A Preparatory Indulgence, Pt. 2: When 8 Films Turn Out to Actually Make You Die of Boredom
Earlier this year, while already consumed with crawling along on the paths of numerous subsets of film obsession -- such as watching every movie in The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film (still ongoing throughout my life) -- I took it upon myself to start watching all of the films released in the annual 8 Films to Die For festival, three years worth up to then and all of them easily obtainable on DVD. I had lined up all 24 DVDs in my Netflix queue, and the future held the promise of a few solid, blood-bedecked weeks of what seemed at first glance like good, gory bloodletting.
Somewhere about seven films into the list, I realized that there was little here for which "to die," unless it was out of sheer ennui. You see, I entered into this latest round of compulsion still believing that I was a horror fan.
Let me qualify that statement. While my motto throughout my life has been "any film, any time," the twin poles of my movie obsession have been horror and science-fiction, even better when the twain did meet, as in The Thing (either version). Sure, I liked films in all genres, but it didn't take much more than the swiftest glance at my personal collection and the preponderance of horror and sci-fi titles within it to know where my heart truly lies. I will not use the past tense here, as the proposal is still largely true: my heart still lies with those monsters and aliens and the glory of nature gone amok, and I freely admit that I always, without exception, root against mankind (the center of all actual villainy) in all films of this stripe. These feelings have held unswervingly true throughout my life.
I will lay to rest here the recent revisiting of the rumors (from a pair of those old "acquaintances" I mentioned in Part 1) that I was anyway involved in the creation of the notorious "gore" tapes that flitted about our high school in the early 1980s, causing people to dash the eyes from out of their faces, sending innocent children to the sanitarium for the remainder of their youth, and bringing peace without honor. I would love to admit that I was involved in compiling those crudely transferred collections of graphic horror movie scenes (and I wish I still had a copy), but our family didn't even own a second VCR (ask your parents) until deep into my senior year of school. The closest I got was hanging out with the real culprits from time to time, once even popping by when they were finishing a tape. It was certainly true that I had seen all of the same films from which they had culled their teenaged notoriety, but, it wasn't me acting in that particular capacity as a horror propagandist, though I wish I could take credit for upsetting the (meager) masses in said manner.
However, I was around for this, and it is not for nothing that my friends bestowed upon me the nickname of "The Boogieman." I was, then as now, an obsessive sort, and I was clearly possessed of something which caused me to forge an alliance with films of a more disturbed nature. Truthfully, though, I always leaned towards the more surreal and political of these films, and less towards the merely violent, and once I discovered Lynch and Cronenberg (who are actually filmmakers working at cross measures much of the time, but somehow occupying enough similar territory to make me pair them in my mind)... well, once I met them, my interest in the more generic realm of undying serial killers and their pathetic ilk pretty much waned forever.
And this is how I have spent the last 25 years of horror fandom. I buy the toys, put up the posters, and consider myself a devotee, but the pickings have been truly slim, if not almost entirely devoid of quality of late, despite the fact that there are more horror films available now than ever before. With the flood of releases comes even more dross washing up on a shore already shockingly polluted with the corpses of unimpressive, would-be franchises. I have always considered myself happy if I find at least three or four films per year that I even halfway like, and the fact that I have stuck around this long into the "aughts" still maintaining this posture proves my resistance to change (though massive change is exactly what I have attempted to enact in my personal life since I left my home four-plus years ago).
For me, a form of the proof lies in my fairly vast DVD collection, numbering just over 1500 titles at the present moment. I can't wait to leap at films that I even slightly liked in some measure and add them to my library. So, if you want proof of my wearying of the recent history of the horror genre, what doesn't make it onto my shelves at home is a fairly good measure of my displeasure. Look for horror films in this decade alone, and you will find relatively few: The Descent, Let the Right One In, High Tension, Cabin Fever, Ginger Snaps, about a half dozen J-horror titles... and that's it. (And the pickings are actually even worse for the '90s in my collection.) This might point to a resurgence in quality in the last few years, but that is a debate for another time and place.
In fact, this really does not prove anything about the quality available in any decade, since it really comes down to personal taste and opinion. What it actually does prove is that, when compared with the large amounts of horror films I have considered worthwhile and accumulated from the 1920s forward in my collection, it is clear that my interest in the genre has truly waned by this point. Even a series that was considered as groundbreaking as Saw (a ridiculous notion at this point in the already worn-out series) left me cold from the start. I began to appreciate the effort more on a second viewing, and I have always understood the mechanism behind it, but my lack of a need to see people tortured mercilessly (or at least without a real fighting chance) left that new sub-genre in the dust for me from point one. It is not surprising to me that our country is so willing to entertain at least the discussion of what actually constitutes torture, when we are so willing to accept it as entertainment at a level even farther below the normal gladiatorial means by which many in our society mentally masturbate.
So, clearly, given the current choices and atmosphere, I have become largely immune to the current "charms" of a genre which I once purported to love. Bringing us back to the recent past of just about six months ago, where I was musing on whether to continue renting the films in the 8 Films to Die For series. I had bolted through about a half dozen in a week, during which I only discovered one, Mulberry St., which proved even halfway interesting to me. Worst of all was receiving a major dose of the generic quality that has overtaken supposedly "edgy" filmmaking. When everything takes on the pose of being "edgy" or "extreme," without any discernible variation from product to product, then it merely begins to look like everything else. It loses its edge, and becomes the mainstream. And so it can go with any movie genre in which one immerses oneself: there is the chance that repeated overexposure dulls ones reactions to it. Much like porn, where some practitioners have to seek ever more bizarre or socially unacceptable avenues to maintain that "edge."
I yelled out, "Why do I keep renting these boring pieces of shit?!" This frightened my dogs far more than even a split second of any six of these films had, and out of a knee-jerk reaction, I deleted about fifty horror and science-fiction films of recent vintage I had lined up on my Netflix queue. I knew I was bound to add them back in eventually, but it seemed like a strong stance at the moment. I was caped in anger and proud of myself for finally shaking off this compulsion, even as I was wrestling with every atom of my being out of a sense of betrayal to my lifelong standards.
And then I ended up not watching a single film for about two weeks, exactly the point in time when I began to immerse myself in Twitter and Facebook again.
And then my mood got even worse...
(To be continued in A Preparatory Indulgence, Pt. 3...)