Why is it that so many horror movies look exactly the same as every other horror movie? It doesn't have to be so -- this week's new DVD releases include a straight-to-video gem called The Burrowers about a post-Civil War rescue party, looking for a kidnapped family in the Dakota Territories, who discover that something more horrible than Indians snatched the locals. It's a beautifully shot, intelligent film that owes more to John Ford's The Searchers or to Terence Malick than to modern scare flicks, and a brilliant example of cross-genre horror. The film got a little play at small film fests, where it was well received. But most of us have had to wait for DVD to discover that it even exists, which is a shame.
All of which raises an interesting question: Why don't more directors mix up the stale old conventions, and combine horror with other film genres? Some of the best, scariest films in recent memory have broken away from the standard horror template, finding fresh ways to creep us out along the way. Here's a few:
Army of Darkness -- The third in Sam Raimi's Evil Dead trilogy is a delightful, bizarre mix of time-travel comedy, sword-and-shield action flick, and horror, with Ash (Bruce Campbell) announcing to the "primitive screwheads" of an alternate dimension that he has no qualms about blasting them with his boom-stick. It's also interesting to note how much of the big castle-storming set-piece was stolen by Peter Jackson for LOTR: Return of the King's assault on Minis Tirith.
Ravenous -- Inspired in part by the story of Alferd Packer (hero of Parker/Stone's Cannibal! The Musical), this dark, often funny, brutally gruesome period piece uses the Wendigo myth to bring crazy-cannibal gore to an 1840's Army fort in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The cast includes Guy Pearce, Robert Carlyle, and Jeffrey Jones, and deftly mixes character drama with terror: