I was born in the mid-sixties and while I won’t bore you with the more negative aspects of my childhood and the rocky at best relationship with my father, I will say that one of the few times we did bond was while watching movies. My father loved movies. His favorites were westerns, Elvis musicals and horror flicks. Westerns never grabbed me till I was older and while who doesn’t love a good Elvis musical, I gravitated towards the horror movies. Every Saturday night Dad would watch either Creature Features on Channel 5 or Chiller Theater on channel 11, where we would see either future MST3K features or classics like the Universal Horrors of the 30s and 40s… and, of course, the occasional Godzilla movie, but I’ll save that obsession for another time. I would sit and watch with him and if things got too scary, I would sit behind him and peek out at the flick over his shoulder. My mother would see me like this and give me the classic “If these movies scare you, maybe you shouldn’t watch them!”. But even at the age of 4 or 5 I knew that that was the whole point. The Mummy really creep-ed me out when I was a kid, so a mummy movie would almost always guarantee a viewing from behind dad’s shoulder. I saw all kinds of horror and sci-fi movies in those days and still wish someone would bring back Creature Features or Chiller Theater so today’s generation of horror fans could see some of the black and white classics and some of the campy 50s sci-fi and horror without commentary by smart ass robots, thought I Love MST3K and miss it to this day. And let’s not forget classic TV like Twilight Zone and Outer Limits. Those shows gave me more then one uneasy night’s sleep. So maybe that’s how it all began. Movies were a way to bond peacefully with a man who was not always pleasant to be around. And later, horror and sci-fi was my escape from when those unpleasant moments arrived.
The 70s was a great time for horror, There were some real classic horror released in theaters and my sister and I were quite good at talking my parents or grandfather into taking us to see them. A lot of these horrors were PG and were quite effective which is why I never understood all the whining that is done today over PG-13 horror. A film doesn’t need to be excessively violent to be scary, just atmosphere, chills and suspense. Watch a 70s flick like Burnt Offerings as an example. There were some PG horrors that scared the heck out of me. Make no mistake, thought, I do love a good gore-fest too! But I digress. What we didn’t see in the theater came to late night TV rather quickly. Classics like Blacula and Willard were on ABC late night on Friday or Saturday, months after being in a theater. And the networks were also churning out made for TV horrors and some of those were damn creepy like The Night Stalker, Gargoyles and the classic, Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark. Then there were the silly ones like Cat Creature and Killdozer which were fun too….I still love Killdozer. Between late night TV and conning our family, my sister and I saw a lot of films that are recognized as legitimate or camp classics. And due to some revivals and the advent of HBO and home video, I got caught up in the early 80s on the stuff I didn’t catch or wasn’t allowed to see like The Exorcist (HBO), Texas Chainsaw Massacre (a revival at my beloved Oritani Theater) or the immortal Halloween (sadly on VHS). And what better way to segue into my favorite movie decade, the 80s.
The 80s is my favorite movie decade. Maybe it’s because it’s the era I came of age and went from a teen to an adult, becoming the man I am now, but a lot of my favorite movies of all kinds are from the 80s. The 80s was also a banner decade for horror with the slasher film era being in full swing with the Friday The 13th series leading the pack, as well as, other groundbreaking horrors like John Carpenter’s The Thing, Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead and Wes Craven’s A Nightmare On Elm Street. And now old enough to see what I wanted, we saw as much as possible, especially in the early 80s before I was old enough to go to bars and clubs. The 80s was a horror fan’s dream as all this stuff was still being released in theaters because home video and rental were fairly new and hadn’t impacted movies just yet. Grind-houses were still around and the Oritani Theater in Hackensack, N.J. was the grind-house of choice in my neck of Jersey and that theater will forever remain a special place, as will all the low budget horror and sci-fi I caught there. From classics like Scanners to cult favorites like The Boogens, it was a wonderful place to be for a horror/ sci-fi geek. It was only toward the latter part of the decade and the beginning of the 90s when studios realized low budget stuff was cheaper to release direct to video and that sadly effected how filmmakers approached film-making and there were no new Carpenters or Cravens in the low budget horror field for quite some time.
Most of the horror of the 90s and early 2000s were linked to the major studios. Not that there weren’t some really good horrors, but I have always preferred the low budget stuff and always will. Horror should rarely be glossy and big budget, thought I have enjoyed some of those very much, Scream and The Sixth Sense just to name a few. There was some cool creepy stuff from Japan, too, like the original Ringu and The Grudge. Occasionally a studio will recognize the worth of a low budget film like the classic Blair Witch Project, Neil Marshall’s awesome The Descent and the more recent Paranormal Activity and give it the release they deserve. But it is only until recent years where the low budget horror film has re-emerged into the limelight and into theaters as it should be.
Toward the end of the first decade of the 2000s and now into it’s second decade, film festivals, new distributors like Magnolia, Lionsgate and IFC Midnight, along with VOD, allow new cutting edge filmmakers to get their stuff the attention they deserve and low budget filmmakers are filming movies like movies again and not as direct to DVD fodder. Now we have potential new horror masters like Ti West, Stevan Mena and Christopher Smith to name a scant few who were inspired by the horror of the 70s and 80s. We also have a delightful trend of movie geeks turned filmmakers like Eli Roth and Quentin Tarantino and successful low budget amateurs like Paranormal Activity’s Oren Peli, who are returning the favor and using their success to produce horror by other young filmmakers and to get attention to horror from other countries that might not have seen a release here. I would dare say we are seeing a low budget horror revival and there hasn’t been such activity on the low budget horror front since the 80s. Films like Bereavement, The Loved Ones, Stake Land and many more have re-ignited my passion for low budget horror. Foreign horror like Them, Martyrs and Frontiers are now available for American horror fans to discover. Sure there is a lot of garbage to sift through to find the gold, but it was the same way back in the 80s and personally, I couldn’t be happier about it. At least horror is being made again prolifically and as a lifelong horror fan… that’s creepy music to my ears!