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CGI Verses Traditional Special Effects

After talking with a co-worker regarding The Conjuring’s recent box office success, it left me pondering. How in the world did The Conjuring beat out the other contenders? The giant robot monster killers, the ghost cops (R.I.P.D.), zombie ants (yes-yes, they don’t run as fast in the actual movie), the has been comedians posing as suburban families, grumpy old men assassins, and the triple threat family friendly cartoons? Well, truthfully some of these above mentioned movies have been out for some time. Others, such as R.I.P.D., surprisingly fell face first opening weekend. While Pacific Rim, despite awesome reviews, has slowly eked out a decent profit of $68m (thus far), though one might expect more from such a monstrous film (forgive the pun). World War Z is still squeezing out green bills from latecomers with a grand total (again, thus far) of $186m domestically. I’m not even going to touch Grown Ups 2 or Red 2, it would take too much time and it would be too sad.

These above mentioned films must be measured against the budget in which they were made. Consider World War Z, again, and its $186m local. Sounds pretty nice, right? Well, it took about $190m to produce the film. Not really much profit there. And then The Conjuring comes in and blows every one of them out of the water with a $41m opening; working off a single million production budget! Booya baby! And just how did this micro-budget movie succeed? Well, for starters, in horror movies, traditional special effects trumps CGI any day of the week. As it should! And you know what? The Conjuring proves how old school  can put a whopping on any of those would be summer blockbusters.

Consider zombies. When it comes to zombie movies, you should never use CGI, and if you think you have to, use sparingly. George A. Romero, in his original “dead” trilogy, you’ll find the best examples for how to make a good zombie film. Low budget, high quality, simply by relying on excellent story telling and special effects artists, such as Tom Savini. Now, i’m going to mention some of Romero’s more recent additions…even though I really don’t want to. I want to remember the Romero of the 70’s and 80’s. However, in the best example why you should use traditional, we find the best example why not to. Land of the Dead (2005) was, in all intents and purposes, an awesome movie and should be considered as part of the Romero lexicon. However, with the good comes the bad: in Land of the Dead, George decided to go with more CGI than traditional effects for all those memorable zombie kills we’ve grown to love.

George A. Romero is still, in my humble opinion, an awesome director and remains forever as the godfather of modern zombies. His “dead” flicks were legendary because of what boils down to two things: 1. the story (sure, zombie movies have zombies, but the story is about the people) and 2. traditional special effects. George placed guys like Savini up on pedestals, as they so rightly deserved. Horror movies are about the story, mainly; while special effects help emphasize said story and nothing more, though they can be just as unforgettable. After Land of the Dead and then later, the even sadder, Survival of the Dead released and even more CGI was added, many long time fans became depressed and dejected. I love Romero films, it was honestly sad to see the guy who made Dawn of the Dead make something as terrible as Survival of the Dead. Thankfully, old George bounced back with the direct to DVD amazingness, Diary of the Dead.

CGI has its place. Both science fiction and fantasy benefit from the advancement of special effects. But keep your stinking programs away from my horror! Insidious, Evil Dead, Innkeepers, Saw, Mama, The Conjuring, and so many others are proving how audiences feel regarding how much better traditional special effects are in horror movies. And consider, as my last will and testament regarding this issue of CGI verses old school: John Carpenters, The Thing (1982). One of the reasons why The Thing is still one of my all time favorite horror movies is because of how Carpenter used old school special effects. The movie was terrifying because of its story and concept. The effects simply added to the fear, instead of dominating the entire film. If you’ve seen the film you’ll know how gruesome some of the scenes are, but the real joy is watching these guys go crazy with paranoia. The prequel that released a few years back, telling the story of the lost Norwegian crew couldn’t muster the hipe of Carpenters now 31 year old classic. Why? Well, for me at least, the story was solid, the acting was good…but the damn CGI threw it all off. If they had gone old school, the prequel The Thing would have been…almost…closer to being as good as Carpenters, marginally.

Then again, this could all be simply the rant of someone completely transfixed on nostalgic memories from the 70’s and 80’s of horror. Many of you may have strong counter-opinions. And you know what? I want to hear them. Comment below if you’ve got something to say regarding the battle between CGI and traditional effects. Lets hear you’re voice!

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