An Open Letter to Horror Filmmakers 2: The Shriek-quel!!!

By on May 14, 2014
Karen Gillan

Dearly beloved horror filmmakers,

A while back, I took you to task for, shall we say, a less-than-stellar performance at the movie theaters at the time. And we all know sequels suck, so I’ll try to keep this short and to the point.

It might have taken a few years, but damned if you didn’t seem to take the words I last spoke to you to heart. Last year was a banner year in horror films. Horror movies were huge, breaking records and were even amongst the highest-grossing films of the year. Even more shocking, they mostly didn’t suck.

Patrick Wilson searches for a film frame in which there isn't something vreepy behind him in "Insidious 2." Courtesy of

Patrick Wilson searches for a film frame in which there isn’t something creepy behind him in “Insidious 2.”
Courtesy of

Hell, one filmmaker alone- James Wan- put out two of the most successful films of the year, period, much less in the horror genre. “The Conjuring” was a fun, retro ride about the infamous Warrens, a ghost-busting couple, with natural ways to expand its own universe that actually made sense. Basically, each subsequent movie could be about a different case, and if you’ve seen their museum, that makes for a lot of cases.

Further, “Insidious: Chapter 2” was everything a sequel in any genre should be. It was the “Aliens” to the previous “Alien,” if you will. It fleshed out the storyline, picked up more or less where it left off, and felt more like the continuation of an ongoing story than a cheap cash-in on the first film’s success. The way it tied into the first one in unexpected ways was a thing of beauty, and the “Paranormal Activity” team, who once seemed to get this, could learn a thing or two from this film’s approach.

Sharni Vinson redefines the final girl in "You're Next" form Alabama's own Adam Wingard. Courtesy of

Sharni Vinson redefines the final girl in “You’re Next” form Alabama’s own Adam Wingard.
Courtesy of

If mainstream horror wasn’t your thing, there were gritty indies like “Girls Against Boys,” “We Are What We Are,” and the sly and superlative home invasion flick “You’re Next,” which featured one of the best final girls in horror history, a true scream queen- only it was her would-be killers that did the screaming, thanks to a superior intellect, cunning survival skills, and a wonderful way with a blender.

What’s more, quirky horror indies with a sense of humor made a comeback, the likes of which have not been seen since the hey-day of Henenlotter and Gordon, with movies like Don Coscarelli’s fab “John Dies at The End,” and the amusingly perverse “Bad Milo!” and “Hell Baby.”

Even the remakes were tolerable: “Evil Dead” was a full-on gore-fest that did its best to justify the characters’ actions to a point; “Carrie” was sort of pointless, but made up for it with a stellar cast that included Julianne Moore and “Hit Girl” horror regular Chloë Grace Moretz; and even “Maniac” managed not to embarrass itself, despite the presence of freaking Frodo in the role Joe Spinell made his own back in 1980.

Sure, they weren’t all winners: “World War Z,” though a smash hit, may be the first zombie movie in which you never really see a zombie eat someone or take a bullet to the head. Hell, the amusing and surprisingly effective zom-rom-com “Warm Bodies” was gorier and it was PG-13, too. (Yes, yes, I know- there’s an unrated version of “World War Z” on DVD/Blu-Ray, save your comments.)

And “Mama,” “Dark Skies,” and “The Purge” were all promising, original efforts that faltered somewhat, but even then, they were still pretty darn watchable. Could we have done without another “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” movie? Sure, but even there you got Alexandria Daddario in 3D, and I’m not sure I want to know anyone who doesn’t want to see that. I mean, did you see “True Detective”? Now there’s something that should have been in 3D! Holy cats! But I digress…

This year, quite frankly, has not been good, and that’s putting it mildly. I mean, come on, we’re nearly halfway through the year already and the best horror film I saw in theaters was yet another “Paranormal Activity” film? Yikes.

Believe me, I wanted to like “Oculus” and “The Quiet Ones” more than I did. I mean, come on: what true horror fan doesn’t want a resurrected Hammer Films knock one out of the park? (Thankfully, they did a few years back, with “The Woman in Black,” the best gothic horror I’ve seen in ages, so there’s still hope.) And setting the film in the 70’s and casting Jared Harris in the lead is such a Hammer move, but loud sound design does not a good horror movie make.

Even without her hair, Karen Gillan's nothing to run away screaming at! Courtesy of

Even without her hair, Karen Gillan’s nothing to run away screaming at!
Courtesy of

And who doesn’t find Karen Gillan charming? I’d probably rather watch an hours-long loop of her hair in that pony-tail bobbing along early on in “Oculus” than re-watch that movie again, sorry to say. I mean, that ending: ugh. I just can’t.

What the hell happened? Last year was so awesome and this year…man, oh man. Talk about dropping the ball. The rest of the year isn’t that promising, either. Yet another “Paranormal Activity” flick- the second of the year? Just because the last installment was better than the previous one doesn’t mean I want another one so soon.

“The Purge” sequel looks to be better than the first one, I’ll allow; and Kevin Smith’s “Tusk” sounds fascinatingly perverse and I’m sure the next installment of “The Human Centipede” will be precisely that. (Apparently, it features a tag-team of the two previous films’ villains attempting to set a world record for the longest human centipede ever!)

But here’s a more typical entry in the list of upcoming horror flicks: “Zombeavers.” Yes, freaking “Zombeavers.” A film about zombie beavers, and I mean that in a non-slang, actual little furry animal type of way, so save what little hope you have in that direction.

Want some more? How about “Sharknado 2: The Other One”? (Yes, I’ll probably watch it, too, but I’ll totally hate myself the next morning.) There’s also “Squirrels.” Yes, “Squirrels.” Maybe they should team up with the “Zombeavers.” I’m sure they’d get more done. Unless, of course, a “Sharknado” appears, and who knows what might go down?

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’m definitely looking forward to the return of the Tall Man in “Phantasm: Ravager” and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a soft spot for the ongoing “[REC]” and “V/H/S” movies. And I’ve really liked Ti West’s stuff (“The House of the Devil” and “The Innkeepers”) in the past, despite his occasional missteps (the disastrous “Cabin Fever 2” and the silly “The Roost”), so I’m cautiously anticipating his “The Sacrament.”

But look at that line-up, and what does most of it have in common? Sequels nearly one and all. What the hell happened to all the original horror? Oh wait, I know: it’s all gone to television.

The witches of "American Horror Story" look aghast at  the state of horror on film.  Courtesy of

The witches of “American Horror Story” look aghast at the state of horror on film.
Courtesy of

Yep, it’s true. All the best horror out there is on television. From the excellent “American Horror Story” to the promising “Penny Dreadful,” from the darkly comic and compelling “Bates Motel” to the witchy denizens of the latest horror hit “Salem,” TV is definitely where it’s at for horror at the moment. Whether you prefer realistically bleak tales of hunting serial killers (“Hannibal” and the aforementioned “True Detective”) or fun, “Buffy”-style genre-paloozas (“The Originals” and the still reasonably entertaining “Supernatural”), there’s something for you on the good old Boob Tube.

Oh, I’ve no doubt I’ll stumble across a hidden diamond in the rough towards the end of the year or early next year that managed to slip by me because it didn’t make it to theaters. There’s at least a few every year. That’s why they call ‘em cult movies- there has to be a cult before you know about them. But we can do better.

Original, gripping horror isn’t out of reach, it’s a remote control away. But it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s up to you, my fellow horror movie fans, to make this thing right. You can do it. I have faith in you.

So, let’s get this show on the road. Show ‘em Jack Bauer isn’t the only one that can terrorize someone within an inch of their life. No, I don’t mean resurrect the whole “torture porn” thing. I think we’ve all had quite enough of all that, thank you very much. Ditto “found footage” films.

And it’s definitely time to put a moratorium on all things vampires and zombies that aren’t “The Walking Dead.” Witches, slow your roll, as well. You’re quickly reaching the saturation point, IMHO, the fantastic last season of “American Horror Story” notwithstanding. Let’s not ruin it, shall we?

I want to see more traditional horror, like the newer Hammer stuff, but less “The Quiet Ones” and more “The Woman in Black” and “Let Me In.” Also, how about a good, old-school, gritty slasher movie not played for laughs? Less “Scream” and more “Halloween,” in other words. Something in the twisted fantasy realm might be nice as well, a la Clive Barker. Whatever, just strive for more originality.

Don't make me sic the dragons on you, horror!  Courtesy of HBO

Don’t make me sic the dragons on you, horror!
Courtesy of HBO

Last year was so awesome. We can do it again, I know it. We just have to put our best stalk step forward, and sharpen up those weapons and “Game of Thrones” this sucker, you feel me? I want to see everybody out there on the field, trying to outmaneuver and out play one another as if their very lives depended on it!

Of course, in a horror movie, it just well might.

Please don’t make me go back to quirky coming-of-age independent dramas again. There’s one involving lesbians that was three hours long! Three. Hours. Long. I love lesbian love as much as the next straight guy, but that’s a hell of a commitment, and you know, you’re my first love, horror. Why not let red be the warmest color?

You’re the one I really want to be with. Please don’t push me away like this.

I believe in you, really I do.


Mark Trammell
Disgruntled Horror Fan

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About Mark Trammell

Mark Trammell is the resident entertainment critic at UAB, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he is also a Graduate Student and does a vid-cast movie review show. He is a life-long fan of films and has a pretty whacked-out, all-over-the-place movie collection that would give most sane people pause. He loves horror movies and Disney flicks and isn't entirely sure there is a difference. He one day hopes to put his money where his mouth is and inflict his own perverse vision on society, entirely so that he can tell people who ask: "If you think you can do better, why don't you make a movie yourself?" to shut up.
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