Oscar’s Horror

What are you so afraid of, Oscar?

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?

Who loves ya, baby? Why, Oscar does!

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.

Maybe one day another horror film will win one of these for Best Picture, Director, Actor or Actress?

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?

4 Responses

  1. mendie

    You bring up some interesting points about Horror movies and there lack of Academy love. Unfortunately other than special effects or maybe make-up I don’t see it changing any time soon. I think for the most part when people think of Horror movies they picture campy-girls running into the woods films, which let’s face it, are known more for their teens doing wrong than for the storylines themselves. I have noticed that often, although there are exceptions, horror movies are made with the express purpose of making the most money for little plot, acting, and directing. Until the exception becomes the rule I am afraid that Horror movies will remain a guilty yet satisfying pleasure for the viewing public.

  2. Drew Daywalt

    You make a great point, and Mendie you do too. I think that Horror, as a genre, has been hijacked by gore hounds. Nothing wrong with gore or gory movies, but most people outside the genre, sadly, think horror is just what Mendie said- campy films about hot girls running in the woods , chased by maniacs. Horror is so much more. Like comedy, horror is an EMOTION… And one that we all like to revisit for a myriad reasons. Once we (filmmakers and audience) can get the plane BACK from the hijackers, then we can talk about Oscars. But we won’t get control until we get great content in front of the viewers. 🙂

    • Bryan Reesman

      You both make good points, and yes, perception is a big problem. Rental stores like Blockbuster were once littered with every crappy B and C-movie that came out, making it seem like horror movies were a dime a dozen. Meanwhile, recent films from Asia and Europe were proving that you could make intelligent, sophisticated horror that was lyrical and thought-provoking, but they would get lost in the shuffle and only true genre fans knew about many of them. Even then, the glut of Asian ghost movies became a bit much, too, along with the inevitable slew of Hollywood remakes. The sheer volume of titles coming out every month via home video is also hard to keep up with, even for a lifelong fan such as myself. So the question is: How do we get the public at large to find the diamonds in the rough without feeling overwhelmed?

  3. kiki

    Horror movies are not taken seriously, but this isn’t just bc of people’s perception. It’s because 90 percent of them really are a camp fest.

    But it wasn’t always like this… they changed drastically over the years, and they were very different in the 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s. People had more respect towards horror as a genre back then. But that was lost when horror directors stopped caring about their stories,plots and scripts to focus only on the shock value of their movies. Good horror entails a smart script, intelligent dialogs, and unexpected twists. Also, good horror movies manage to give you the creeps without showing you that much. However, in the 80’s they produced these films that would show you too much and say nothing new or smart, much like porn films. Movies like Friday the 13th. Where all you’d see is teenagers getting killed in a very explicit and stupid way. The directors neglected pretty much the rest of the movie (the parts that didn’t involve gore) and thus the final result was scary. and laughable.

    When they got it right the movie was good. Not just for a horror movie, but for a *movie*

    The exorcist was original, the execution was pretty good for its time, and it wasn’t stupid, that’s why it got nominated.

    Movies like The shinning, the others, audition, etc are way better than the average horror film, and perhaps they deserved a nomination. But this is less than the 5 percent of the horror world.

    The sixth sense is very good, but American Beauty is by far superior, as a movie.
    As regards Zombieland… that movie is so campy that it could only get nominated at the Mtv movie awards. get real!


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