense psychology, shrewd plotting and devious characterizations. Those pictures can be just as hard to pull off as a multimillion dollar extravaganza, and they deserve just as much credit.
We all know that the Oscars are not just about acknowledging excellence but giving a financial bump to the (often deserving) winners at the box office, many of which are smaller, more modestly budgeted productions. So you’d think that horror movies would be part of that, if not just for the financial aspect but the fact that many future Hollywood stars got their break in scary movies. Getting back to the green — prior to winning six Oscars last night, The Hurt Locker grossed $14.7 million domestically (and let’s assume that take will shoot up in weeks to come, along with DVD sales). By the same token, the remake of George Romero’s The Crazies made more than that in its opening weekend. This isn’t a judgment on the artistic quality of either film, just a financial reality check. (By the way, remember when Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow made the exemplary vampire thriller Near Dark?) During a period of economic turbulence, does it not make sense to push movies that cost less and make more and are just as engaging as their more expensive cinematic cousins?
The last fear flick (and more of a thriller) to win an Oscar for Best Picture was Silence Of The Lambs in 1991; and for Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay was The Exorcist, waaaay back in 1973. The Best Make-Up category has been more horror-friendly than the others. Rick Baker’s inaugural win was for An American Werewolf In London in 1981, the first year an Oscar was ever awarded in that category, with the most recent genre triumph there coming with Pan’s Labyrinth in 2006. I’d say that perhaps the violence inherent in many genre films has been the issue for the Academy, but Quentin Tarentino’s Inglourious Basterds was nominated for eight Oscars this year, and Christoph Waltz won for Best Supporting Actor. Evidently Tarentino’s version of crazy is more acceptable than, say, George Romero’s or Neil Marshall’s.
There have been plenty of great scary films with substance over the last decade that have been worthy of some Academy love: The Ring, The Descent, 28 Days Later, Brotherhood Of The Wolf, Shaun Of The Dead and Land Of The Dead among them. While The Cell and Underworld did not have the deepest stories (far from it), they both had amazing cinematography. The Sixth Sense racked up plenty of accolades from Oscar in 1999 and should have won Best Picture over American Beauty; it got six noms, but zero wins. And hey, I know Woody Harrelson got nominated this year for The Messenger, but he was great in Zombieland as well.
Ultimately horror is to the movie world as heavy metal is to the music world: full of engaging art, supported by diehard followers and respected by people who actually get it and deplored by many who do not. Maybe a shower of accolades would encourage dilution of the genre and might steer us away from the uncompromising vision that many indie directors bring to the screen. Indeed part of horror’s credibility stems from the fact that the true genre pictures do not pander to the mainstream and are not at all motivated by golden statuette glory. Further, notice how big budget horror flicks with known stars are generally not nearly as successful, financially or artistically, as those with less overt marquee value.
At the end of the day, horror fans care less about awards and more about getting their fear fix satiated. Still, would it hurt to recognize some of the great talents in the genre once in awhile? Is that concept so scary, Oscar?