For a significant number of years, the concept of slasher movies fell away. The major horror franchises of Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm St. and Halloween found themselves struggling to stay relevant with the demographic that made them classics. Meanwhile, in 1996, a single question stirred a new generation:
Do you like scary movies?
If a friend asked me, “Hey, Tommy, can you recommend a good slasher movie?” Off the cuff, I’d typically guide said friend to one of the many wondrous titles under the Friday the 13th franchise or Nightmare on Elm Street. If they wanted obscure but tasteful, I’d most likely say The Prowler or The Burning. Those looking for something for date night, I’d recommend Scream or perhaps Silence of the Lambs. If I wanted to sound like an intellectual or one of those real classic film guys, I’d suggest Psycho. But if I were really brave…if i wanted to take the risk, if not in losing a friend and all credibility in recommending slasher movies, but also risk being looked at (at worse) like some weirdo pervert, well…if i didn’t care about that, then I would totally recommend THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972).
This isn’t to say that THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (TLHOTL) is a horrid movie. Its not. Its actually quite amazing. Raw. Brutal. Shocking. And truth be told, not entirely that fun of a film. Just how slasher flicks really ought to aspire. TLHOTL doesn’t wear a mask to scare you, it removes the mask, and in so doing is utterly terrifying. There is no pleasure in the depravity, except for perhaps towards the end when the protagonists’ parents exact revenge (more on that later). In Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street or even Halloween, we’re (mostly) rooting for the killer, “Yeah! Murder those dumb stupid teenagers!” But in TLHOTL, those very scenes are sickening and uncomfortable to watch. Continue Reading
There’s something to be said about realism in horror. The late great Wes Craven often spoke about hard truths during many of his interviews, even if said piece or film he was working on had supernatural elements, the story in itself was ultimately real. Raw. Not an untruth. Recently, I had the pleasure of reading J.R. Park’s newest adventure, Upon Waking. And I was reminded very much of what Craven had said, about how the most terrifying things are real and how people used to ask him how he could live with himself (and I’m paraphrasing a lot here) putting these “evil” thoughts and imaginations out there (“out there” being the “real world”). And I adore his response, Craven is like, “What world do you live in? Cause it sounds really nice. I think I’d like to live there.” This particular segment during his interview in Nightmares in the Red, White, and Blue stroke a cord with me. Because he’s right. Horror, those terrifying words of macabre, are not aimed to be untruths, to create something that could never exist; but rather, quite the opposite.
What Mr. Park has created here with his new novel, Upon Waking, is very much a truth, as squeamish as some of his scenes are. Cassie, our villain in this story (and there’s no spoiler there) isn’t some mythical monster, she’s real, horrifying so. She’s a next door neighbor. The woman you pass on the street without so much as a second glance. You don’t see her. She blends in the crowd. But she’s watching. Perhaps you. And it that’s the case, well…I’ll pray for you. Cassie has a house. It is very much a house of horrors, but it is also decorated in the mundane, almost banal in its sterility. This isn’t the house of H.H. Holmes, with all the mazes and hidden compartments and traps and such. This isn’t a funhouse. There are rooms, most of which you’ll find locked until Mr. Park is ready to show you the nightmare held within. Once he does open the door, everything is on full gruesome display.
When I first started reading Upon Waking, I was almost lulled by the style and chosen format of his book. Its almost like poetry, in form and prose. But its a trick. A fantastically disgusting trick. And when you’re finished with this 160 or so pages read, you’ll need to look back at some of the “chapters.” Notice the quotations around chapters? Well…the author here didn’t really use chapters per say, instead (with a stroke of genius, I must say) of chapters he gives us moments. Moments of characters that have or interact with Cassie and her horrible plain-Jane house.
And there’s more. I think one of the more mesmerizing things in this book is the how J.R. Park was able to write some of these grizzly scenes in very candid detail whilst maintaining this sense of un-urgency. He takes his time. Slow. Methodical. So much so you almost miss the plot of the story. Walking, or tip-toeing more like, through the halls of Cassie’s house, I nearly forgot about Gary and his search for his missing son. As one reviewer has already pointed out, Upon Waking deserves a re-read, despite as much as you probably don’t want to, for fear of losing your lunch or spoiling dessert. You’ll need too. Because there is a devilish twist at the end, leaving the reading pondering “was she…is she…?”
If you’re looking for a short but gut punching read, you’ll want to check out J.R. Park’s Upon Waking. Its like a cross between Madame LaLaurie and The People Under the Stairs. You’ll squirm. You may even gag. You might need to look away. But for those depraved enough, you’ll take it, and you’ll probably enjoy it too, you sick sick puppies.
Get can get your copy of Upon Waking here.
My Rating: 4/5
Most folks remember Wes Craven for his contribution to the slasher genre during the 80’s (Nightmare on Elm Street) and his more subversive take during the 90’s (Scream). But the father of Freddy did much more for horror than glove claws. During the 70’s, following the Vietnam War and its mass exposure to hyper-violence, savage cinema, through avenues in grindhouse productions, became in its own right, a way in dealing with this era of heightened confusion, uncertainty, and death. Consider Blood Feast (1963), Cannibal Holocaust (1979), and Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) as just a few examples of the best savage cinema had to offer. Their stories are typically simple depictions of everyday life pitted against terrible random violence. Friends on a road trip, adventures in documentary, families pulling up and moving cross-country juxtaposed with psychopathic food caterers, vicious desert dwellers, and hungry homesteaders.
During the era of savage cinema, Wes Craven gave us horror nerds the two best films in his career, Last House on the Left (1972) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977). With Last House, creepy Craven handed audiences, as John Carpenter said during an interview with Nightmares in the Red, White, and Blue, “a strong cup of coffee,” brewed with a heightened since toward violence against the innocent and, basically, probing what people are willing to do in revenge and showing us, even though we’d rather not know, that even when we act just as violently, there is no satisfaction, there is no justice in those kinds of actions.
Back out in the Hills, Craven introduces us to a world a little less violent, but much more compelling. The Hills Have Eyes is an atmospheric horror flick depicting the “average” American family traveling cross-country in their mobile home. Ignoring the warnings of the old gas station owner, the family becomes stranded off the main road. Then, out of desperation, they are forced to split up, leaving themselves vulnerable to vicious attacks. The hill people begin their assault by taking away the very things they feel make this family serene and perfect, leaving the Carter’s to defend for themselves, becoming, eventually, just as violent as the hill people.
With the Hills, Craven was able to weave familiar mythologies (travelers being attacked by outside forces) into the modern nightmare. The Hills Have Eyes is an amazing picture worth seeing over and over. After viewing the movie myself, last night in celebration of the films 36th year anniversary, I went to bed pondering how far people are really willing to go in defending, not only what is their’s, but also, their loved ones. If a horror movie can still make you question society, 36 years after the fact, it is easily one of the scariest and meaningful horror films of all time. For long time horror fans, the “scary” moments are not normally what makes us jump in our seats, the cheap thrills. “Scary” for a horror fan are the moments we’re left thinking, “who made the movie?” Moments that really make us question reality. Maybe not right away, but later, on the drive home or when we go to sleep. Those are the best moments for horror. And for Wes Craven and The Hills Have Eyes, if you watch it, you might likewise experience those very uncertainties of society.
I give The Hills Have Eyes 4 out of 5! A timeless classic and must watch for any connoisseur of macabre.