Sunday, December 2, 2007

What Could Have Been....- Volume 1

Directors Who Should Have Made Horror Films

As the internet gives me the power to say whatever I want to from the virtual rooftops, I’m going to share with you something that’s been on my mind for a while. In watching a hundred years worth of foreign and arthouse cinema, you tend to notice who has talent and who doesn’t. And as a disciple and scholar on the subject of Zombies I also tend to notice when someone should have taken a break from being gorgeous and tried scaring their audience. So, I went to my ledger and found some people who, I believe could have made some truly terrifying films if they had set their minds (and wallets) to it. Look at all the times it’s worked in the favor of an auteur to turn to fright, even if only once. Roman Polanski started his career out with horror films and made some of the best in the 20th century (his most recent return to the genre The Ninth Gate, though velvety and intriguing, left something to be desired, and before that the last time he ever tried flat out scaring someone was with the Tenant, which I believe caused a lot more scratched scalps than wet drawers). Ingmar Bergman only made one flat-out fright picture as far as I know, the cerebral Hour Of The Wolf, which I have yet to track down in English. Masaki Kobyashi made only one horror film, the ghost story to end all ghost stories Kwaidan. Michael Powell and Georges Franju only made one horror film a piece, and if you can name them I’ll give you a dime. Both were wholly unique and stand up next to anything Eli Roth feels he needs to rub in our eyes for an hour and a half. So, here are some names to noodle next time your feeling like a hypothetical.

Akira Kurosawa – Not one you’d think of immediately, but considering the amount of freedom and respect he got while still at Toho, he could have made something spectacular. This notion came to me when I was watching The Hidden Fortress some time ago. I remember thinking during the opening scenes of the masses being slaughtered and the aftermath of the prison break, you know if he had just used the same sets, actors, props & costumes and just made a zombie movie, he’d have gone down in history. All Kurosawa’s movies flirt with darkness pretty heavily; High & Low, The Bad Sleep Well, Throne Of Blood, Kagemusha, Ran; these are all but a skip and a jump from being horror films. Each story has an arc that happens to take you down as far as he thought an audience was willing to follow him; the skag buying in High & Low, the ghost aspects of both Bad Sleep Well & Kagemusha (not to mention the outlandish dreams in the latter), the siege of the castle at the start of Ran’s second act, Throne Of Blood looks, feels, and even acts like a horror movie; the forest moving, the queen’s behavior and posture are pretty ghastly, as is Mifune’s final scene, the appearance of the ghost at the banquet. (I suppose much of it’s feel has to do with it’s source material, but I’ve seen Macbeth done much less spooky than this). Kurosawa could have done something so outlandish the world would not have known what to do with it.

Mike Leigh – Mike Leigh is no stranger to grime & ugliness. His movies all have a similar claustrophobic feel; his camera an unflinching probe into the world of England’s heinous underside, never once stopping for a breath of air. Naked could have been a horror movie if either male character had just stepped up their actions a little more brutally. Vera Drake, though admittedly not the easiest two hours you’ll ever encounter had an amazing look to it, and Leigh’s style of direction made something tremendous out of what could have been a crashing, burning failure in a less capable pair of hands. I just think about all of his movies and imagining if they had given them to Mike Newell or Richard Curtis or Adrian Lyne how badly these could have turned out. If the seething anger and passion that lingers like a hungry tiger beneath the surface of every one of Leigh’s films came to a boil, it might just make up for Topsy Turvy. His films are too calculated, too honest, too dirty to be anything but frightening.

Alfonso Cuaron – Anyone who doubts this can see two movies that prove my point exactly. The first is Children of Men, which is essentially a political horror film, or anyway it’s scarier than most mainstream horror. The second is his student film Quartet For The End Of Time. This is some disquieting, misanthropic stuff, most filmmakers won’t ever make such a film. I believe that he and cinematographer Emanuel Lubezki could follow in his peers Danny Boyle’s and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s footsteps and make an artistic horror picture (although I’d obviously like it to be a little more Boyle and a little less Jeunet. No offense, but I’d take 28 Days Later over Alien: Resurrection any day). I mention Jeunet simply because his one horror picture would have been completely unwatchable were it not for the fact that Jeunet directed it (blame the script). Cuaron has an equally distinct style and if he could take the stunning visuals from Little Princess or Y Tu Mama Tambien or even Harry Potter 3, for crying out loud, and make like del toro and conjur up a ghost film or a real-apocalypse film (as opposed to the mid-apocalypse he's already covered), the man could die a legend.

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