Let me begin by saying I know what I’m about to say is a fantasy, the starry-eyed musings of one let down by the movie studios so frequently and so completely, one really should know better. But if nothing else, we horror fans are optimists capable of sitting through the worst dreck that cinema has to offer in hopes of finding that one tarnished jewel in the sputum tank.
While The New Horror Handbook, due out this October, concerns itself primarily with the films and other horror entertainment of the last 10 years, there is a part of me that wishes its publication could be delayed until the end of next year. That would be long enough to see if a single film hitting theaters in 2009 will have the brains and guts to live up to the existential horror of its source material.
Of course that film is Watchmen, the mega-million-dollar opus helmed by Zack Snyder (the superb Dawn of the Dead remake) and based on the groundbreaking 1986 comic book limited series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. While some horror purists may be turned off by the suggestion, I just finished rereading the trade paperback of that series and, quite frankly, believe there is more horror to be mined from its pages than any recent film you’d care to name.
I’m not talking about the usual “here’s-something-that’ll-freak-your-little-sister” blood and guts show we’ve all grown accustomed to, nor the jump-cut crap that slipped in with The Ring. What Watchmen offers, and what a faithful cinematic retelling could provide (I know, I know, I’m dreaming), is something so rare in this genre, it’s difficult to pin down. If we must call it something, “existential horror” fits nicely. A story so rooted in life as we know it, so subtle, that we don’t realize what foul seeds of despair are being planted within us until the final scene.
Jumpcuts and severed limbs are fine, but their effect persists only slightly longer than their impression on the eyes. If you want to be truly horrified, to experience something that gets you down in the belly-brain where you live, check out something like Sion Sono’s Suicide Club or Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse (and please put that American remake of the latter back where you found it). These aren’t perfect films by any means, but the worlds they inhabit are eerily like our own, as are their truths.
Watching the making of Watchmen (no puns, damn it) from the sidelines is a lot like watching your favorite performance-challenged sports team finally getting the ball. You know they’re probably going to muck it up, but that doesn’t stop you imagining how sweet it would be if, just this once, someone finally got it right.