30 April 2011

"Do You Like Scary Movies?"

I like scary movies and so too do Kim Newman and Mark Kermode, so it was great fun to hear them discussing the genre last night at the BFI, as part of the promotion for the release of the new edition of Newman's book, Nightmare Movies. The original edition of the book ran up to Apocalypse Now whereas the new version ends with There Will Be the Blood, partly, it seems, because the final line in that film is, "I'm done."

Kim Newman and Mark Kermode at the BFI

Newman started off by claiming that he preferred Exorcist II to the original, which almost caused Dr K to walk out. Defining the horror genre isn't always easy with so many subgenres (scary Japanese girls, vampires, torture porn, and so on) and, as Newman said, a horror film doesn't necessarily have to be scary. He, of course, is fairly immune to the tricks of horror directors by now, although jumped five times during the screening of Insidious (he and Kermode both agreed that the film was generally poor).

And while he isn't a big fan the endless sequels in the Saw and Hostel franchises (he prefers the "running through the woods" sub-sub-genre of torture porn to the "sitting in a chair" category; the former are inherently less boring), he doesn't think they're necessarily worse films than a lot of the films he loved in the 1970s and 1980s. The difference is that enough time has passed now for him to feel nostalgia for the latter. That said, in a show of hands from the audience, very few people were prepared to admit liking Sucker Punch (I think it was Sucker Punch; if not, it was another recent and much derided movie), which may have been the most frequently dissed film of the night. Do horror movies sometimes go too far? They're supposed to go too far, says Newman, who likes the fact that they aren't always mainstream, and for him, they only go too far when they become boring.

After the discussion, they showed a rarely screened film called Let's Scare Jessica to Death. "I could have chosen a film I love like Night of the Living Dead or Halloween," said Newman, "but most of you have probably seen them and if not, they are easy to get hold of." Let's Scare Jessica, meanwhile, hasn't been shown in the UK for over 25 years. In the film, the eponymous Jessica has just been released from a mental hospital and she and her husband move to a farm in the countryside with their friend Woody. In the house, they find a hippie drifter type called Emily, and then mysterious things start happening but are they real or is she still a bit crazy?

Newman likes the film because whenever someone tells him that "X is the scariest film ever," he can ask whether they've seen Let's Scare Jessica ( usually they haven't) and because it contains many of the classic horror film elements: drowned ghost brides, vampires, zombies, isolated houses in the countryside. The print we saw had a strange pinkish tone to it and judging by the high-pitched, feedback-like sounds that are played throughout the film, you might wonder whether Let's Give Jessica Tinnitus might be a more appropriate title. It was pretty scary, although I was bracing myself for more scares than there actually were. Not the most conventional of ways to spend the evening of the royal wedding but there were at least several bride dresses...

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