Contrasting American and European Horror Movies
A common complaint about many film critics is that they tend to fall over themselves in praising anything with subtitles, regardless of quality. For most critics it seems there is a simple equation in analyzing foreign pictures: subtitles=great moviemaking that is not exploitative. When the borderline hardcore French film Romance (1999) was released critics were effusive with their lauding of a film that deals (arguably) with sex in a realistic manner. Even respected guys like Roger Ebert confessed to "not really enjoy[ing] it, and yet I recommend it." Apparently Ebert was not aware of the fact the movie uses filmmaking techniques similar to hardcore porno (the editors cleverly cut away from scenes before the "money shot" can occur) and follows the trajectory of many pornographic films in which a nubile young lass goes from man to man in an effort to find orgasm.
The same pattern also applies to foreign horror. Foreign horror is "moody" and "atmospheric" while American horror is "cheap" and "exploitative." What many fail to notice is that both foreign and American horror use many of the same images and devices. In the distinct universe that is the horror film both the higher end pictures (in this case the foreign horror movies) find themselves amongst the so-called exploitative low-end (American horror). Frequently in film analysis it is, as Joan Hawkins writes, "overlooked or repressed...to the degree to which high culture trades on the same images, tropes, and themes which characterize low culture."
A fine example of the separation of foreign and American horror can be found in a comparison between Dario Argento's Suspiria and Sean S. Cunningham's Friday the 13th (1980). Both films take place among a group of teens, in Suspiria the focus is on young, nubile females while Friday the 13th has greater mix of males and females. When it comesdown to brass tacks, however, both movies revel in the visceral shock of illustrating murder. In Suspiria one of the queasiest scenes comes when the killer stabs a young woman, with the camera lingering on a close-up of her still beating heart as it ejaculates blood. In Friday the 13th a young Kevin Bacon is murdered with an arrow through the throat, all while the camera pays close attention to the dripping of blood and squishy sound effects of the arrow plunging into flesh. Both films are working with one goal in mind and that is to directly engage the viewer, mostly through the gag reflex. But why does Suspiria garner the kudos while Friday the 13th draws the jeers?
First, Suspiria is arguably a better-made picture. Dario Argento is a stylist of the first order and his...