Bret Easton Ellis on the Problem With Modern Studio Horror Movies

Spoiler alert: This article discusses plot points from “Barbarian.”

Bret Easton Ellis’ work is often steeped in horror – he wrote the 1991 novel “American Psycho,” the script for the 2020 slasher film “Smiley Face Killers,” and the upcoming semi-autobiographical serial killer novel “The Shards,” which will be completed. in January. Beyond his writing – eight articles, a book of essays and many articles published and still – – Ellis is also an ardent cultural advocate who likes to talk about pop culture, often including horror films, on “The Bret Easton.” Ellis Podcast.”

As horror movie fans continue to check out this year’s offerings, Variety spoke to Ellis about his horror film history, what scares him the most and what the future of the genre might look like.

Ellis believes that the new generation of studio horror films tend to make one important mistake.

“Especially in the ’70s, horror movies didn’t have any definitions or answers to them defining horror,” he said. “Why was Regan possessed by the devil in ‘The Exorcist?’ We don’t know. Why the shark walks Amity [in ‘Jaws’]? You don’t know. Where did Carrie White get her powers? I don’t know. You could go on and on about the mysteries of these movies, and what made them even scarier was that they weren’t explained. I often find now that when a horror movie goes too far back, in terms of explaining why these people do what they do, or why this monster does what it does, it diminishes the horror.

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“I think ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’ is a good example. We don’t know what that family is. We get hints of what happened to them, but we don’t get an explanation at all as to what made Leatherface. For some reason, I find that more terrifying in ways that aren’t in other films in ‘Chainsaw’ ‘ franchise. The series clearly explains why things happened, and the series is often completely bad.”

Ellis made his point by examining the highs and lows of one of the year’s most terrifying movies, “Barbarian.”

“I love film,” he said. “I thought it had a big, slow build that had an epic shock in the middle of it, and then it becomes this completely different movie. We are very surprised how these two movies will connect and let us know why this thing happened. I had a friend who was also interested, but again I thought that in the process its third is more descriptive. It no longer scared him, and there was something about that thing, Mother. It was too scary just to think that this thing is living there and goes hunting at night.”

Additionally, Ellis and his partner agreed that the ending pulled the punches in a uniquely modern way.

“This friend, a movie producer, told me that’s when the movie turned against him, as it didn’t have the courage of what it believed in, meaning that Justin Long’s actor had to be punished in some way and that the girl. he had to live,” he said. “I was hoping for a bleak ending, because it seemed like ‘The Stranger’ was going that way. It felt like a throwback to ’70s horror, and I loved the awesomeness of the monster. It wasn’t afraid to look silly or dumb, and that was scary and I liked that it wasn’t CGI. It was an awesome, real, tangible, analog thing.”

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Ellis noted that even though studio money can be heavily sanitized in today’s culture, it has an underground power that can keep subversive ideas alive and well.

“I like to think it’s cyclical,” Ellis said. “Yeah, we’re going through this right now, and we’re going to push back on that, and then we’re going to be brutal, mindless. [in horror]. We won’t have to worry too much about other tropes and just go back to aesthetics and horror. “

One of the latest movies Ellis has mentioned as bringing back edgy, classic horror is “Terrifier 2,” which he heard about through word of mouth.

“I’ve been complaining about the lack of scary, scary movies,” he said. “But someone was telling me, ‘You know, Bret, if you really get it, you can get really scary movies. They are out there. You just have to look for them. They may not be shown in large numbers, but believe me, you can find them.’

Ellis continues, recalling a conversation with Miramax CEO Bill Block on his podcast.

“I go back to what Bill Block said about how there’s always going to be a reason for people to look at that darkness and see those images, and to be repulsed or compelled by it,” Ellis said. “So I don’t know if it’s going to go away, it’s just that it’s going to be in the big companies, which don’t seem to want to do anything like that other than silly, non-offensive stuff. I hope there’s going to be a change, but there’s a lot of content out there that I think you can find whatever you’re looking for.”

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Reflecting on the impact horror movies had on her growing up, Ellis saw them as a way to deal with the harsh world around her.

“When I was a child of the 1970s, I was obsessed with horror films,” he said. “I don’t know why, but there were a lot of them and I was attracted to them. I think they were a reflection of something I was dealing with myself, because my childhood was a free world made up of adults, and there wasn’t any sugar coating. There was a kind of real authenticity to everything, and you weren’t treated like a child. The world was still designed for adults – you were left to your own devices, and you saw how terrifying the world was in different ways.

“The horror movies of the 1970s had this depiction of a dysfunctional family: My parents’ marriage was falling apart, my father was an alcoholic, I knew I was gay. A lot of stories were going around, and horror movies seemed like the perfect way to acknowledge or relate to the anxiety and fear I had. They were, in a strange way, reassuring. “


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