Bloody Good Flicks; Not All Horror Movies Are Splatterfests. in the Hands of the Right Director, They Can Illuminate Our Times-And Psyches

Article excerpt

Byline: David Ansen

Horror movies don't win Oscars or respect--"The Silence of the Lambs" being the exception that proves the rule--but their bad-seed status has given them a freedom denied to more respectable genres. If the social drama is our superego, then the horror movie is our id, our wild, unruly inner adolescent. Sometimes it spews vile unspeakable rot and sometimes it utters uncomfortable truths that the grown-ups aren't allowed to say.

Case in point: the angriest, most head-on mass-media artistic attack on the Iraq war came last year in the form of a deliberately shlocky TV horror film called "Homecoming," shown as part of Showtime's "Masters of Horror" series. Directed by Joe Dante, who's best known for "Gremlins," it was a zombie movie in which dead American soldiers come back to life. Their mission? To vote the administration that sent them to their graves out of office. And one of the more pointed anatomies of the post-9/11 divide between the haves and have-nots in America came last year with George Romero's "Land of the Dead," yet another zombie metaphor for our times.

These are the horror movies that self-consciously act out our societal traumas in lurid allegories. More often the rumblings are from more primal regions of the unconscious, or, depending on your point of view, from more crassly exploitative producers. Right now we are enduring a spate of supersadism on screen, a squirm-inducing upping of the shock factor, which has been escalating for almost 30 years, at least since the green bile of "The Exorcist" proved how much profit could be milked from gross-out spectacles. …