Shock Tactics; from Serial-Killer Video Diaries to the Latest Ring Sequel, There's Something Spookily Different about the New Crop of Horror Movies

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Byline: NICK RODDICK

OTHER genres may come and go, but horror movies, just like the living dead, keep right on coming.

Between mid-March and mid-May there are six of them lurching our way - more than one a week. Even in Hammer's heyday, we only got a couple of Draculas a year. The good news, though, is that this onslaught is targeting a more sophisticated crowd than usual.

"New horror is cathartic," says Julian Richards, director of one of the new breed. "Audiences are more receptive to serious frights because they're a way of dealing with the horrors we face in the real world."

Richards's film, The Last Horror Movie (released on Friday, 13 May) takes the form of a video diary shot by a serial killer pondering why he does what he does - and then filming himself doing it. Sounds a little voyeuristic?

That's the point, says Richards. "It's like asking, why are you still watching this? If you continue to watch, aren't you a little bit like the killer?"

For Richards, horror movies need the gross-out as much as they need the philosophising. "You've got to show the beasts coming from beyond," agrees John Carpenter, who defined a generation of horror with such classics as Halloween, Christine and The Fog.

Showing the beasts comes with a variable price-tag. Richards made his film for [pounds sterling]85,000, a budget that would hardly have covered a single CGI effect in Constantine, currently on release, in which Keanu Reeves sees the whole of hell. But low-budget innovation - such as that displayed in Romero's original Night of the Living Dead, made for $114,000, or The Blair Witch Project, which cost $50,000 - can often win out over star salaries and specialeffects splurges.

Asian horror, too, has a freshness that has allowed it to be unleashed from its niche; it has made inroads into both the specialist world of horror geeks and that of the multiplex. Last weekend's international box-office champ, The Ring Two, is a big-budget studio sequel to a film which was itself a remake of a Japanese film. Its secret? It retains the essence of true Asian horror and touches a different nerve, says Hamish McAlpine, owner of Tartan Films, a distributor of both movies.

"The majority of our audience are people who would never normally watch something with subtitles," he says. "It's like in the Sixties, when audiences associated subtitles with sexuality and the kind of thing that was not being catered for by American and British cinema."

Asian horror is to Hollywood horror what ghost stories are to horror comics: more shiver than shock. "In contrast to the spectaclecentred approach of Hollywood films, the Asian ones draw strength from the emotions," says Kim Jee-Woon, director of Tale of Two Sisters, a super-scary tale which concentrates as much on creating a confused emotional and psychological state as it does on frightening the audience. …