Friday, June 30, 2017

Random Article - Remembering the Late-90s Teen Horrors

Welcome back to another writing piece here, and this time we're going to take a look at a maligned and basically ridiculed part of horror history. There are some defenders of these films out there, and I'm about to join them for the most part in saying that the late-90's teen-based horror films were nowhere near as bad as they've been given in the community.

So, let's first talk a little about why these particular films have gotten a bad reputation. It seems to fall into two main criticisms: they're nothing but pretty people in a slickly-made-but-soulless rehash of what came before them only glossed up to appeal to a mass audience; or that they're too in love with reminding us of films the filmmakers have seen that they forget to do anything original. Now, both are certainly valid arguments and are liable to be lobbied against the majority of these films which we'll discuss throughout here, but frankly, these are much better than they've been made out to be.

Now then, what films exactly am I talking about? Well, that is quite simply a small subset of films that popped up in the horror genre in the late 90's that came about due to the success of Scream, ironically a series I've talked about earlier on the blog. Following the films' release, a slew of films that sought to mix what was thought to be the formula attempted in Scream which was a cast made up of actors pulled from currently popular TV shows given a big-budget studio gloss that blended horror cliches and self-aware humor throughout. It was indeed a formula that worked itself out to a degree and would be responsible for its downfall later on, but that is all in due time.

Going back to the original Scream retrospective mentioned above, the fact that it started a movement with the genre was inevitable due to the success of the first one. However, taking a closer look at the types of films that were released it's patently obvious that it was all about taking the success of Scream wholesale with little variation in the presentation as the casts begin getting filled with more actors and actresses from popular TV shows, the self-aware references start getting more pronounced and deeper and the end result is just geared more and more for the mainstream audience rather than the hardcore horror fanbase until it finally ran itself into the ground. So, with that let's get into this style.

Now, as is expected here, the genre starts with the release of Scream back in 1996, and it quickly found an audience with its falsely-intriguing premise of a group of horror-savvy teens using their knowledge of the genre to fend off a serial killer stalking the group. Regardless of how you feel about it, as it's most certainly a flawed work overall, the runaway success of the film sparked a wave of films imitating its success. Also in 1996, the witchcraft-centered hit The Craft comes off rather strongly with the high-school cast and attempt to popularize the group which manages to make these both solid opening shots for this particular genre.

However, it was that runaway success of Scream that stuck out and had a profound impact on the genre. Initially written before it's release, I Know What You Did Last Summer was pegged as a more straightforward adaptation of the novel where it gets its name and plot which was a teen-centered thriller about a group of teens believing that the victim of an accidental hit-and-run they participated in has come back to stalk them for what happened. However, that success brought about the need for a body count in the film and it was suitably enhanced during reshoots to include several additional deaths not in the original film, which caused it to come out after in 1997. Still filled with the usual tropes featured here with the TV-heavy cast and self-aware references, there's plenty of elements featured here to make this a strong entry in this style. Likewise, the sequel Scream 2 was released later that year which ended up fixing a lot of the flaws of the original and became a more rewarding experience overall, ending up being another big hit and fostering the biggest outpour of work in the genre yet.

Indeed, 1998 is the biggest year for the style as that proved to be filled with the most amount of films for the best work yet. Starting off with the alien-invasion throwback The Faculty, it's clever use of subtle references to the past, cheesy 50s style plot and reliance on up-and-coming actors in the scene (seriously, the work the cast here had gone on to since this film is highly impressive on its own right) this one stands up quite high in the scene. Likewise, the first of several sequel efforts arrived in I Still Know What You Did Last Summer that continues on with a lot of the themes and elements featured in the original but amps it up to include a much bigger (if somewhat nonsensical) slasher outline more than the thriller qualities of its predecessor. Bolstered by efforts like Urban Legend and Disturbing Behavior, the scene set the stage for one of the finest entries yet in the reboot of one of the genre's most hallowed franchises with Halloween: H20. Reconfiguring the franchise to shoehorn in the teen appeal with the switch-over to a high-school campus alongside the return of genre legend Jaime Lee Curtis to the series in order to connect it to the past.

This dominance also affected other films in the cinema with the release of efforts like Dead Man's Curve, Wicked and Wild Things which aren't anywhere close to the genre but still manage to feature enough of a connection to the elements featured here in these films that it's evident of the popularity for this style of horror and thriller being produced at the time. While true genre efforts Bride of Chucky and I've Been Waiting for You also appeared during this time, the overkill approach being undertaken by the scene as a whole becomes all the more evident with the dwindling box office and quantity being produced around this time. Although still providing such fun efforts like The Rage: Carrie 2 and Idle Hands, a film like Teaching Mrs. Tingle which wallows in genre cliches, even going so far as to be directed by the man who literally wrote the script for the style several years earlier couldn't do much to save it. With these efforts being the only films to arrive in 1999, the genre's dwindling popularity is all the more evident.

Thankfully, the life-support system was delayed enough to provide a minor rebirth at the turn of the millennium. 2000 saw the release of not only Scream 3 but also the sequel effort Urban Legends: Final Cut which was both good enough to hold off the inevitable death knell. That means efforts like Cherry Falls and Cut could offer some impressive work to help push it further. However, the biggest blow was offered by Final Destination, which I also covered in detail earlier on the blog. This breathed a lot of life back into the genre with a fresh approach featuring Death itself as a literal figure stalking the high-school survivors of a plane accident and meshed that with a rather familiar approach in the rest of the film which made it a hit and spawned the inevitable franchise.

However, it wasn't long until the official death knell sounded for the genre. This was sounded with the back-to-back releases of spoof films Scary Movie and Shriek if You Know What I Did Last Friday the 13th, both of which were big enough to cause the true genre efforts to fall off to the point of effectively stop the genre wholesale. While the following year saw a last-gasp effort to keep it alive with a slew of efforts like Valentine, Do You Wanna Know a Secret?Final Stab, Spliced/The Wisher and Wishcraft the genre was effectively over at this point. Not only was 9/11 a prevalent cultural milestone that ended a lot of cinematic trends at the time but the upcoming shift into a much darker shift in the genre ultimately brought the final nail for these kinds of films.

So, I initially said that I would join the defenders of these films in the very beginning, and that's true. For the most part, it's only select films where I feel like the common critiques actually hold weight. While I feel that films like The Faculty, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer and Urban Legend especially fall into the second category about being too in love with the past to do anything original in the films' proper, the fact is this issue isn't crippling in these films. It does become a crippling issue in Scream, though, where it doesn't seem to be able to go five minutes without throwing some obscure film reference in the audiences' face, usually in the form of quips or supposedly humorous observances thrown out by the character who is a big horror fan. Rather than making fun of the cliches and tropes of the genre, this feels more like it's an excuse to keep on repeating them because the lighter tone is supposed to signal a comedy at its heart even though again it's not that funny. That makes the original Scream such a flawed piece of work, but overall it's really the only one to fall prey to that ideal.

Now, the first flaw about being glossed-up rehashes of the past films only filled with big stars to give it a wide appeal is a much more worthwhile topic and actually has plenty of support here to qualify as a true gripe. From the pretty-people cast of Disturbing Behavior that don't really play up into the film at all, the utterly tame entries in the IKWYDLS series which featured nothing but popular actors and actresses with little other horror appeal or efforts like Cherry Falls and Do You Wanna Know a Secret which simply piles on the genre cliches and popular performers but offer nothing else. Considering it's past, Falls does get a pass in this regard, but not from being mentioned here with the others, and really brings about why I'm going to throw my hat into the defender's side of these films. For the most part, they're noticeable yet not really detrimental flaws to the films as a whole and in most situations really amount to the only flaw with the film. Sure, there's some that have others but it really doesn't come into play as being the factor that brings the film down much like these big issues.

And with that, we've reached the end of the retrospective here as that's all I got for this write-up. Thanks for reading, and we'll see you next time.