The Zeitgeist Made 'Em Do It

Queens splatterfest takes horror, then and now, seriously

2005: Hostel
photo: Lionsgate .
Indeed, a new monster is born every minute in the United States. Still, I remain a bit baffled as to what combination of teen rage and rebellion, routine thrill-seeking, and psychosexual retardation encouraged my friend and me to spend entire weekends poring over tapes of Blood Feast and Maniac; paging through back issues of Fangoria (the "makeup FX" equivalent of Hustler); and, eventually, producing our own Super-8 splatterfests. One of these, a minor masterpiece called He Never Knew Love, climaxed with its titular teenage geek—played by yours truly, age 15— taking a butcher knife to his left wrist before bleeding to death in the bathroom.

But I digress. A quarter-century later, my adult defense of the genre is that horror is cinema in extremis: the point at which the notion of "entertainment" is called most compellingly into question, the mode that most fully collapses the barrier between screen and spectator, all but demanding not only a visceral response, but a theoretical or philosophical one. Great horror—Tobe Hooper's Chain Saw (1974), Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left (1972), Zombie's The Devil's Rejects (2005), and, yes, Hostel (all of which are in the MoMI series)—goes further still to challenge the tenets of the society that spawned it. Globalizing the genre, Hostel, named for a Slovakian tourist trap, enhanced its resonance by grossing big worldwide—even in Slovakia, where, Roth says, "our" fear of "their" loathing plays for shits and giggles.

Everyone sees something different in hardcore horror. Director Joe Dante delivered the definitive Bush-breeds-zombies tract in Homecoming (screening at MoMI alongside the late Bob Clark's Deathdream) and calls the Splat Pack films "Abu Ghraib movies." But he's skeptical of their health benefits and laments the "coarsening" of the culture. The professor disagrees. "Horror's dark gift is to remind us that the tragic events we think we've gotten over and understood always come back to haunt us," says Lowenstein, whose horror-as-history tome Shocking Representation aptly ends in the aftermath of 9/11, with the likelihood of more terror coming soon.

1974: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
photo: Photofest/Museum of the Moving Image
1974: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.


It's Only a Movie: Horror Films From the 1970s to Today
June 16 through July 22
Museum of the Moving Image

Can things possibly get more intense from here? Of course. Horror 2.0 stalks the MoMI with indie auteur Lance Weiler's multimedia expansion of his psycho-chiller Head Trauma: Audience members will receive menacing text messages and cell-phone calls, some even after the show. "I want to disturb people," Weiler admits in what sounds like a motto for our times. Slashing at apathy, this is a genre whose dire warnings we ignore at our peril. One way or another, horror follows us home.

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