Which movies horrify the masters of horror?
Jason Zinoman, a theater reporter for The New York Times, has been showing up virtually everywhere in media land this summer thanks to the publication of his new book Shock Value in July. Subtitled “How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror,” the book has been characterized as the Easy Riders, Raging Bulls of horror criticism. (Google Zinoman’s name to witness the breadth of his current media penetration as an interviewee and essayist about this subject.)
I’ve been enjoying Zinoman’s general vibe, and am pleased at the moment to point my readers to a rather nifty new piece by him in the NYT. In “What Spooks the Masters of Horror?” he shares the responses he received from a dozen horror movie directors and screenwriters when he queried them about the movies that had personally frightened and disturbed them. “One of the great things about childhood,” he writes in the piece’s introduction, “is how easy it is to access the distinct delight of being scared out of your mind. Adults just have more trouble getting goosebumps. That’s because experience is the enemy of true terror. You may shriek the first time you see “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” but the second or third time you might only shudder. That’s why dedicated horror fans sometimes have a hard time finding a really nerve-rattling movie. They’ve already seen it all. Those who make horror movies may face the greatest challenge. They know what goes into the engineering of a scary sequence, and they have a good idea what’s coming around that corner. And since they presumably went into this line of work in part because of the pleasures of trembling in the dark, they have seen more than their share of horror movies.”
His respondents include John Landis, Herschell Gordon Lewis, John Sayles, Larry Fessenden, and Guillermo del Doro. The latter perhaps exemplifies the literateness of the responses: “Stanley Kubrick’s absolute control over the medium turns his rock-solid framing and tense timing into real weapons pointed directly at the unsuspecting audience of ‘The Shining.’ No one has ever used the Steadicam as perfectly as he did in the tracking shots behind Danny Torrance’s tricycle. He uses the soundtrack brilliantly, fusing concrete music with sound effects and score to unsettle and position the uber-mannered, hyper-real performances of his actors. And, refreshingly, Kubrick is not above moments of Grand Guignol: the elevator doors spilling blood, the axe on the chest, the Grady twins bathed in blood or the old undead crone festering in the bathtub. He proves that great horror can be both shocking and a highly artistic endeavor.”
Full story, and also a neat three-minute video reel of movie highlights accompanied by Zinoman’s commentary, at The New York Times.