years after his first inaugural address, FDR’s words still hold resonance for
us: “all we have to fear is the lame clip package.” Obviously, he was trying to
rally the nation against dubious docu-essays during our darkest hour. Of
course, there are plenty of other things to be afraid of, like cannibals and
satanic possession. The things we fear and the ways that fear manifests says a
lot about a national culture. However, Charlie Lyne is too afraid of his own
subject—horror movies—to give them the analysis they deserve in Fear Itself (trailer here), which screens during this
year’s Hot Docs in Toronto.
compilation essay is entirely cobbled together from clips of horror movies and
a sizable number of ringers, only occasionally referred to by the
meta-fictional narrator. Apparently, she has been binging horror films while
recuperating from an auto-accident that may have also claimed the life of her
mother. However, instead of catharsis or escapism, she feels desensitized and
is something innately problematic about a film like Fear Itself or the glacial anti-zombie zombie-movie Here Alone (the inexplicable winner of
the Tribeca Award) that have deep-seated contempt for their genres. By holding
themselves above genre conventions, they basically make a half-hearted job of
things. In the case of FI, Lyne’s
narrator never delves into the collective anxieties reflected on-screen.
the early Atomic age, fear of nuclear war produced a host of radiation-mutated
monsters. Neurotic uncertainty regarding changing gender and sexuality norms is
reflected in a host of slasher movies, going back to Hitchcock’s Psycho in 1960. On the other side of the
spectrum, our collective guilt and the kernel of Catholicism buried deep within
us all is the reason demonic horror in The
Exorcist tradition scares the bejesus out of us. Unfortunately, Lyne never
goes to any of these places.
least Lyne has a decent eye for visuals. Italian Giallos are quite prominent in
his mix, but that is not a bad thing. He is also refreshingly international in
focus, incorporating several Japanese and Mexican films. He draws on the
vintage Universal monster movies surprisingly heavily, but Hammer is bizarrely
absent. Yet, we can see how uneasy Lyne and company are with horror from the
many films outside of genre he shoehorns into a thematic discussion, such as Alive, Gravity, Logan’s Run, and both
the Alan Clarke and Gus Van Sant Elephants.
Frame for frame, you
can probably find slier social commentary in horror films than any other genre,
but aside from a few choice scenes culled from Dawn of the Dead, Lyne never gives masters like Roger Corman and
John Carpenter their due. That is frustrating for fans and offers no constructive
insights for horror movie outsiders. Not recommended, Fear Itself screens tomorrow (5/1), Tuesday (5/3), and Wednesday
(5/4), as part of Hot Docs ’16.
Labels: Documentary, Horror Movies, Hot Docs '16