Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Original Horror vs. The Retro Tag: What Do You Think?

Last week, I had a conversation with a filmmaking buddy of mine regarding recent independent horror productions and the overbundance of retro style horror films: grindhouse, slasher, exploitation, etc. Our conversation went back and forth quite a bit, with him stating that it's hard for truly original works to break through when these styles of film have been done a 1,000 times over while I claimed that there's enough space in the sandbox for everyone to play. The discerning film fan (genre specific or not) can decide for themselves what they want to support: a re-hash of 60's-80's fare or truly unique and original stories.

But I think my position may be wavering a bit as these retro films are sweeping a lot of awards at film festivals. Don't get me wrong, these films are fun albeit not very original. Are they winning these awards based on the true merit of the work or because voters feel a bit of strong nostalgia when voting? But I digress. That's a different question for a different time.

My question to you is this: Do you think this style of film (and the recent proliferation of it) poses a challenge for filmmakers who have created truly original works?

Cortez the Killer


Liam [Cinema Never Dies] said...

Films do tend to develop cycles somewhat, especially with such easy access to old materials, so it's hardly surprisingly to see a resurgence in exploitation/grindhouse stylings.

But I think, when all is said and done, a good film will stand on its own merit regardless of style.

B-Movie Becky said...

Good conversation. My husband and I talk about this all the time. We're in a very post-modern phase of entertainment, literature and TV included. I think it does present some challenges to filmmakers... often times retro cheese fests get passes on what would normally be considered poor filmmaking, while original works have a tough time finding audiences because they are judged with a harsher eye.

Still, I tend to agree that yes, every film has its place, but I am getting tired of the over-abundance of these films. And when a movie is truly original, I think it will grab people's attention without appealing to nostalgia. Martyrs and The Last Exorcism are two recent examples I can think of.

The Film Connoisseur said...

I personally dont mind these retro films because most of the times, while paying homage to a specific era of filmmaking, they do things better then the films they are paying homage to.

By this I mean that they sometimes improve on technical terms, sound, music, and visual effects.

Plus, I feel like you, theres room for everything in film world.

Strange Kid said...

I think between "retroplotation" and remake syndrome it's become incredibly hard for truly original or creative films to succeed. Liam made a good point, one reaffirmed by writer David Skal, that film is cyclical in its nature and perhaps we're just experiencing the end/beginning of a new cycle.

Granted a good film is a good film, but it's sad to see films both mainstream and independent looking to these niches because they're "en vogue."

Cortez The Killer said...

@Liam, very true. But I think the issue I'm ultimately having is, do people immediately gravitate to these styles and hurt a filmmaker with an original idea and concept? I think they do.

@Becky, I agree to a certain extent. But smaller films don't have quite the marketing budget that The Last Exorcism did. Martyrs took a couple of years to catch on but yes, notoriety has come its way and rightfully so.

@TFC, see, that's one part of the new retro 'styling' that I don't agree with. It is what it is, warts and all why gussy it all up with the latest and greatest in technology? Doesn't that take away from the spirit of it?

@Strange Kid, I agree. It almost seems like an easy way out and a sure fire way to grab attention. I'll admit that I have fun with some of these types of films (hell,I recently reviewed one) but it irks me to think that these types of films will gain instant notoriety due to a wacky title, particular aesthetic, and some flashy promos without a real regard to actual content or message.

the jaded viewer said...

Quentin Tarantino has been doing this for years but somehow his flicks are original. I'm all for the retrosploitation rather than the reboot or remake.

At least movies like Machete and Inglorious Basterds hilarity of exploitaiton and make great flicks out of it.

Reboots and remakes use the same story and do nothing to different.

Matt-suzaka said...

I don't think it should take anything away from other film styles. A good film is a good film for its own specific reasons, and if it is good, then it will be recognized as so by the people that want are looking for a specific brand of entertainment.

There's a reason why a retro-styled film like House of the Devil is so well received, which is the same reason a film like Pontypool is, they are great films. If retro films are taking all the awards, maybe it's because the other more "original" stories aren't as good on other levels. Original doesn't mean good, it just means original, not entertaining or interesting. And when it comes down to it, what is original really?

Great question, CTK...I'm curious as to what others will answer.

Mike Snoonian said...

There are only so many stories to tell. The difference is in how one delivers the story.

What we're seeing is a crop of young directors who spent their formative years eyeball deep in Hammer horror, religious-themed horror, slasher films, Romero back when he was at his creative peak and the like. They're not simply paying homage to films they grew up with, more than likely it was that style of filmmaking that captivatedthem and inspired them to make movies in the first place.

Which is why I'm psyched that ten years from now the kids that were raised on the Scary Movie parodies are going to be behind the camera.

J. Astro said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J. Astro said...

Retro can be tricky - when done right (in my mind Eli Roth does it best) then it can lead to some fun film-making that both stands on its own AND evokes a precious nostalgia that reminds of "the good old days" (whenever those were). But on the flip side of that, retro films use their own very self-reflexive "homage"/parody nature as an excuse - a "modern" film like MACHETE (a total piece of dumb junk, in my opinion) skates by simply because it's s'posed to be dumb. But it's lazy if one just sets out to make a "dumb" movie, and retro stuff tends to encourage that.

Chris Regan said...

I'm getting a bit tired of film-makers romanticising the exploitation era. Most of the good things to come out of exploitation films were to do with talented people making the most of where they were in the industry with what little money they had. But what film-makers now mostly seem to be doing is being offensive as possible because they can use the retro defence to say it's all harmless fun, and then also trying to capture the 'so bad it's good' feeling, but you can't make a good bad film on purpose. To be honest I'm done with it and would much rather see original horror films. I think whether it poses a challenge or not depends on how well the retro films are doing - if the numbers show adding a retro poster and some grainy after-effects to the image will increase sales, then I wouldn't be surprised if filmmakers are being asked to make their films more retro to fit the current trend.

Will Errickson said...

I'm gonna cheat and say I really dig it all. Sure, reboots of movies like ELM STREET and F13 aren't really my thing, but I don't have a problem with a remake like LET ME IN. Original films like MARTYRS and PONTYPOOL are fantastic, and retro/homages like HOUSE OF THE DEVIL and SHAUN OF THE DEAD are definitely welcome. We're truly living in a(nother) golden age of horror. Whenever I hear people say--and they do--"They just don't make horror movies like they used to," I have to laugh. They need to start paying fucking attention.

Cortez The Killer said...

@Jaded, I know Tarantino has made a dime on these types of films but the fact of the matter is, this style is infiltrating not just mainstream but indie productions as well. I think that's the problem I have with it. It seems like the easy way out. Like a paint by numbers approach where people go 'Well he did it, I can too' without any regard to actual storytelling.

@Matt, maybe I should have rephrased my question to read original AND good horror films. Do these films get overlooked because of the recognition or familiarity of this style of film over something that is a bit more transgressive? Good point on films not winning awards because maybe they are just flat out not good enough. But, I have a hard time accepting that these retro styles of film really offer anything new to the mix when there is a well worn formula and it's easy to replicate. I almost feel like a separate category or criteria should be used when 'judging' these types of films. And I guess that's where the issue ultimately lies: I think horror is the most subjective genre of film on the planet. What constitutes a good horror film is so hard to define.

@Mike, I appreciate what they are paying homage to and what ultimately inspired them in the first place. And that's where I'm torn, I don't think they are inherently lazy filmmakers. They're probably coming from a good place. But in the grand scheme of things, they aren't challenging conventions and really not adding anything new to the genre.

Egad, I can't imagine those kids paying homage or being inspired by those films!

@J. Astro, I think you hit the nail on the head for me. These films encourage this kind of lazy, uninspired way of filmmaking. Again, not saying all are like this it just seems like a very convenient means to produce something that, on the surface, appears to be 'shocking' or 'inventive' when really it's not.

@Chris, totally agreed and I bet you they are. As a matter of fact, I wouldn't be surprised if that was the case. Almost half of the indie films I watched previews for last night on my On Demand service had that grainy texture in the trailers. It seemed like a checklist was being used during production.

@Will, AMEN. Regardless of rehashed ideas or an overabundance of remakes, one thing stands: we truly are in the middle of another golden age. And in my humble opinion, the past 10 years have seen the BEST horror films ever produced and they have, in my mind, done more to advance the genre.

The Film Connoisseur said...

"see, that's one part of the new retro 'styling' that I don't agree with. It is what it is, warts and all why gussy it all up with the latest and greatest in technology? Doesn't that take away from the spirit of it?"

I dont know, films like MACHETE are still imperfect. They copy the imperfect style of whatever film they are paying homage to. Right down to the sudden cuts in continuity, the scratched film...and even the sound. I like it when they manage to copy that gritty look and style, but manage to mix it up with modern day make up effects like in PLANET TERROR which I think achieved that retro look and feel to perfection.

Theron said...

You know, I really love the retro/grindhouse films, but I've noticed that it's becoming a stylistic crutch for untalented filmmakers. If it's sincere, that's cool. But, more often than not, it seems people are making very bad, cheesy films that look terrible, so they put some fake scratches on the flick a la "Planet Terror," then put something on the cover like "Filmed in Grind-O-Vision!" Meh.

Geof said...

Great topic but a difficult question for me to answer, and I think everyone has great points to make here. For long as a film is good and entertaining, I will like it. But to stay directly in the parameters of your topic, I think I lean more towards ideas that are fresh and original. That is not to say I hate the retro/remakes/what have you, but I just lean towards originality - which is kind of hard to do nowadays.

Emily said...

Hmmmmmm. SOme great discussion up here and I don't really know where I stand. I guess when a director homages a style but doesn't rely on it, that's what I respect. I felt that way about House of the Devil, a film that was obviously a throwback, but was also incredibly entertaining and scary.

come to think of it, this may be part of whey I was never quite in love with Grindhouse when it came out. It felt like it was suuuuuch an homage to old cinema, something made purely to say 'hey, remember those movies from the '70s? how cool is it that we made two more!' Compare that to Inglourious Basterds, which had plenty of nods to exploitation cinema but stands fully on its own.

Cortez The Killer said...

@TFC, I hear ya buddy. Films like Planet Terror due have their imperfections but the fact that they use the latest in technology for some effects, to me, ruins a bit of the experience of those types of films. As mentioned by others, those types of films were done by filmmakers on the cheap and the imperfections weren't necessarily a conscious effort.

@Theron, I'm beginning to feel that way too. Even though I've had fun with some of these films, I take a step back and just look at the sheer number of these films coming. And its funny that you mention Grind O Vision. I reviewed a film not too long ago (for which its now become our most infamous review) in which the filmmakers slapped that EXACT phrase on the cover. The grindhouse aesthetic seemed more of an afterthought and gimmick rather than a true part of the film. It was practically insulting.

@Geof, I agree I do too. As a matter of fact, I do my best to go out of my way to seek films that are more original and spotlight those on the blog. I guess that's why I'm growing in frustration with these types of films. I do think they take attention away from other films, regardless of quality or artistic merit. That's the thing, I think people are naturally gravitating to these types of films rather than seeking out things that are new and original.

@Emily, really good point. I think you make a great distinction. Giving nods to the style while fully standing on your own. I can get with that. And I agree, two perfect examples of the style but they don't beat you over the head with it.

So I guess what it comes down to is this for me: over reliance on the style to sell the film without any substance or original storytelling = easy way out and lazy, uninspired filmmaking. But for others that actual borrow but still have an interesting spin and story = bravo. Let's get more of those.

Theron said...

Heh, I think I know exactly the flick you mean, Cortez...