In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
When we think of “Meta Horror,” two films standardly come to mind: Scream and The Cabin in the Woods. Both are a love letter to horror, each with their own merits as genre films, but they are far from the be all end all of the meta sub-genre. In fact, metatextual horror films are released rather commonly, and it’s easy to see why. Unlike any other genre, horror tends to appeal to our baser instincts, and it becomes important to ask ourselves why we find enjoyment in witnessing such, well, horrors. Here are a few of the less commonly noted films of the meta type. The Last Horror Movie (2003 – dir. Julian Richards)
Sort of a Man Bites Dog for the non-arthouse set, The Last Horror Movie chronicles the videography of a seemingly normal wedding photographer who moonlights as a serial killer. He and his cameraman document the banalities of his everyday life as well as his sadistic after hours activities, while our anti-hero narrates. The Last Horror Movie gets under your skin pretty quickly and features some of the most convincing on-screen carnage imaginable. The audience is made a part of the film as the killer asks us directly why we continue to watch his killing spree. Is morbid curiosity really so innocent? Sadly, the twist at the end is a bit dated, and will certainly be less effective for it, but it’s a wholly original twist nonetheless, and its not to be spoiled.
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006 – dir. Scott Glosserman)
In the world of Behind the Mask, all of the famous cinematic killers are real, and Leslie Vernon wishes to join their ranks. Vernon meticulously constructs a legend surrounding himself, and has invited a documentary crew to cover his final preparations for a night of murder. Every step of his plan follows the tropes of a slasher film, and Vernon stresses the importance of hitting each and every note perfectly. If everything goes precisely to plan, Vernon believes he could be the next Michael Myers. The documentary style is abandoned midway through as the project morphs into a classically shot slasher. As Vernon’s plan unfolds, a deconstruction of franchised murder begins. This film is criminally under-seen, and makes a great companion piece to Scream.
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994 – dir. Wes Craven)
In the wake of the recent passing of Wes Craven, this film demands a revisit. While Scream focuses on how the genre affects its fans, New Nightmare focuses on the way it affects its creators. When a demon attaches itself to the concept of Freddy Krueger, it’s up to Craven himself to corral his creation and prevent the demon from entering real the world. Not only is this a smart commentary on the way cinematic killers can to “come to life,” but it’s a solid Freddy Krueger tale to boot.
Funny Games (1997/2007 – dir. Michael Haneke)
Haneke is never one to pull punches, and with Funny Games (either version will do – both are identical but for the language), the punch is particularly potent. Right as the audience buckles over in despair, Haneke offers a sweet and all too short respite. When relief from the intensity is cruelly withdrawn, our antagonist breaks the fourth wall to ask us directly why it is we crave such horrific entertainment. The less you know, the better.
The Final Girls (2015 – dir. Todd Strauss-Schulson)
If The Cabin in the Woods examines and celebrates the entire world of horror films, The Final Girls points the lens directly at Jason Voorhees. While plenty of other slasher series could fit under Girls‘ umbrella, the comparisons between the in-movie movie, Camp Bloodbath, and the Friday the 13th series is extremely strong. When a fire breaks out at a midnight screening of Bloodbath, a group of teens finds themselves transported into the movie and are forced to use their knowledge of the film to survive. The Final Girls adds a sweetness to the proceedings by including a storyline which ruminates on the grieving process. Also, it’s absolutely hilarious.
Honorable mentions: Tucker & Dale vs Evil, Night of the Comet, The Monster Squad, Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Rubber.