Weird Tales: Michael Boatman on Lady Hollywood

Writer: Michael Boatman
Weird Tales Story: A Father’s Work (Issue #347, Nov/Dec 2007)
Writer Bio: Michael Boatman is an actor and an author. His short story collection, God Laughs When You Die: Mean Little Stories From The Wrong Side of The Tracks, is available at Amazon.com.

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Die, Lady Hollywood: DIE! DIE! DIE!
Or… How A Thirty -Year- Old Horror Movie Made Me A Terrorist.

Anybody else waiting for I Am Legend to suck?

Don’t get me wrong. I respect Will Smith’s talents and box office achievements as much as the next movie-lover. As an actor I respect his contributions to our industry. He’s hands- down one of the most bankable stars of all time and its no accident. I’m not hatin’ on the man in any way: From my perspective, he’s a talented performer who’s merely taking the much- deserved opportunities presented to him.

Now that that’s out of the way…let me tell you why I can say, without fear of contradiction that I Am Legend will blow like Mount Vesuvius.

And why ultimately, I must destroy Hollywood.

I was watching The Omen a few nights ago. Having not seen the film for a few years, I was pleasantly surprised by how absolutely terrifying it is. The scene where Gregory Peck clips the hairs from the sleeping Damien’s head only to reveal the triple sixes tattooed into his scalp is one of the most tension -rich cinematic nightmares in horror history. The subsequent fight-to-the death between a horrified Peck and ‘Mrs. Blaylock,’ Damien’s devil-worshipping, mother-murdering necro-nanny, drives the action to lunatic heights of horror that had me literally bouncing in my bed. And let’s not even talk about that frigging rottweiler. Or consider the scene where a tricycle- riding Damien knocks Lee Remick over a banister, leaving her clinging for dear life while her “son” looks on with a bemused little smile on his hellishly cute face. Lee Remick, the beautiful mother; kind, caring and completely unaware that this dark angel is not her child, that her real son is buried in a crappy Italian graveyard with a divot the size of Rhode Island knocked out of his skull. In fact, as Remick learns to her horror, she has been nurturing the Prince of Darkness.

All of this sounds tame compared to the films we’re subjected to today. Hostel, Saws One through Seventy-nine. But one thing separates these films: Character.

Unlike most contemporary horror films, movies like The Omen, The Exorcist and even Jaws, presented characters you care about. You like Gregory Peck as Senator Robert Thorne. You empathize with the terror he feels when things start to go wrong. Since the advent of films like Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th, films where the killer/psycho/faceless death freak is the star (and we see through his eyes), we’ve lost the emotional connection filmmakers once sweated to achieve. Now we get extremely bloody steak but no sizzle: We’ve traded horror movies for torture movies.

Having read I Am Legend, the classic horror novel by Richard Mathison, I have no expectation that the upcoming film version will capture the bleak, depressing nature of the book. These days, Hollywood’s more comfortable with tacked- on generic happy endings than the slightest ambiguity, and God forbid an actual unhappy ending. By her very nature, Lady Hollywood is a whore, striving to service the greatest number of ‘johns’ rather than treating a discriminating group to anything approaching real entertainment: quantity instead of quality.

Understand, Lady Hollywood was always a whore, but back when I was a kid, in the ’70’s and ’80’s at least she was a dirty whore, one who would take you into a back alley, show you a good time and leave you with enough cash for popcorn (or penicillin). Now, however, she’s “clean.” Thanks to corporate buyouts, parents’ groups, and the Christian Right, horror movies don’t have to evoke actual horror anymore, nothing meaningful or even worse…disturbing; merely a grossout or ten; one-hundred and twenty minutes of ‘almost scary’ then it’s on to the next installment in the franchise. We pay, we cringe… but we just don’t care.

I watched a scene from Hostel 2 the other night. I defy anyone to recount the lead characters’ names, much less pertinent, character- revealing details. Guys of my vintage used to walk out of movie theaters talking about the films we’d just seen: Alien, The Shining, any of Romero’s Dead films. Now the films fade from memory as soon as the lights come up in the theater. These days, if I share a comment with a fellow movie-goer after a horror film, the comment is usually… ‘who gives a crap?’

So I’m going to kill the whore. I’m going to track her down and drown her in her bathtub. Then I’m going to find all the stockholders who drive her parent corporations, chain them together in a darkened basement and make them think up interesting ways to kill each other.

Maybe then we can get back to watching scary movies again.

Comments

  1. kellys says

    “…I have no expectation that the upcoming film version will capture the bleak, depressing nature of the book. These days, Hollywood’s more comfortable with tacked- on generic happy endings…”

    I suggest you check out ultra-bleak, character-driven The Mist. It’s a Hollywood aberration, more so because it’s a horror film.

  2. says

    I’ve been saying for years that what passes for horror in Hollywood generally substitutes shock for atmosphere. HP Lovecraft said that atmosphere in supernatural fiction is the prime ingredient, more important even that the story. You can often combine the two in cinema but directors always find shock easier to do which is why you get more of it, Wes Craven being an especially annoying practitioner.

    Atmosphere is difficult; it requires a sympathetic understanding of the genre for a start and takes time and effort to get right with effective music, production design, etc. Shock is easy, just have something appear out of the frame accompanied by a loud stab of noise. Those trailers for I Am Legend looked good (great shots of the deserted city) until they showed a horde of unconvincing CGI puppets on the rampage. That immediately diminished my interest in the film down to single percentage figures and raised the thought “Oh well…maybe Cloverfield will be worth a look”. And yeah, I doubt very much that they’ll follow Matheson’s bleak conclusion. The Omega Man didn’t back in the Seventies.

  3. JeffVanderMeer says

    Michael:

    Great post. I haven’t seen I Am Legend, but I hear it starts out good and then gets lame. But I would like to see more horror movies that invest in the characters and the plot–and carry through to the bitter end.

    JV

  4. says

    Yeah, all I’ve ever heard about Mist is, “Go see it.” Okay. ;-)

    If any of you think you could watch a “charming” zombie movie – Fido. I can’t even think what to say about it, except track it down and watch it. No matter what you expect, it won’t be that.

    Great post, thanks Michael.

    Dave

  5. says

    I couldn’t agree more, Jeff. Smith is an absolute legend, oozing talent and style and – from what I can see in interviews et cetara – a pretty decent guy… but I Am Legend is set to blow. I cannot see them ending the film in the manner the book finishes, and if you don’t, well, then you haven’t made I Am Legend, have you? I mean, if you change the last page of the book, you’ve lost it. It’s not I Am Legend. It’s I Am… I Am Alone? I Am… I Am Hardcore Just Watch How Hardcore I Am? I Am… I Am Richard Matheson’s Oft-Forgotten Care Bear Alternate Ending?

    I dunno… geez. I’ll see it, but I am lining myself up for a fall.

    By the way, Jeff, what powers your blog? Is there any way to get the subscribe to replies option? I always forget to check back after I comment. Doh!

  6. says

    Chris: Ecstatic Days runs on the wonderful and endlessly flexible WordPress. This particular blog doesn’t have a subscribe to replies option but it should be easy enough for Luis to add since most WP themes have a feed which provides that; the theme I hacked for my blog has that built-in. The thing I love about WP is the ability to tailor it to your specific needs, down to the finest CSS tuning.

  7. says

    There ya go! Thanks, Luis…. n’ John, yup, I love WordPress. Used it for my own site and found it very customisable (to stick with the minimalist feel I wanted, it was great). I think Mary Robinette Kowal and Deanna Hoak both use it, and when you comment you can just click “notify me of new comments on this thread” to stay up to date on replies. Very useful stuff!

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