Bret Easton Ellis on the Problem With Modern Studio Horror Movies

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

Bret Easton Ellis’ work often veers into horror — he wrote the iconic 1991 novel “American Psycho,” the script for the 2020 slasher film “Smiley Face Killers,” and the semi-autobiographical serial killer novel history of “The Shards,” which is forthcoming. in January. Beyond his written output – eight novels, a book of essays and many scripts both produced and yet to be produced – Ellis is also an intrepid cultural commentator who loves to discuss pop culture, often includes horror movies, on “The Bret Easton Ellis podcast.”

As horror movie fans keep an eye on what we have to offer this year, Different 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 often make one major mistake.

“Especially in the ’70s, horror movies had no backstory or answers to explain the horror,” he said. “Why does Regan have a devil in ‘The Exorcist?’ We don’t know why the shark is traveling Amity [in ‘Jaws’]? You don’t know. Where did Carrie White get her powers? I don’t know. You could go on and on with the mysteries of these films, and what made them so much scarier was that they were left unexplained. I often find now when a horror movie goes way too far into the background, in terms of explaining why these people do what they do , or why this monster does what it does, that it really lessens the horror.

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“I think ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’ is a good example. We don’t know exactly what that family is. We get hints of what happened to them, but we don’t get an explanation at all of what created Leatherface. For some reason, that’s especially scary to me in ways that aren’t present in other films in the ‘Chainsaw’ franchise. The series clearly explain why things happened, and the backstories are usually nothing more than a complete lie.”

Ellis reinforced his point by analyzing the highs and lows of one of the most animated horror films of the year, “Barbarian”.

“I love the movie,” he said. “I thought there was a big, slow build that had that big shock in the middle, and then it becomes a completely different movie. We are very interested in how these two films are going to come together and tell us why this thing has happened. I had a friend who loved it too, but he also thought it overexplains in its third act. It wasn’t scary anymore, and there was something about that thing, The Mother. It was more terrifying to think that this thing lives there and goes hunting at night.”

Furthermore, Ellis and his colleague agreed that the ending pulled punches in a very contemporary way.

“This friend, a filmmaker, told me that’s when the movie went off the rails for him, because he wasn’t really confident about his convictions, meaning that Justin Long’s character had to be punished somehow somehow and that the girl had to live,” he said. “I was hoping for a slightly more desperate ending, because it seemed like ‘Barbarian’ was going that way. It was kind of like of a throwback to 70’s horror, and I loved how scary the monster was. I wasn’t afraid to look completely stupid or dumb, which was scary and I liked that it wasn’t CGI it was. It was a scary, real, tactile, analog thing.”

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Ellis noted that while studio fare can be overly sanitized in the current culture, a vibrant underground is capable of keeping unsustainable ideas alive and well.

“I like to think of it as cyclical,” Ellis said. “Yes, we’re going through this now, and we push back on that, and then we get a sharper, less ideological sense. [in horror]. We won’t have to worry so much about certain tropes and just get back to beauty and fear. “

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

“I was complaining about the lack of scary, scary horror movies,” he said. “But someone was saying to me, ‘You know, Bret, if you really want to find it, you can find the horror movies. most embarrassing. They’re out there. You just have to look for them. They might not be shown in the mainstream, but trust me, you’ll 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 people always need to face that darkness and see those images, and be pushed back or forced by them,” Ellis said. “So I don’t know if it’s ever going to go away, it’s just whether it’s going to be in the corporate mainstream, which doesn’t seem to want much of anything to do with anything any but the most rude, innocent. material. I hope there will be a trend, but there is so much content out there I think you will find almost anything you are looking for. “

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When he reflected on the impact horror films had on him while growing up, Ellis saw them as a way to deal with the difficult world around him.

“Being a kid in the ’70s, I was obsessed with horror films,” he said. “I don’t know why, but there were a lot of them and I was drawn to them. I think they were a reflection of something I was going through personally, because my childhood was really a free-range world made up entirely of adults, and there was no sugar at all. There was a kind of real- honesty in everything, and you weren’t treated like a child. The world was still made for adults – you were basically left to your own devices, and you found out how terrifying the world in different ways.

“Horror movies in the 70s had this appeal of mirroring a family of discord: my parents’ marriage was shaking, my father was an alcoholic, I realized I was gay. There were a lot of issues going on, and horror movies were the clearest way to identify or relate to any anxiety and fear I was going through myself. They were, in some strange way, confident.”


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