The Globalization of Horror
Body Count: Volume 6
I bought a region free DVD player nearly ten years ago when I decided that I had had enough reading about particularly sweet editions of movies being released in foreign markets. These days it seems like just about everything released everywhere finds its way to Region 1 DVD but it wasn’t that long ago that I had to opt for VCD bootlegs of whatever it was that I wanted to see coming out of Asia because there wasn’t a distributor in North America that would pick up something like Battle Royale. So I was left with no choice. Then the tides turned. You still can’t get a real Region 1 version of Battle Royale, but I don’t even worry about that any more since I bought an awesome Tartan tin box edition of it when I visited The UK. But I digress. These days just about every movie that makes the rounds on the film festival circuit finds its way to Region 1 because somewhere, somehow a market for foreign genre films came from out of nowhere in North America. Or maybe we had always been here.
So speaking of France, I might as well start with them since I’ve been in love with the land of baguettes and imperial conquest for the last several years. France has managed to cast its net pretty wide as far as genre movies go. Originally known for the French New Wave, which would in turn inspire the American New Wave in the 70’s, France has transformed itself into a genre movie powerhouse, beginning with some extremely high octane action pictures written and produced by Luc Besson. But Alexandre Aja would soon come along and introduce a new brand of horror that was far more extreme than anything happening on the global stage at the time. I’m talking of course about Haute Tension. Say what you want about that movie. Tell me how the ending ruined the whole thing for you and I’ll explain to you how you probably misunderstood it. It’s a grisly piece of stalk and slash that would open the floodgates for even sicker, even more extreme pieces of misanthropy. There was the French riff on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Frontier(s) which made even jaded old me squirm in my seat followed by the equally horrific and compelling A l’Interieur (released in North America by Dimension Extreme as Inside), detailing the ordeal of a pregnant woman and her attacker, a woman who feels that the baby is rightfully hers. To this day, it stands tall as one of the rarest examples of a movie that shocked me to the core, a piece of film so deeply disturbing that I live with the conflict of enjoying it through and through while never wanting to see it again in my life. Recently, the big hype horror picture out of France is Matryrs, a sickening meditation on suffering and revenge.
I really only know a few things about Norway. I know that it’s pretty cold, the sun goes down for as long a freakin’ month there, Vikings are sweet and it is the birthplace of the most confrontational form of music I have ever heard. I speak of Black Metal. It turns out that Norway is quickly becoming a horror movie destination and it’s surprising to me that it has taken them so long to catch up. I think the earliest mention of horror out of the land of the midnight sun was the aforementioned Cold Prey, a reasonably routine exercise in the slasher genre that led to the inevitable sequel, Cold Prey 2, available now in a boxed set. Neither film is particularly strong but as you’ll see with Dead Snow, the Norwegians aren’t aiming particularly high so much as they’re just trying to keep up with the Joneses. Dead Snow captured the imagination of horror fans around the world with a series of excellent promotional stills, some cool posters and a premise that no one ever seems to get tired of. Nazis. While the end result is often expected to be a play on Evil Dead, it’s actually a lot closer to John Carpenter’s The Fog. Still, it’s hilariously gory and genuinely funny even it feels very familiar. Rounding out Norway is Rovdyr. What would a foreign market’s expansion into horror be without someone trying their hand at the usual Texas Chainsaw Massacre bag? Rovdyr isn’t exactly a play on the Tobe Hooper classic, but it apes all of its best moves and is another particularly nasty horror movie that expresses precisely how close we are to armageddon if even Norway is producing gritty, ultraviolent horror movies.
Much for the same reason that I was attracted to France, I found my way to Thailand. Back around 2004, Thailand burst on to the martial arts scene with Tony Jaa in Ong Bak, a stupidly simple story upon which some of the most punishing stunt scenes I have ever seen were draped. It wasn’t long before I began to look into what else the nation had and what I found was a remarkably robust horror scene that was unique to Thailand because of some particularly strange cultural superstitions. As even Japan seemed to be tiring of little ghost girls with long hair in their faces, Thailand hit the foreign market with Shutter, a movie that takes the conventions of Japan’s Ringu and twists them to put the vengeful spirit in photographs rather than video. It’s a movie that has its moments but does very little with the formula to make it its own. However, I’m fairly certain that I have never seen anything quite like the Art of the Devil series of movies. Though Thailand is a nation full of buddhists, there is still a strong belief throughout the population that black magic is very real and that anyone can use it for great rewards and dire consequences. In Art of the Devil 3, a woman out for revenge uses black magic to punish a family that wronged her. What follows is a distinctly Thai take on American torture porn and features some of the most creative gore that you’re likely to ever see. Finally, there is The Coffin, an stupendously creepy horror movie that seizes the Thai superstition that lying in a coffin will extend your life by playing dead. You have been warned. Only paranormal weirdness can come of that.