2010 continued our collective journey through the financial crisis, and while our politicians ratcheted up the rhetoric and demonstrated a shortage of leadership, the American people tried to rise out of the muck and remake themselves. It only seems fitting that horror movies also seemed to find meaning in remakes. Breck Eisner took on the George Romero classic The Crazies, Samuel Bayer raided Wes Craven’s closet and remade Nightmare on Elm Street, Joe Johnson cast Benicio Del Toro as The Wolfman, and Steven Monroe remade Meir Zarchi’s I Spit on Your Grave. Besides being noted for the remakes, 2010 gave us Cropsey, a creepy documentary by two filmmakers exploring the urban legend of their youth, Splice fed our need for a genetics-gone-wrong story, and Paul Bettany played a sexy fallen angel trying to prevent the End of Days in Legion.
But it was the remake of the amazing Swedish horror film Let the Right One In that hands down won our 2010 race for best horror film.
We approached Let Me In skeptically. As mentioned in our 2008 post, Let the Right One In left an indelible mark on our expectations not only for vampire films, but for horror films as a whole. Combine that with our lack of faith that such a rich story could be transplanted without killing the roots, and we feared the worst. Obviously, we were pleasantly surprised by this high profile production from the reborn Hammer studios. Let Me In moved the story from Stockholm, Sweden to Los Alamos, New Mexico, but still did a wonderful job of making the girl vampire Abby, both sympathetic and terrifying. The chemistry between actress Chloë Grace Moretz and actor Kodi Smit-McPhee rivaled that of their Swedish counterparts (Lina Leadnersson and Kåre Hedebrant) and gives this movie an amazing tension. Outcast and bullied Owen befriends Abby at night in a local playground, and eventually he learns her true nature. Let Me In reminds us that vampires are terrifying creatures, predators of the first order, and even though Abby appears as an “adolescent” and is in need of a guardian, she is a monster. The relationship between Owen and Abby has a sexual charge, but it is subtle and sweet, and has more to do with mutual understanding and respect than sex.
Another surprise of Let Me In was Richard Jenkins as Father, Abby’s guardian, and in some ways, her prisoner. His performance does an amazing job of portraying his devotion to Abby, but also his jealousy as Abby and Owen grow closer. His unwavering loyalty is tested and tortured as he tries to provide for his charge, and his inevitable end leaves Abby vulnerable.
Let Me In beat the odds by staying remarkably true to Let the Right One In, and it paid off. This remake won several awards including Best Horror Film and Best Performance by a Younger Actor (Chloë Grace Moretz) from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films. There is no doubt this film qualifies as a new classic horror film and redeems the vampire as an object of smart horror.
Drake here. In retro publishing, this fall has turned out to be the season of the horror comic, with a veritable dark and stormy flood of books reprinting classics from the great era of horror comics in the early 1950s. Since I have a deep affection for this material, and since Angela is wonderfully indulgent of my vices, she is allowing me to occupy a few inches of her blog to review some of these books. This topic is timely too, because a modern horror comic has just become the basis for hit TV series The Walking Dead.
Arguably the most important book ever written about comic books was the one that almost put an end to them. In 1954, psychiatrist Fredric Wertham published Seduction of the Innocent: the Influence of Comic Books on Today’s Youth. The book was the culmination of years of effort by the well-meaning doctor, who had spent years counseling severely troubled inner city youngsters and who had been, perhaps, driven into a kind of narrowly focused fanaticism by his work. Dr. Wertham blamed horror and crime comics for everything from juvenile crime to sexual fetishes.
In 1955, American comic book publishers were pretty much compelled to submit to a production code – similar to the Hay’s Code that cleaned up movies in the 30s. Among other things, the Comics Code Authority forbade the use of words like “horror” and “terror” in comic titles, banned vampires and werewolves, and ensured that good always triumphed over evil. For the next 15 years, comic would be paragons of innocence and goodness until cracks in the structure began to form around 1970. The Code still exists, but I doubt Dr. Wertham would be amused by some of the material published today with its approval.
Before 1955, there were dozens of companies producing horror and crime comics. The best known of the bunch was the Entertaining Comics company (EC), which imploded after the mid-50s to the single, massively popular Mad magazine. EC’s comics have been acclaimed for the literary ambitions of their writers and the quality of their art and are regarded as some of the best comic books anyone ever published. Widely reprinted in a variety of cheap and expensive formats (although the most recent attempt to archive them in classy hardcover editions ran into the churning blades of economic reality and seems to have ended), EC editions are easy to find for anyone willing to spend a little time on eBay.
But ECs were only the tip of a big, bloody iceberg and several book publishers this fall have begun to mine the vast, all but unknown, trove of scary comics produced before the advent of the Code, the very books that drove Dr. W to his crusade. Besides reprinting rare material, these retrospectives raise some interesting points about the nature of horror comics, their place in the times that produced them, and the importance of forbidden texts in an open society.
Next: Four Color Fear
My interview at The Groovy Age of Horror is up! Check it out!
Thanks again, Curt. I really enjoyed it.
So we come to the last days before Halloween, a holiday that, whatever its origins, exists now as a celebration of imagination, the frisson of the unknown that survives our childhoods and gives us so many pleasant shivers.
Here are the films Drake and I chose from each decade in one easy-to-read list. If you watch any of them, I would love to hear your reactions.
Keep in mind this is the time to check out your listings for Turner Classic Movies, American Movie Classics, Chiller, IFC (Independent Film Channel), and SciFi Network! There are some great horror movie marathons coming up!
1896 – 1910
Drake: The films of George Melies
1910 – 1919
Drake: The Student of Prague
1920 – 1929
1930 – 1939
Angela: The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Drake: The Mummy
1940 – 1949
Angela: The Picture of Dorian Gray
Drake: I Walked with a Zombie
1950 – 1959
Angela: I Married a Monster from Outer Space
Drake: Night of the Demon
1960 – 1969
Angela: The Haunting
Drake: Night of the Living Dead
1970 – 1979
1980 – 1989
Drake: The Howling
1990 – 1999
Angela: Army of Darkness
2000 – 2008
Angela: Ginger Snaps
Drake: Brotherhood of the Wolf
Have a happy and sexy Halloween!