From the desk of S.R. Grapes.
Question: is it wrong of me to barely be able to hide my delight that Catherine Hardwicke's Red Riding Hood is currently (as of this writing) scoring a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes' review aggregator? It is isn't it? Damn. See, here's the thing; I know that I shouldn't wish any ill will on any genre picture garnering itself a theatrical release. This, especially after the discouraging year that was 2010's horror box office. It's not news that horror took a big hit in theaters last year and as 2011 gets off the ground, it could use a serious boost in ticket sales. The kind of boost that subjugates studio head's concerns and reticence to further finance genre films in the first place (though, truth be told, they shot themselves in their own damn foot with the particular scripts they green lit). Horror films need to be financially viable in order for studios to continue to make them, we all know this. For instance, after audiences had had enough of the slasher boom in the 1980s, and the genre's box office dwindled to nothing, studios ceased to put anything with a body count and the red stuff into production (and no, citing the system's other flourishing cinematic madmen, Steven Seagal, Jean Claude Van Damme and their ilk, doesn't count). I'm still not too old to forget, nor was I too young to have missed, the bone dry desert that was the genre's output in the early 90s. Remember those days? When the likes of Man's Best Friend and Warlock: The Armageddon were the most prominent horror tickets in town? I do and I still remember how damn empty their screenings were (and this on premier night). As horror's viability in cineplexes continues to wane, I can't help but think back to that dark wasteland in our genre's history and get a little shudder down my spine at the prospect that it could return.
So you ask, what gives? Why would you be waiting with bated breath to see one of your own take it between the eyes at theaters this weekend? Quite simply, because I believe that these water-downed, horror lite, chaste, teen romance genre films are harming their brand every bit as much as the remake trend that still hasn't relented (and for the record, I'm not opposed to PG or PG-13 rated horror either, when they're done right). Temporary, financially viable, yet done to death trends, can spell death to the horror genre too after all. A painfully slow death, but death all the same. For example, out of the many dyed-in-the-wool horror fans that I count as friends, I can't remember the last time any one of them made the effort to see a scary movie in the theater. These are men and women who count amongst their many prized personal possessions, autographs from horror luminaries of every stripe, enough pictures on DVD and VHS to open their own video stores, framed film posters of movies like Popcorn and House in lieu of the more conventionally mainstream art that adorn most homes. My point? They're fans and they're in it to win it. However, faced with the underwhelming genre choices mainstream Hollywood provides them, they opt to stay home every time and they continue to stay home.
It honestly pains me to desire failure for Red Riding Hood. It has major talent on screen in Amanda Seyfried (who I adored weekly on HBO's Big Love for four years) and Shiloh Fernandez (who greatly impressed me in 2008's Deadgirl) not to mention Gary Oldman, Julie Christie and Virginia Madsen, whose presence in anything nearly drives me to the point of spitting, I love her so much. I was even initially excited to see Red Riding Hood (way waaaay back when it was just in pre-production) seeing as it concerns the oft-neglected melding of fairy tales and modern horror cinema sensibilities. It's a personal favorite sub-genre of mine, whose ranks are criminally bereft of worthwhile material. Also, add to this that Hollywood is in seriously short supply of working female directors, let alone ones bringing their unique voice to our beloved genre. This knowledge of course only further instigates the sinking feeling that I am somehow betraying my feminist sensibilities by crossing my fingers for a bomb. But then, then I remember that Hardwicke betrayed them first by filming an adaptation of a story that essentially encourages girls and young women to not only deny that they too are human, sexual creatures (really, abstinence only propaganda by way of a devout Mormon housewife) but that the only way they're going to be truly happy is to be completely self-involved and utterly reliant on dominating, stalkerish young men. I wish I could say that I am behind Hardwicke and this venture of hers. I wish I could forgive her Twilight and say "Okay, show us what else you got." However, I'm no fool. Despite all it's early promise, fur in place of fangs and the talent both onscreen and off, Hardwicke has apparently made that same damn movie again and my groan (and disappointment) couldn't have been any louder when the realization of such, hit home after viewing Red Riding Hood's trailer for the first time (also I'm also fairly certain that they didn't have mamby pamby hair gel in medieval villages, but I digress). Alas, that lovely little 0% isn't likely to stay that low forever. Inevitably some critic (or two) a helluva lot more charitable than I will come along and call it a guilty pleasure, or praise Hardwicke for how much "she's naturally grown as a film maker" or some such nonsense and boost Red Riding Hood's score. Additionally, bad critical reception has never spelled box office disaster in the good 'ol US of A. We here in the land of the free like our movies big, bigger, very loud and very dumb. So in keeping with our national tradition, I'm certain that the Twihards will be out in full force this weekend, buying up every available theater seat in the country and then some.
So, where does that leave us real horror movie fans? Could Red Riding Hood single-handedly be the death knell for the horror genre? Of course not. Do I believe it is one more nail in the coffin? Absolutely and it is for this reason that I pray we have yet another misfired bomb on our hands. After all, they say it's better to die with honor and dignity than to go down in shame. As for me? I'll be staying in this weekend and watching something made with actual respect for the genre. May I recommend Neil Jordan's The Company of Wolves to anyone else doing the same; a snarling, real retelling of the Red Riding Hood fable that is not only intelligent, deeply felt and genuinely horrific, but also is not afraid of a female's empowered sexuality. To the contrary, it celebrates it (take that Stephanie Meyers). Also, as far as hairy beasts in the moonlight go, I'm fairly certain that Wolves would tear Hardwicke's little pup to bloody, gloriously gory shreds.