Sunday, December 1, 2019

Movies of 1989

Today’s episode of Sounds of Cinema featured a look back at the movies of 1989 with special guests Andy and Ben Wardinski. Here is a recap of some of the titles discussed on the show.

The biggest box office hit of 1989, Tim Burton’s Batman was the film that began the contemporary comic book film. With the exception of the first two Christopher Reeve Superman films, most comic book pictures made to this point were campy, low budget affairs that appealed to a niche audience. Batman is also distinct in the way it is at once an 80s film and yet feels timeless in part because of the 1940s-esqe production design.

Field of Dreams
Field of Dreams was the second title in Kevin Costner’s triptych of baseball movies (the other two being Bull Durham and For the Love of the Game). Of those three, Field of Dreams has had the most enduring impact. The actual field continues to draw tourists and the phrase “If you build it, they will come” continues to be a pop culture reference. But Field of Dreams isn’t so much about baseball as it is about healing the generational divisions between Baby Boomers and their parents.

Major League
Another baseball movie of 1989, Major League is a crass comedy starring Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Rene Russo, and Wesley Snipes. The movie is especially memorable to Milwaukee Brewers fans of the 1980s because portions of the film were shot at the now demolished County Stadium.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child
Horror of the 1980s was dominated by slasher movies and the biggest of these were A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, and Friday the 13th. Although they have kept going in other forms, these franchises hit the end of the line in 1989. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5, Halloween 5, and Friday the 13th: Part VIII all failed at the box office. The Dream Child is easily the best of these three. It’s an uneven film that inserts too many silly moments but it has unique production design, an interesting premise, and a strong cast.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
The third Indy movie is generally considered the best sequel in the series (although Andy and Ben made a strong case for Temple of Doom which is admittedly a better action picture). The strongest element of Last Crusade is its characters led by Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones and Sean Connery as his father. Alison Doody is also notably in the role of villainous archeologist Elsa Schneider, the most complex love interest in the series. The good humor and nuanced characterizations give Last Crusade the most emotional gravitas of the series.

Weird Al Yankovic made a movie in 1989 about an aimless dreamer who turns around a failing independent television station with a variety of wacky programs. The movie was a box office disappointment in 1989 but it has accrued a dedicated cult audience. Despite the fact that the movie is nestled in the pop culture of 1989 (the meaning of the title is probably lost on viewers born after 1995) UHF still plays because of its zany and good hearted sense of humor.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was the most financially successful entry in the series’ original run of films. It was followed by 1989’s The Final Frontier, a project that began with an ambitious premise but was handicapped by budget woes and script re-writes. It is (arguably) not the worst Star Trek film but The Final Frontier has dramatic highs and lows and a whiplash of different tones.

The Abyss
James Cameron’s first aquatic adventure (if we ignore Piranha II: The Spawning) has its fans and the movie has some groundbreaking special effects but the story is a mess. The Abyss suffers from an excess of plot. It begins with a submarine crashing in the deep sea and then the rescue team becomes stranded themselves. And then the narrative forks off into a bunch of tangents with nuclear weapons, nervous breakdowns, and aliens; Thomas Pope named The Abyss one of the worst scripts in film history in his book Good Scripts, Bad Scripts. There are a couple of versions of The Abyss. The 145 minute theatrical cut is faster paced but it doesn’t make any sense. The 171 minute director’s cut makes sense but it meanders.

Back to the Future Part II
One of the bolder sequels in the sci-fi genre, Back the Future Part II travels into the future and then back into the events of the first movie. The film is impressive in the way it layers the new film on top of the original and it makes bold choices.

Dead Poet’s Society
Robin Williams’ acting career can be bifurcated between his comic and dramatic performances although he is best known for comedy, Williams’ dramatic outings were much more consistent and he gives one of his best performances in Dead Poets Society. A favorite of high school English teachers everywhere, Dead Poets Society is interesting to look at thirty years later as humanities departments find themselves undergoing some of the same pressures dramatized in this film.

Driving Miss Daisy
Driving Miss Daisy won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1989. The movie concerns an elderly Jewish woman who befriends her African American chauffer. This film is especially interesting to consider in 2019 since the year’s Best Picture winner was a Green Book, film whose scenario plays as a race flipped retread of Driving Miss Daisy. What’s more, Driving Miss Daisy was favored by the Academy over Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing and in 2019 Green Book competed alongside movies like Sorry to Bother You, Blindspotting, BlacKkKlansman, and The Hate U Give. The implicit lesson is that Hollywood, or at least the Academy, hasn’t moved forward in regard to racial representation in the last thirty years.

Ghostbusters II
Ghostbusters II is an unfairly maligned sequel. The 1989 follow up is not as tight as its predecessor and it has some hokey moments. Between the release of Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II, the franchise was adapted into a cartoon, pivoting the audience toward children complete with tie-in merchandise. For the second film, the edge of the first film was removed so that it would appeal to the family audience. Nevertheless, Ghostbusters II plays as an entertaining film in its own right.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
The third and probably the most popular title of the Vacation series, Christmas Vacation was written by John Hughes and it captured what Hughes did best – satirizing the absurdity of suburban life. Christmas Vacation is endlessly quotable. Everyone is at their best here, namely Chevy Chase as the patriarch of the Griswold family and Randy Quaid as Cousin Eddie, but unlike the other Vacation films the rest of the cast are also given things to do.

One of the early directorial efforts by Ron Howard, Parenthood is not neatly pegged into a single genre. The movie mixes comedy and drama in a story of suburban life. The movie has a terrific cast including Steve Martin, Mary Steenburgen, Dianne Wiest, Jason Robards, Martha Plimpton, and Rick Moranis as well as very young Keanu Reeves, and Joaquin Phoenix (credited here as Leaf Phoenix). Parenthood was adapted into a television series in 1990 and again in 2010.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Movies of 1989 on Sounds of Cinema

The Sounds of Cinema episode airing December 1, 2019 will feature special guests Andy and Ben Wardinski and they'll talk movies of 1989 with Nathan including Batman, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Field of Dreams, and UHF.

Sounds of Cinema airs Sunday morning at 9am on 89.5 KQAL FM in Winona, MN and at 11am on 89.5 KMSU FM in Mankato, MN. Tune in over the air, at each station's website, and on your mobile device.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Family-Friendly Frights

Watching scary movies is a central part of many people’s Halloween festivities but it can be hard for families or those who wouldn’t ordinarily watch scary movies to find something appropriate so today’s episode of Sounds of Cinema looked at family friendly frights.

Monster House (2006)
Dir. Gil Kenan

Produced by Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis, Monster House is a haunted house story presented through motion capture animation. Three teenagers discover that the decrepit home in their neighborhood contains a supernatural secret. Monster House was consistent with movies like The Monster Squad and The Goonies but it was also surprisingly smart and emotionally affecting.

Corpse Bride (2005)
Dir. Tim Burton and Mike Johnson

Tim Burton has been involved with several animated features that make for good Halloween viewing. The Nightmare Before Christmas was directed by Henry Selick with Burton producing and writing the story. Burton also adapted his short film “Frankenweenie” into a feature length movie and co-directed Corpse Bride with Mike Johnson. Corpse Bride was a comedy of errors about a living groom who gets involved with an undead bride and it had a fun soundtrack by regular Burton collaborator Danny Elfman.

Hocus Pocus (1993)
Dir. Kenny Ortega

Hocus Pocus was a family friendly Halloween adventure about three seventeenth century witches who are transported to contemporary Salem, Massachusetts where they pursue a group of children. The original story by Mick Garris and David Kirschner was quite dark but the material was lightened when it was acquired by Disney. When the movie was released in 1993, Hocus Pocus was a box office disappointment but the film has since become a very popular title especially among viewers who grew up in the 1990s and 2000s.

The Harry Potter Series (2001 - 2011)

The Harry Potter series is a story of a boy coming of age in a fantastical world of witches and magic. J.K. Rowling’s stories caught the imagination of readers the world over and were adapted into a very successful film series that mostly preserved the book’s sense of wonder. While not horror stories, the Harry Potter films are appropriately frightening with supernatural creatures and magical villains. But what really endures about Harry Potter is the way the character and his friends recognize that there is evil in the world and choose to confront it.

Return to Oz (1985)
Dir. Walter Murch

The idea of making a sequel to 1939’s The Wizard of Oz seems quite natural now with the success of Wicked and Oz the Great and Powerful but in 1985 that wasn’t the case and Walter Murch’s Return to Oz had an uphill battle to find an audience. Adapted from L. Frank Baum’s stories, Return to Oz was much darker than the 1939 film. Its story was bleaker, its production design less cheery, and some of the puppet characters were creepy. Return to Oz failed in its initial release but it has gathered a cult audience since then.

The Universal Monsters

Holidays are a good time to introduce young people to classic movies and Halloween is a good opportunity to revisit the classic Universal Monster films. These pictures were thought to be terrifying at the time of their initial release but now they are quite accessible, often about as scary as Disney films, and with their short running times they fit within the attention spans of young viewers. Of the Universal Monsters, the Frankenstein pictures are generally regarded as superior and children seem to find the Monster, as played by Boris Karloff in the first three movies, very empathetic.

Poltergeist (1982)
Dir. Tobe Hooper

Poltergeist is officially rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America and the film is indeed within the boundaries of that rating. It doesn’t contain any bloody violence nor does it include sexuality or course language beyond what would be expected in a PG film. But Poltergeist’s rating belies the film’s intensity. Directed by Tobe Hooper and produced by Steven Spielberg, Poltergeist is quite frightening with some fantastic set pieces and a nightmarish climax. As a PG rated film made before the advent of PG-13, Poltergeist is an interesting artifact of what was considered family-oriented material a few decades ago.

The Sixth Sense (1999)
Dir. M. Night Shyamalan
The Sixth Sense was the breakout film for M. Night Shyamalan. The movie is well within the framework of its PG-13 rating but what is surprising about this film is the way it deals with the supernatural. A lot of stories about ghosts assume that the spirits are malevolent, reflecting our own fears of death. The Sixth Sense plays on our expectations and actually ends on an optimistic note, making it spooky but also hopeful. (1:30)

The Addams Family (1991 and 2019)
Dir. Barry Sonnenfeld / Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon

The Addams Family has been around since 1938 when the characters first appeared in Charles Addams’ cartoons. Since then the Addams Family has starred in television sitcoms and feature films. The 1991 live action movie has terrific energy and a great cast. A sequel, Addams Family Values, followed in 1993. The family returned to the screen in a 2019 animated film. Both big screen versions of The Addams Family have their own virtues and they are witty and intelligent and ought to appeal to both children and their parents.

The Monster Squad (1987)
Dir. Fred Dekker

The Monster Squad is an unusual piece of 1980s fantasy entertainment. Dracula leads a werewolf, a mummy, a fish-man, and Frankenstein’s monster into a suburban town in pursuit of a magical amulet and it’s up to a group of monster movie obsessed kids to stop them.This film that was almost certainly an inspiration Stranger Things but the retro appeal of the movie is somewhat ironic given that The Monster Squad was itself nostalgic for the classic Universal monster movies of the 1930s and 40s.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

KMSU Fall Pledge Drive

89.7 KMSU FM "The Maverick" is currently holding its fall pledge drive. If you listen to Sounds of Cinema from this station or simply believe in independent media, please consider making a financial contribution. You can make a pledge by calling 507-389-5678 or 1-800-456-7810. You can also make a pledge online at the station's website.

This pledge drive has a $25,000 fundraising goal. The money primarily goes to KMSU's overhead expenses. Most of the local programs, including Sounds of Cinema, are produced by volunteers. Your pledges go directly to keeping the station on the air so that all of us can keep sharing our passions with you.

KMSU offers a variety of extraordinary and unique programming that is valuable to the community. The station allows local businesses, artists, and community organizations exposure they would not get otherwise. It is a truly independent voice in this community. Our playlists are not dictated from corporate offices nor are our views and opinions restrained by marketing departments and partisan talking points. Whatever goes over the air is the result of the dedication, effort, and passions of the station’s staff and volunteers. That feature is increasingly unique in broadcasting and KMSU represents something that the community ought to be proud of.

If you listen to KMSU and enjoy its content, please help to ensure that the station continues to broadcast its unique blend of programming. The reality is that radio—like everything else—costs money. Every piece of media that you hear, watch, or read costs somebody something to make into a tangible and accessible reality. Don’t kid yourself; music and movies and radio programs do not magically appear out of nowhere. They are the result of time and effort and investment. That’s where you come in. As consumers and citizens, we express what we want by the way we spend our hard-earned dollars. Every day we vote with our wallets whether it is at the market, at the local movie theater, or through a public radio pledge drive. And just like the goods of your favorite store, your support will determine whether or not KMSU’s product continues to exist.

It's also important to remember that pledge drives are about more than money. Space and funding are at a premium across higher education. Your pledge to KMSU demonstrates that the station is valued by the community and that helps justify the station's continued existence.

Also, keep in mind that KMSU is a part of the Association of Minnesota Public Educational Radio Stations. This is a separate organization from Minnesota Public Radio and MPR's fundraising dollars  do not go to KMSU.

On Sunday, October 27th, those listening to Sounds of Cinema from KMSU will hear a special pledge drive episode. Those listening from 89.5 KQAL FM in Winona will hear the regularly scheduled program.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

'Alien' and Manson Family Retrospective on Sounds of Cinema

Today's episode of Sounds of Cinema was a special retrospective show. The first half of the show took a look back at the original Alien and discussed the themes and legacy of the movie. The second half examined films about the Manson Family and the way their crimes have been represented in documentaries and dramatizations.

The commentary from today's show is now available on the Sounds of Cinema website, including content that did not make it into the show.

Find the Alien commentary here and the Manson Family commentary here

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Dark Comic Book Movies

The comic book genre has become a major success for Hollywood, especially Marvel, but some of these comics have inspired dark tales of madness and violence and supernatural evil. Today's episode of Sounds of Cinema continued this month's Halloween theme with a look at movies adapted from dark comic books.

Tales from the Crypt
Tales from the Crypt was a comic book series published by EC Comics between 1950 and 1955. The comic was very popular and featured lurid stories of murder and supernatural terror presented by a ghoulish host known as the Crypt-Keeper. Despite its popularity, Tales from the Crypt was canceled following public outcry over concerns about juvenile delinquency which culminated in a US Senate subcommittee hearing in 1954 in which EC Comics publisher William Gaines was grilled by lawmakers for allegedly corrupting children. But Tales from the Crypt made an impression on some of its young readers, namely Stephen King and George A. Romero who paid tribute to the comics in their 1982 collaboration Creepshow. Tales from the Crypt was adapted into a 1972 feature film and later into an HBO television series that ran for seven seasons. The show inspired a pair of feature films: Demon Knight and Bordello of Blood.

Ghost Rider
Ghost Rider refers to several Marvel comic book characters who become fire breathing skull headed motorcyclists and who use their infernal powers to fight the forces of evil. A pair of Ghost Rider films were released by Columbia Pictures and starred Nicolas Cage. The film rights to Ghost Rider have since lapsed and reverted back to Marvel. More recently the character appeared in the television show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..

Sin City
Sin City was a series of neo-noir comics created by Frank Miller and published by Dark Horse Comics. Miller was one of several comic storytellers pushing the format into darker and more violent places in the late 1980s and early 90s. Sin City was an urban crime story full of seedy characters and the tone of the comic recalled the gangster movies of the 1940s. The comic was adapted into two motion pictures directed by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez which used the drawings as a guide and employed a formalistic style that simulated the qualities of the comic book page. 

John Constanine was a character featured in several DC comic series, namely Hellblazer. The character is a warlock and occult detective who is cynical and yet tries to do the right thing. He proved to be a popular character and Hellblazer was the most successful title in DC’s Vertigo imprint. Constantine was played by Keanu Reeves in a 2005 film. It was a modest success at the time but Constantine has grown in popularity since then with fans responding to the movie’s humor. Director Francis Lawrence and star Keanu Reeves have discussed the possibility of a sequel over the years although nothing has ever materialized. The character has recently appeared on television first as the star of a short lived NBC series and later as a supporting character in CW’s Arrowverse shows where Constantine is played by Matt Ryan.

Joker is an origin story of Batman's nemesis. Although the story took place in Gotham and the Wayne family figures into the story, Joker mostly eschewed anything related to comic books. Instead, this film flipped the script on the Batman franchise. Where most Batman films takes place at the top (Wayne Manor, city hall) looking down, Joker takes place in the gutter looking up. The movie reinvisioned The Joker as a troubled performance artist whose mental breakdown is hastened by society's indiference and a consequence of austerity.

The Crow
Originally created by James O’Barr, The Crow doesn’t actually refer to a character but a concept. O’Barr envisioned stories of the murdered dead returning from the grave to seek revenge while under the guidance of a bird. The comics included multiple characters settling scores. The Crow was first adapted into a feature film in 1994 and it remains one of the best comic book films. Sadly, the production of that film was marked by a series of disasters, culminating with actor Brandon Lee killed in an on-set accident. But The Crow was a success and was very popular in the goth and alternative scene of the time. The movie was followed by four sequels—each with a different protagonist—as well as a television series.

Hellboy is a superhero created by Mike Mignola in the 1990s. The character is a demon raised from infancy by human beings and enlisted to defend humanity from the forces of darkness. Hellboy was adapted to cinema twice. The character first appeared on screen in a 2004 movie and its sequel directed by Guillermo del Toro and starring Ron Pearlman. Hellboy was adapted again in a film released earlier this year and directed by Neil Marshall and starring David Harbor.

Blade was a Marvel character originally appearing in The Tomb of Dracula comic in 1973. The character was a half-vampire-half-human who had the powers of the undead but without their vulnerability to sunlight and Blade hunts vampires with a variety of edged weapons. Wesley Snipes starred in a trilogy of Blade films released in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The first two were quite well received and Blade II is one of the better comic book sequels. The character later went to television and it was recently announced that Blade will be played by Mahershala Ali in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The Punisher
The Punisher is a Marvel character who first appeared in an issue of The Amazing Spider-Man in 1974. The Punisher is a prototypical vigilante and a much darker character than is usually found in Marvel comics. The Punisher first appeared on film in a 1989 movie starring Dolph Lundgren that was also the first R-rated comic book movie. The character was rebooted in a 2004 picture starring Thomas Jane and again in 2008 with Ray Stevenson taking over the role. More recently, the rights to The Punisher reverted back to Marvel and the character appeared in Netflix’s Daredevil series before starring in his own show played by Jon Bernthal.

Spawn began as a comic book created by Todd McFarlane in the 1990s. McFarlane had a background working on Marvel’s Spider-Man comics but with Spawn McFarlane deliberately created a character and a story that was intended for a mature audience. Throughout the 1990s Spawn became one of the hottest titles in the comic book industry and McFarlane shrewdly managed the property, authorizing spinoffs and collectibles. Between 1997 and 1999 McFarlane produced an animated television series for HBO as well as a live action feature film released in 1997. The live action movie wasn't so well recieved and it hasn't aged especially well but the HBO show remains an impressive piece of work.

30 Days of Night
30 Days of Night was a comic book miniseries written by Steve Niles and illustrated by Ben Templesmith. Set in Alaska, 30 Days of Night was a horror story about vampires besieging a rural town located so far north that the sun disappears for a whole month during the winter. The comic was a success and inspired several sequels. A film adaptation directed David Slade and starring Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, and Danny Huston was released in 2007. A direct-to-video sequel followed and two prequel series were produced for the short-lived streaming service FEARnet.

From Hell
From Hell was a graphic novel by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell that speculated on the identity and motives of Jack the Ripper. The story elaborates upon a conspiracy theory that the murders were intended to conceal the existence of an illegitimate royal baby. A film adaptation directed by the Hughes Brothers and starring Johnny Depp and Heather Graham was released in 2001. The film version of From Hell was a success but Alan Moore expressed his dissatisfaction with it as he has with other adaptions of his work such as Watchmen and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Horror Movies of the 2010s

Today’s show kicks off a month-long Halloween theme on Sounds of Cinema. 2019 concludes this decade and one of the extraordinary phenomena in movies these past ten years has been an exceptional crop of horror titles. Horror is presently enjoying a moment in quality and quantity that the genre hasn’t seen since the 1970s and 80s. This program will highlight some of the trends in the genre and some of the outstanding titles of the 2010s. 

The End of Body Horror and Found Footage
The horror films of the early 2010s continued and resolved the themes that had dominated the genre in the previous decade. Horror works in cycles and starting in the mid-2000s the genre had been devoted to extreme body horror and torture movies following the success of Saw and Hostel. This came to an end in 2010 but filmmakers seemingly saved the strangest and most excessive titles for last, chief among them A Serbian Film, which easily ranks among the most disturbing movies ever made. Also released that year were Saw 3-D, The Human Centipede and the remake of I Spit on Your Grave. These films, but especially A Serbian Film, took the torture subgenre to its ultimate conclusion.

The other horror trend that traced back to the previous decade and concluded in the 2010s was found footage. Like body horror, the found footage format is still with us but there was a glut of these films following the blockbuster success of Paranormal Activity. A lot of these movies were awful but a few stood out and used the found footage gimmick effectively such as Paranormal Activity 3, The Sacrament, Creep, The Bay, and Unfriended.

Remakes and New Horror Franchises
Remakes are a staple of Hollywood’s release slate. For better or worse, the horror genre led the way and in the 2000s virtually every major property of the 1970s and 80s was remade. This continued into the 2010s but the remakes of this decade were exceptional or at least innovative. The remakes of Maniac, Child’s Play, Evil Dead, Fright Night, and Suspiria paid homage to the original films while offering new visions and fresh takes.

While some of the old standbys were remade, horror filmmakers of the 2010s also created new franchises. The biggest of these was The Conjuring. Two titular installments have been released so far but The Conjuring created its own cinematic universe through spinoff films like The Curse of La Llorona and the Annabelle series. While the spinoffs weren’t very good they did make money and pointed a new way forward for sequelization. The Conjuring was overseen by James Wan who also supervised the Insidious films, another popular supernatural franchise of the 2010s which featured some of the same actors as The Conjuring. The Purge was also successfully franchised. Starting from a modest debut film, The Purge had success with progressively better sequels and a keen feel for the political zeitgeist. The Purge has now moved to television.

The Influence of John Carpenter
One of the major influences on horror filmmakers of the 2010s was the work of John Carpenter. The filmmaker had been prolific throughout the 1970s and 80s with such varied titles as The Fog, Big Trouble in Little China, and Starman. Carpenter’s last directorial feature was 2010’s The Ward after which he turned to music and released a few albums. However, Carpenter’s filmography influenced many filmmakers of the 2010s. The Purge series echoed Escape From New York and Assault on Precinct 13, The Hateful Eight and It Chapter Two contained obvious homages to The Thing, and It Follows channeled the original Halloween. Carpenter served as a producer on the 2018 Halloween sequel and he co-wrote the music with Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies.

Fan Documentaries
One of the curious outgrowths adjacent to the horror genre throughout the 2010s has been the advent of independent, fan driven documentaries about popular film franchises. These were distinctly different from the studio-produced featurettes usually found on DVDs. The documentaries were feature length examinations that catalogued the behind-the-scenes stories and the legacies of these films. Because they were made outside the studio and usually long after the productions had wrapped, these filmmakers were free to be honest and address the flaws or disappointments of these moves as well as dig into the details that fans obsess over. The two best examples of these documentaries were Never Sleep Again and Crystal Lake Memories which recorded the making of the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th series, respectively. These documentaries were extraordinary not only in their depth but also in their production values, humor, and creative visuals. Also notable were 78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene and the Return of the Living Dead documentary More Brains as well as Room 237 about the various interpretations of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and the Jaws documentary The Shark is Still Working.

The Quantity and the Quality of 2010s Horror
The horror of the 2010s really took off in about 2013. That year gave us Byzantium, Escape from Tomorrow, The Purge, Stoker, The Last Exorcism, and the remake of The Evil Dead. Throughout the rest of the decade came an incredible run of horror movies including Annihilation, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, The Babadook, Cam, Don’t Breathe, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, The Green Inferno, Hereditary, It, It Follows, Krampus, Life After Beth, Midsommar, Mother!, The Neon Demon, Only Lovers Left Alive, A Quiet Place, Raw, The Sacrament, Under the Shadow, Us, and The Witch among many others. These movies were varied with some reworking classic horror tropes like vampires and slashers but many others presenting original concepts. And it is in that way that the horror boom of the 2010s was distinct from the horror periods of the 1930s and 40s or the 1970s and 80s. The movies of the 1930s and 40s repurposed folklore and Victorian literature like Frankenstein and Dracula while the movies of the 1970s and 80s like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween centered upon slasher villains. The horror films of the 2010s were primarily about ambitious ideas presented in original scenarios.

This decade’s horror films were also characterized by cleverness and irreverence and a willingness to reinvent or lampoon horror tropes. Consider the zombie films The Girl with All the Gifts and Cooties or the psycho killer tales Creep and The Voices. There were also outright silly movies like What We Do in the Shadows and Tucker and Dale vs. Evil and politically loaded fare like Get Out and The Purge. We also got a lot of anthology films like The ABCs of Death and V/H/S and XX which allowed for experimentation and the horror of the 2010s was an especially fertile genre in which filmmakers were able to be both narratively and technically innovative.  The sum has been an extraordinarily rich period in horror filmmaking the likes of which we haven’t seen in decades.

The New Masters of Horror
Previous high points in the horror genre were driven by filmmakers who the press (and publicists) dubbed “masters of horror” such as John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, Wes Craven, Dario Argento, Clive Barker, and George A. Romero. These names have been the standard bearers for the genre for about two generations of horror audiences. In the 2010s many of these filmmakers died or faded away and new horror filmmakers made their mark to become the new “masters of horror.” Among the most successful of these new horror masters was also one of the most unexpected: Jordan Peele. He was best known for comedy but with Get Out and Us Peele refashioned himself into one of the horror genre’s most interesting voices. Peele’s rise was assisted by Blumhouse, a production studio specializing in horror films, and its CEO Jason Blum has become one of the most important figures not only in horror but in American cinema at the moment. James Wan had established himself in the 2000s with Saw but his career really took off in the 2010s as he oversaw both the Conjuring and Insidious franchises. Elijah Wood is best known to audiences as an actor but Wood turned to producing through his production company SpectreVision whose credits included Mandy, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and Open Windows. Other filmmakers to emerge throughout this decade include Ti West, director of The House of the Devil and The Sacrament, John Krasinski of A Quiet Place, the Soska Sisters who co-directed American Mary, and Ari Aster had one of the most impressive directorial debuts of recent years with Hereditary which he followed with Midsommar. Whether these filmmakers are here to stay is yet to be seen but together they have reinvigorated the horror film and made the 2010s one of the most exciting periods in the history of the genre.