Who loves horror? We do, you do, and that’s probably why homage horror is so satisfying. Filmmakers take a self-referential approach to draw attention to the tropes of the genre they – and we – love. It’s not a spoof, not a satire, it’s a loving ode to the genre. It’s like a big, bloody bear hug, and we are in!
5. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)
This loving slasher offers not just clever, self-referential writing, but surprisingly likeable performances, given the topic. Leslie (Nathan Baesel – magnificent) intends to become the next great serial killer. Not your garden-variety killer, but the stuff of legend: Jason, Freddy, Michael Myers, Leslie Vernon.
A documentary news crew (of sorts) led by intern Taylor (Angela Goethals) documents Leslie’s preparations.
Director/co-writer Scott Glosserman nails a tone that’s comical, affectionate to the genre, and eventually scary. Part Man Bites Dog, part Scream, the film could easily feel stale. It does not.
This is partly due to the wit and intelligence in the screenplay, but an awful lot of the film’s success rides on Baesel’s shoulders. As the budding legend, Baesel is so charming as to be impossible to root against. He’s borderline adorable, even as he slashes his way through teen after teen unwise enough to party at the old, abandoned Vernon farm.
4. Stitches (2012)
There are a lot of scary clowns in films, but not that many can carry an entire film. Stitches can.
This Irish import sees a half-assed clown accidentally offed at a 10-year-old’s birthday party, only to return to finish his act when the lad turns 16.
Yes, it is a familiar slasher set up: something happened ten years ago – an accident! It was nobody’s fault! They were only children!! And then, ten years later, a return from the grave timed perfectly with a big bash that lets the grisly menace pick teens off one by one. But co-writer/director Connor McMahon does not simply tread that well-worn path. He makes glorious use of the main difference: his menace is a sketchy, ill-tempered clown.
Dark yet bawdy humor and game performances elevate this one way above teen slasher. Gory, gross, funny and well-acted – it brings to mind some of Peter Jackson’s early work. It’s worth a look.
3. Tucker and Dale Versus Evil (2010)
Horror cinema’s most common and terrifying villain may not be the vampire or even the zombie, but the hillbilly. The generous, giddy Tucker and Dale vs. Evil lampoons that dread with good natured humor and a couple of rubes you can root for.
In the tradition of Shaun of the Dead, T&DVE lovingly sends up a familiar subgenre with insightful, self-referential humor, upending expectations by taking the point of view of the presumably villainous hicks. And it happens to be hilarious.
Two backwoods buddies (an endearing Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk) head to their mountain cabin for a weekend of fishing. En route they meet some college kids on their own camping adventure. A comedy of errors, misunderstandings and subsequent, escalating violence follows as the kids misinterpret every move Tucker and Dale make.
T&DVE offers enough spirit and charm to overcome any weakness. Inspired performances and sharp writing make it certainly the most fun participant in the You Got a Purty Mouth class of film.
2. Cabin in the Woods (2012)
You know the drill: 5 college kids head into the woods for a wild weekend of doobage, cocktails and hookups but find, instead, dismemberment, terror and pain. You can probably already picture the kids, too: a couple of hottie Alphas, the nice girl, the guy she may or may not be into, and the comic relief tag along. In fact, if you tried, you could almost predict who gets picked off when.
But that’s just the point, of course. Making his directorial debut, Drew Goddard, along with his co-scribe Joss Whedon, uses that preexisting knowledge to entertain holy hell out of you.
Goddard and Whedon’s nimble screenplay offers a spot-on deconstruction of horror tropes as well as a joyous celebration of the genre. Aided by exquisite casting – particularly the gloriously deadpan Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford – the filmmakers create something truly special.
Cabin is not a spoof. It’s not a satire. It’s sort of a celebratory homage, but not entirely. What you get with this film is a very different kind of horror comedy.
1. Scream (1996)
In his career, Wes Craven has reinvented horror any number of times. When Scream hit screens in 1996, we were still three years from the onslaught of the shakey cam, six years from the deluge of Asian remakes, and nearly ten years from the first foul waft of horror porn. In its time, Scream resurrected a basically dying genre, using clever meta-analysis and black humor.
What you have is a traditional high school slasher – someone dons a likeness of Edvard Munch’s most famous painting and plants a butcher knife in a local teen, leading to red herrings, mystery, bloodletting and whatnot. But Craven’s on the inside looking out and he wants you to know it.
What makes Scream stand apart is the way it critiques horror clichés as it employs them, subverting expectation just when we most rely on it. As the film opens, Casey (Drew Barrymore) could have survived entirely (we presume) had she only remembered that it was not, in fact, Jason Voorhees who killed all those campers in Friday the 13th; it was his mother. A twisted reverence for the intricacies of slashers is introduced in the film’s opening sequence, then glibly revisited in one form or another in nearly every scene after.
We spent the next five years or more watching talented TV teens and sitcom stars make the big screen leap to slashers, mostly with weak results, but Scream stands the test of time. It could be the wryly clever writing or the solid performances, but we think it’s the joyous fondness for a genre and its fans that keeps this one fresh.