Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Friend on Fright Flicks

My friend Jason Zinoman has a terrific piece in this month's Vanity Fair about the birth of the modern horror movie in the 1960s and 70s. And this isn't a case where a big magazine pays for a good writer to go to L.A. and other glamorous locations to talk to movie stars (well, it's that, too). Jason has the entire history of horror movies lodged firmly in his brain, so he's the perfect person to tell this story. Given the subject, the personalities involved, and Jason's own sense of humor, there's a lot of entertainment packed into the piece, including this, early on:
Like so many classic horror films from the era, Night of the Living Dead was a back-up plan. When Romero couldn't get funding for Whine of the Fawn, a "Bergmanesque" coming-of-age film set in the Dark Ages, he tried something more commercial. "We didn't know anyone who had any horses, so a Western was out," says the producer Russ Streiner. "And we didn't live by the water, so we couldn't do a beach movie. That left horror."
Given that we're talking about horror films, it's appropriate that the entertainment is mingled with a sense of brutality, as in this passage about The Texas Chain Saw Massacre:
"It looked like someone stole a camera and started killing people," says (Wes) Craven, who saw it in a grimy Times Square theater. "It had a wild, feral energy that I had never seen before, with none of the cultural Band-Aids that soften things. It wasn't nice, not nice at all. I was scared shitless."

If it looked like a snuff film, that was partly because the actors were genuinely miserable. They worked 16-hour days in the boiling heat of central Texas in July and August and spent much of the time covered in fake blood (Karo corn syrup) and real bruises. "Let me put it to you gently," says Edwin Neal, a Vietnam veteran who played Leatherface's maniacal brother. "I moved troops through the jungles of Vietnam, and it wasn't as bad as making this film."
The piece isn't available online, so I strongly recommend you pick up the magazine when it hits your area (I think it's out a little early in New York). It's the Hollywood Issue, so you have to get through, without exaggeration, about 200 pages of ads before the magazine properly begins, but it's worth it.


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