Violent with Purpose: The Case for Extreme Horror

Violent with Purpose

“There are many good new scary movies, but few great ones,” wrote critic Jason Zinoman in 2011, and it’s hard to argue with him. Horror might be the most viscerally exciting genre in all of cinema, yet not many horror movies of the past few years have taken the same grip that The Exorcist, Halloween, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre did in the 1970s. Part of that is because of a dispiriting trend of cookie-cutter remakes (Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw 3-D), but even the original horror movies of the past several years seem hesitant to truly unnerve people.

Writing for Slate in a series titled “How to Fix the Horror Film”, Zinoman wrote that horror films should “stop trying to be so damn respectable.” Zinoman, whose excellent book Shock Value traces how horror films of the 1960s and 1970s “went for the throat and then worked their way down”, argues that horror needs to push boundaries in order to be effective. And indeed, one horror subgenre in the 2000s, extreme horror, pushed the boundaries of what viewers could take, rattling and unsettling them like few films of their time.

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