Sunday , 26 March 2017

Why are the Oscars afraid of Horror?

Horror vs Oscar

The Oscars may be over, and congrats to all the winners, but the Gore 4 was left with a lingering bad taste in its mouth over the continued lack of appreciation toward its favorite genre – horror. Of course, there were other much more prominent slights during this year’s Academy Awards, which were so effectively and comically brought to light by host Chris Rock. It is certainly hoped that our ever increasingly diversified nation will be better reflected in the very near future, not only in the makeup of the nominees, but in the actual films being produced themselves. As Will Smith said in response to the controversy surrounding this issue, “Diversity is America’s superpower.” May that superpower rise at the polls this November. But, we digress. Back to the horror, or rather, lack thereof.

Mad Max Fury Road - Max and Furiosa

The Gore 4 would like to acknowledge that this year’s Oscars did at least feature some genre films much more prominently than it has in the past. The Martian and Mad Max: Fury Road both received a significant number of nominations, including Best Picture. Mad Max was so beloved, by critics and audiences alike, that it was thought it might even have a chance at winning the big prize of the night. Alas, it was not to be, though it did win the most awards overall, and dominated the early part of the broadcast, winning 6 of its 10 nominations, from editing to production design, an impressive achievement. In one surprise, though, Max lost out in the Best Visual Effects category to another genre film, the much lower keyed, Ex Machina. It was nice to see a small sci-fi film get any recognition. And while Alicia Vikander picked up a Best Supporting Actress award for her work in The Danish Girl, there is no doubt that her outstanding work as an android in Ex Machina contributed to her winning for the other film. Also, the Gore 4 was especially pleased to see 87-year old Ennio Morricone win for Best Score for the otherwise underappreciated Quentin Tarantino western, The Hateful Eight. Morricone, known for his iconic music for Sergio Leone’s classic spaghetti westerns, and John Carpenter’s masterful The Thing, had astoundingly never won an Academy Award before, other than an honorary Oscar in 2007. This one was long overdue and well deserved.

It Follows - Jay

So, while films which had, what we’d like to say, a foot, or maybe a toe or two in the horror genre, received some recognition this year, there was still a glaring lack of fright fare featured. So, what horror films could have possibly been nominated? One only has to look at this year’s Film Independent Spirit Awards, airing the night before the Oscars, to see some love for horror. The most lauded horror film of the year, whilst also having its share of detractors, the supernatural thriller, It Follows, was nominated in the directing, editing and cinematography categories, while the cannibal western, Bone Tomahawk, received nods for best screenplay, and supporting actor for Richard Jenkins. Granted, neither film won in any category, but at least they were invited to the table. What other horror films could have received some Oscar recognition? How about the magnificent production design or costumes of Crimson Peak? Or the witty, original screenplay for the comedic vampire docudrama, What We Do in the Shadows. What about Maggie or Spring for Best Makeup, a category that used to be dominated by horror, ever since An American Werewolf in London first one in the newly created category in 1981. And someone explain how Jurassic World failed to receive a single nomination in any technical category, especially that of Visual Effects. While making the bear attack seem real in The Revenant was certainly eye-catching, it’s just one scene compared to an entire film of incredible dinosaurs brought to life in Jurassic World. It sure seems as though something is missing when the two most successful films of the year, Jurassic World and Star Wars: The Force Awakens are shut out at the movies’ biggest awards show (though the appearance of the robots C-3PO, R2-D2 and BB-8 were a highlight).

Angus Scrimm and sphere

Gunnar Hansen

Perhaps nowhere was the lack of love for horror more apparent than in the “In Memorium” section. Though it was really cool to have Dave Grohl sing a mesmerizing cover of the Beatles’ “Blackbird” over the segment, and they actually led it off by showing director Wes Craven, how could they leave off horror icons like Phantasm‘s Angus Scrimm and Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s Gunnar Hansen? This is especially baffling since they included countless other movie industry people, from press agents to hair dressers, who are completely unknown to the general audience. At least the legendary Christopher Lee was able to make the cut.

Hannibal Lecter

Yes, horror seems to be the bastard child of the Academy Awards. You know, the deformed, grotesque one that you keep locked away in a separate room, and the only time it comes out is when it isn’t fed enough or gets restless and escapes its confines and wreaks havoc on unsuspecting foes. The last horror film to make a significant showing at the Oscars was in 1992 when Silence of the Lambs took home all four major awards – Best Picture, Actress, Actor and Director. However, even this major achievement was downplayed by the Academy when in 2010, Twilight’s Taylor Lautner and Kristen Stewart introduced a tribute to horror. While Taylor declared horror the most popular genre of film, and proclaimed to the audience that it begat many of the careers in the room, he also brought up how it still somehow didn’t command the respect it deserves. Proving that fact, Kristen follows by saying it had been 37 years since horror had its place on the show, with The Exorcist. The writers completely ignored Silence of the Lambs’ impressive feat less than two decades earlier and the producers let this fact slip right through. Did they not consider Lambs horror because it couldn’t have been to be so honored? Well, someone must have thought it was as it showed up seconds later in their horror montage.

Aliens Ripley with Newt

Occasionally, a performance in a horror film will break through to get recognition by the Academy. The 80’s saw Sigourney Weaver nominated for her powerful performance as Ripley in Aliens and also Jeff Goldblum for his moving portrayal of a mad, driven scientist in David Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly. But these are few and far between. The only category where horror does show up with any regularity is that of Best Makeup, but even there, the only outright horror films to win this award over the past two decades are Pans Labyrinth (2006) and The Wolfman (2010).

It’s not only the Academy Awards that ignore the significance of horror and what it brings to the screen. The Emmys repeatedly look the other way when it comes to television’s most popular show, The Walking Dead and its many standout performances, along with its writing and directing, while tripping all over themselves to honor lame-ass stuff like Mad Men or Downton Abbey. And the Emmys have no excuse as horror completely dominates the television landscape (though they do inexplicably continue to fawn over the also deserved American Horror Story).

The lack of worthy roles for women is often brought up as another problem that currently exists, and has existed, for a long time in Hollywood. But that’s not the case with horror. Just look at the Gore 4’s list of The Top 15 Horror Films of 2015! and you’ll see that roughly two thirds or more of the films feature strong female roles. Horror has often given the female the lead when it comes to fighting off whatever demonic force, monster or serial killer that’s causing all the damage. Look at Halloween, the Friday the 13th films, Hellraiser, to the recent The Babadook and It Follows. The women rule – there is no term, “The Final Guy.” Horror also deals with a variety of subject matter, whether it’s important issues like bullying or parenting, or delving into religion and life after death, or more unsettling topics like grave robbing and organ-melting viruses. Even when horror deals with more fantastic threats like aliens, monsters or zombies, it is the power of the human spirit that is necessary to overcome such inhuman forces. Horror, along with its cousins, science fiction and fantasy, is the genre where one really has to go far above and beyond to survive at the end, if their perseverance and luck enable them to do so. It’s one thing to fight against a school board, big company or the government. Try going up against the Devil himself!

If horror fans can find any solace in the lack of horror at the Academy Awards, they can find it in the many conventions in the U.S. and around the world that celebrate the genre that inspires such tremendous devotion. It is here at places like the upcoming Chiller Theatre Convention in Parsippany, NJ, and countless others, where likeminded fans can share their enthusiasm for and loyalty to decades of horror films, from Frankenstein and Dracula, to Psycho and The Exorcist, to Dawn of the Dead and The Thing, to Jaws, Alien, Predator and The Evil Dead. Alas, for fans of the already forgotten Room, Carol and The Danish Girl, and soon to follow, The Big Short and Spotlight, as Jeff Probst says on Survivor, we’ve got nothing for you. And while it may be difficult to find people willing to gather to examine The Hurt Locker or The English Patient, you can be sure to find legions of fans of Freddy and Jason and Leatherface who are more than happy to discuss and dissect what makes them stand the test of time. Long live horror!

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