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THE HORROR, THE HORROR!

by Phil Thornton

 

In a brilliant piece of fortuitous marketing, the producers of the Omen re-make launched the film on 6-6-06; the date of the beast. Now, I've never been a big horror film fan but parts of the original Omen stayed with me for a very long time. It wasn't the priest getting kebabed by a huge iron railing or the fellar in the lift being dissected, it was the man trapped under the ice that did it for me. To me, that was true horror because it was believable, just as getting eaten by a great white shark, however remote that possibility was wading in three inches of polluted swill on Rhyl beach, could conceivably occur to a human being somewhere in the world. Jaws remains the most frightening film I've ever watched and OK, I was 10 at the time, and upon reflection that rubber shark at the end was about as convincing as Lea from Big Brother's tits and yet it still gave me nightmares for weeks after.

 

When you're a child you still believe in the primitive religious garbage that they pump into at school and so the concept of the devil as a very real entity is entirely plausible so any film with the devil at its evil core, not only terrified but fascinated me. Rosemary's Baby for instance really disturbed me for a long time and the same basic premise of this film was repeated in the Omen. To the devil, a son! However, whereas the first film was more like the Stepford Wives in that it was largely a conspiratorial thriller fuelled by paranoia, The Omen was basically a proto-slasher film that attempted to repeat the success of 70s occult classics such as The Exorcist. Yet whereas as The Exorcist was fantastically directed despite the ludicrous subject matter, The Omen relied upon Gregorian chants to create atmosphere. Ofcourse the idea of demonic possession is also entirely plausible to a child (dim witted people and Catholics still believe in it today) and both The Exorcist and The Omen became must-see films for any child of the 70s.

 

It was this decade that really saw horror films escape from the rather camp clutches of Hammer, with their lusty vampires and sapphic brides and enter the realm of gore. Suddenly the idea of a be-cloaked 16th century undead Romanian aristocrat biting the necks of lilly white English roses wasn't scary enough for desensitised young audiences who now demanded pyschos of the Hitchcock variety updated for a hockey mask generation. The success of films such as Halloween and Friday The 13th relied upon the entirely plausible idea of sexually frustrated young men going round slaughtering fit nubile young girls for a bit of a grin. It was probably every middle aged stiff's dream come true. They'd missed out on the sexual revolution and boy, where those sluts gonna pay for it. This slasher trajectory eventually gave way to ye olde horror stereotypes of Freddy Kruger (camp and silly) and even good old demonic gore-fests suich as The Evil Dead (extremely camp and extremely silly).

 

The 80s was the era of the so-called video nasty and films that are now regarded as low-budget cult classics such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes were a mixture of gore and good old Hillbilly victimisation; the 'you're not from round here are ya boy' fear of the American backwoods that cosmopolitan city boy directors have exploited since Deliverance. Deliverance was another film that truly shocked and frightened me as a kid. Up until this film I didn't even know that male rape existed and the 'squeel like a pig' scene still makes he shudder today, especially when Ned Beatty suddenly stops squeeling and goes silent as Hillbilly Horror Stereotype #1 sticks his pecker in porky. Nasty! Again, this was TRUE horror because in the unlikely event that I ever found myself stranded in a canoe deep in the Apalachian Mountains, there were people like these hillbillys living down our street!

 

The vastness of America's landscape and the peculiarity of its remote populations has been a constant thread in Hollywood, from Pyscho to The Shining, from Southern Comfort to The Blair Witch Project, from Mississippi Burning to Angel Heart, the US of A is a place you can get REALLY lost in and where danger apparantly lurks behind every tree and along every dusty backroad. To return to the devil, it was Angel Heart that rekindled the concept of the Satanic thriller by mixing Southern Comfort with Rosemary's Baby. The very fact that there are Satanists out there who probably do indulge in orgiastic rituals is real enough. Ever since Crowley and his disciples mixed magick with mysticism, the concept of satanism has fascinated the puritan establishment. Kenneth Anger's 1972 film, 'Lucifer Rising' gave satanic film-making a touch of art-house cred and versions of Denis Wheatley's books such as The Devil Rides Out (1968) and To The Devil A Daughter (1976) provided old Super-Drac himself, Christopher Lee attempted to re-establish his creepy credentials. Ofcourse the scariest film Lee was ever in was The Wicker Man, where he played Lord Summerisle who lead a human sacrifricing pagan cult which was far creepier and unsettling than the preposterous Satanic Rites of Dracula, both made in 1973.

 

Whereas the 70s was obsessed with satanism, thanks largely to dickhead metal bands such as Black Sabbath, this soon fizzled out as zombies and slashers and even Vietnam flicks took over. Apocalypse Now was a horror film, Taxi Driver was a horror film. These were human tragedies that dealt with every day mundane horrors. Horrors we could all relate to even if we didn't experience the Tet offensive or Times Square sleeze. It was the aforementioned Alan Parker film, Angel Heart that re-established the satanic movie in 1987. Mickey Rourke really acted in it and the humid sense of cajun voodoo and deep south suspicion was neatly captured in a neo-Noir kinda way. Yet only a simpleton could truly believe in its central premise; that old 'I sold my soul to the devil' bullshit that has mythologised everyone from Robert Johnson to Jimmy Page. De Niro's depiction of Old Nick as a sauve, sinister dandy was underplayed and quite believable until the very end when he tells Rourke' you're soul's mine' and his eyes go a funny colour. How I laughed at that and his ingenious nom de plume; Louis Cypher. Lucifer! Get it? Maybe they should have called him Mr D. Evil or B.L. Zebub or Michael Ephistopholes.

 

See, those Bible bashing nutjobs and medievalist morons are wrong; the devil IS a laughing matter and, as a grown up, any film that purports to represent The Dark Lord as either goat-man or hu-man risks alienating an adult audience. It could be Tim Curry with massive buffalo horns in Legend or withered Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter, it could a smiling Pan in To The Devil A Daughter or a Bronx cussing wiseguy in The Exorcist, it could be a scaley monster in Rosemary's Baby or a wolf-like hound in Omen III. However the devil is depicted, it never scares me, only makes me laugh. That aint real horror.

 

Don't Look Now was a real horror because we're never sure what is real and what is simply being imagined, likewise Jacob's Ladder. Blair Wich was a horror because, even though I don't believe in monstrous witches, the way in which the film was shot convinced me that what was happening was real. I suspended my disbilief although I still thinks the ending's shite. The likes of The Omen leave no such room for pyschological manouevre; he's the devil and he's come to fuck us up. You don't say! If you believe in an anti-Christ then you also have to believe in a Judeo-Christian take on religion and history too and I don't. The devil is around us all the time; he's there in Iraq and Ipswich. He's there every time a car bomb goes of in Baghdad or a baghead turns a trick for her next fix down the docks. It's called the human capacity for cruelty and we don't need some kid with 666 on his bonce to remind us that the devil is in everyone of us.

 

 

 

 

 
   
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