Sunday, December 11, 2011

"What Happened To Old-Fashioned Horror?"

Here's a clip (posted by Freddy in Space as their Vintage Video of the Week) that will stir some memories for any horror fan who grew up in the '80s: a concerned report circa 1987 titled "VCR Horrors" from ABC's newsmagazine 20/20 on the rising appetite among America's young people for violent entertainment, then more readily accessible than ever thanks to home video.

Here, give it a watch:

Man, that's good stuff. Vintage cluelessness towards horror. But the kind of uninformed hand-wringing found in that report was a big part of what made the genre so appealing to kids back in the '80s - like heavy metal, horror was outlaw stuff, considered dangerous by most parents and teachers. Watching that report actually makes me a little sad that those alarmist days are gone for good. Now that the generation that grew up renting hardcore horror every week have become adults with kids of their own, it's hard for even the most extreme horror to be seen as a threat to the fabric of society. You know, when you spent your teen years watching films like Make Them Die Slowly and grew up mentally unscathed, The Human Centipede doesn't seem like a viable scapegoat for society's ills.

Along those same lines, you'd also think that a generation that grew up on such disreputable pop culture touchstones as EC Comics and Hitchcock's Psycho wouldn't have lost their shit over splatter movies but yet somehow they did. Luckily, no one from my generation is going to ever claim that filmmakers today lack the classy touch of William Lustig! If anything, they complain that today's movies aren't as gory as the ones they watched as kids. We want movies to be old-school, not old-fashioned.

This report also evokes a real pang of nostalgia for the era of the video store. All matters of convenience aside, getting movies off of Netflix or OnDemand or whatever just isn't as cool as getting a video off a shelf. I know that's the old-fogiest of outlooks and that everyone loves having movies at their fingertips now but, jeez, video stores added so much to the aura of horror in the '80s. Now that's all just a memory.

Even sadder is to revisit a robust Chas. Balun (who probably felt like his comments weren't entirely well-served here) and scream queen Linnea Quigley, both then in their prime. Beloved genre critic Balun passed away too young at age 61 in 2009 after a long battle with cancer and not only has Quigley endured a natural fade from her B-movie glory days but she also represents the kind of semi-famous exploitation starlet (whose ranks would include Michelle Bauer and Brinke Stevens) that just doesn't exist anymore.

But apart from nostalgia, the one thing that most people will probably take away from this report is how all the kids seem so grounded, sensible, and untroubled about their viewing choices (sez young Josh Butler: "This guy just goes around killing people. That's the plot of all scary movies."). It's enough to make you wonder why anyone would have ever worried about their psychological well-being in the first place.

But then, hindsight is 20/20.


Bob Ignizio said...

This segment was as indelibly stamped on my brain as the Geraldo Rivera 'Exposing Satan's Underground' special. You really can't think about America in the eighties without remembering all the groups being outraged over one aspect of popular culture or another. And the interesting thing is these crusades weren't a liberal or conservative thing. People on both sides were aghast at the pop culture of the day. It made for strange bedfellows like Tipper Gore (liberal Dem) working with Phyllis Schaffly (far right Repub) to go after rock music. Wonder why there was never a PMRC type group for horror?

Jeff Allard said...

Hmm, I don't know. Maybe because the MPAA was already in place and the music industry didn't have a ratings system of its own? That's my best guess. At least the movie industry could say they'd already taken steps to keep kids away from potentially harmful material. Also, I don't think there were as many headline-making stories about kids being influenced by movies as much as there were about kids acting out after listening to Ozzy or Judas Priest.

Anonymous said...

Pretty nostalgic to see Hugh Downs actually. I have to admit that I ave never, NEVER, rented a movie on DVD. Wow. I seemed to have went from VHS to finding the films I want on bittorrent sites. Part of this is due to the fact I left Seattle long ago and now live in China where things are different really. They do not DVD rental in the same sense and the whole VHS thing passed China by in the 80's. People were still struggling to buy milk and eggs here then and so rented movies was unknown as it was non-existent back then I guess.

But I still remember renting my first gore and slasher tapes from the little groceries stores near where I lived on the outskirts of San Antonio Tx and then later from the wild places in Seattle. Fond memories of just browsing and looking at covers.