Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

The Old Wave: Are the “Masters of Horror” Stuck in Distribution Limbo?

Posted by CinemaPsycho on December 5, 2010

Greetings and salutations everyone! I know it’s been awhile since I’ve updated. In my defense, I was all set to write something a couple of weeks ago when I came down with a nasty case of bronchitis. So, that was fun. Try to avoid bronchitis if you possibly can, trust me. You won’t enjoy it.

In the meantime, lots of stuff has happened, most of which I don’t plan to write about. I mean, I could write a long rant about Netflix’s new pricing policy, which is completely unfair to DVD users (you know, the customers that they built their business on). But I won’t, because it would be a huge waste of time. Obviously I don’t plan to drop my membership over this (it’s not like there are any video stores left to go to), but I will be going for a lower price plan (again) when this kicks in next month, rather than pay more so that people who pay less can get more out of it. Does that sound completely insane to anyone else? Because it sure does to me. Do I have to point out yet again that millions of Americans can’t afford this fucking digital revolution? I guess I do.

The-Hole-3d-Poster.jpgAnyway, getting to the point. I’ve noticed something recently that I don’t think anyone else has pointed out. It seems that three of the most well-known “old school” horror directors are having trouble getting distribution for their latest films. I’m wondering if this is going to be a trend that continues in the future, or if it’s just an odd fluke. The films in question are: John Carpenter’s The Ward, Joe Dante’s The Hole and John Landis’ Burke and Hare (I’m including Landis in this mostly based on An American Werewolf in London; I’m fully aware that most of his films are comedies). I’m sure I don’t need to list these directors’ accomplishments here – suffice it to say that they were responsible for many of the most popular films of the 80’s and late 70’s. As of this writing, none of these independent productions have US distribution; Burke and Hare has been released in England to mixed critical and audience response, but the other two seem lost in the void. Dante’s The Hole has been stuck on the shelf for at least three years now, with no release in sight. The Ward had a release date of last September rumored around the Internet (propagated by an erroneous IMDb listing), but of course that came and went with no sign of the film surfacing.

Of course, we have to keep in mind that the vagaries of independent production and distribution are seemingly limitless; as Bruce Campbell often says, “Independent films aren’t released, they escape”. It’s ironic that people often think of the indie scene as a shortcut through the Hollywood system, when it’s usually the exact opposite. Anyone who’s ever been involved with the making of an indie film can tell you of the difficulties involved in getting one finished, much less released and actually seen by the public. It probably goes without saying that if these particular directors had made these films with a Hollywood studio, they probably would have either been released by now (at least on DVD) or had solid release dates set for the near future. Still, one has to wonder exactly why some horror-friendly company like Anchor Bay hasn’t snatched these titles up already.

There is the possibility that these movies just aren’t very good, and the studios are dodging a bullet by giving them a wide berth. Having not seen them myself (of course), I can’t address that issue with any validity. But given the reputations of the directors involved, one would think that there would be some interest, at the very least by old-school horror fans, in checking out their latest works (if this by itself wouldn’t merit a theatrical release, a straight-to-DVD release could at least be justified). Even if the movies themselves were total crap, there might be enough interest stirred up to get some rentals and even sales out of it. Witness Dario Argento’s latest film Giallo (better yet, don’t – it’s horrible), which got some controversy when its star Adrien Brody sued to block its DVD release. Even if that hadn’t happened though, there would still have been interest from hardcore Argento and horror fans. And the fact that Giallo is one of the worst films of Argento’s career (if not the worst) didn’t prevent it from seeing the light of day. So you would think that the latest films from the directors of Halloween, Gremlins and Animal House (movies people still watch today) would garner some interest, whether they are good, bad or indifferent. There’s also the recent Masters of Horror TV series, which all of these directors participated in, and which at least slightly rejuvenated interest in their work (even though many of the episodes themselves were disappointing).

burke-and-hare-13-5-10-kc.jpgHowever, as any film geek worth his salt can tell you, it’s also true that none of these directors are what they once were. None of them have made a truly great film in at least two decades, and for the last ten years or so they have mostly been forgotten by audiences and the industry at large. This is mainly due to their seemingly self-imposed absence from filmmaking; Carpenter hasn’t made a feature since 2001’s Ghosts of Mars, Dante hasn’t been seen since 2003’s Looney Tunes: Back in Action, and Landis hasn’t made a non-documentary feature since 1998’s Susan’s Plan (which itself went straight to cable and then video). So this seems to be a case of “out of sight, out of mind” for the most part. Say what you will about Wes Craven’s recent output, for example, but at least he’s kept working and his films manage to get wide releases. These guys just seemed to drop off the face of the Earth, and it seems their careers have suffered for it. You can’t just go away from Hollywood for several years and expect to come back as strong as you once were. Sad but true.

Needless to say, as these old-school directors have faded, new talents have risen to take their places in the industry. It’s the circle of life, and all that jazz. But the odd thing is that, even as old favorites like Carpenter, Dante and Landis can’t get their new films released, people keep revisiting and rediscovering their classics and discovering that they’re more entertaining, well-crafted and just plain better than most of what passes for horror (or even comedy) these days. Hell, I’d personally much rather watch The Thing or The Howling than the latest remake or Saw sequel. Wouldn’t you? Just in the past few months, I’ve rewatched films I hadn’t seen in years like Gremlins and Trading Places that I had always thought of as fun but marginal entertainments, only to discover that in fact they’re actually really good movies. I don’t think it’s just nostalgia for childhood favorites either; it actually seems like these directors really cared about making good movies more than the current “hot” directors do now. I’m generalizing, of course, but if given the choice between rewatching The Blues Brothers or Knocked Up, I would pick the former without a moment’s hesitation. I can’t imagine any sane person would do otherwise. So I have to wonder if maybe these guys, at their peaks, just had something that the new breed don’t. And maybe, just maybe, they have something to show us again that might be worthwhile. I certainly hope so, and however they turn out, I still look forward to seeing their new movies. If they ever come out. Meanwhile, Carpenter and Landis have announced new projects, and one hopes Dante will as well. Has-beens or not, these guys are just too talented to write off completely.


While we’re on the subject, I watched Airplane! again last night for the first time in years. Still absolutely hysterical, and one of the funniest movies ever made. It’s one of those movies that you come to take for granted, until you watch it again and realize that yes, it is actually that good. Leslie Nielsen is great in it of course, but so are Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack and Peter Graves. Good god, whatever happened to Lorna Patterson? That chick was hilarious. And I love the shots at everyone from Ronald Reagan to Anita Bryant. Can we have that David Zucker back, please?? For that matter, can someone actually make a good parody movie again? It’s been a long time. Somebody needs to show those Friedberg-Seltzer idiots how it’s done.

Last but not least, I just wanted to mention that I finally saw The Human Centipede. I don’t really have enough to say about it to justify devoting an entire post to it, but I have to say I actually found it really tame stuff. This is what people are so freaked out about? Seriously? Come on! I would hardly put this in the league of Cannibal Holocaust. I actually found it perversely funny at times, which I’m sure was the intention. I find it amazing that people are so afraid of the human body that this makes them ill. Is the human ass America’s worst fear? Honestly. You could attach my face to a hot girl’s ass and I’d probably think, “Well… there are worse things I could be stuck to!” The reaction from some quarters is truly just baffling. I mean, it’s a movie about a mad scientist who creates a human centipede – what the fuck did you think you were going to see? There’s even a scene where the guy tells you exactly what’s going to happen long before it does. So what’s the big surprise? If you’re ready to bail by that point, then you probably shouldn’t be watching this in the first place. OK, it’s not the greatest movie ever made, but I don’t think it’s trying to be. It’s a bizarre, goofy midnight movie experience, and it works on that level. It’s not even that graphic really. If you really want to get freaked out, try watching the recent wave of French horror like Inside, Martyrs or Frontieres. This is child’s play compared to that level of twisted. Get a grip, for christ’s sake.

So, that covers it for now. Hopefully I’ll be back soon with more random stuff. Talk to you later, and keep watching movies!

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