Campy Horror Makes a Comeback
The campiness characteristic of so many 80s horror films is back; the term camp, of course, referring to that associated with parody, exaggeration, theatricality, and humor. Neon and bright coloring, hyperbolic storylines, dark humor, synth music, intentional cheesy gore, and eye-roll-worthy writing have returned to the horror market mostly in B-list form; Netflix and Hulu have been pervaded by these horror flicks reminiscent of cult 80s classics like Re-Animator (1985), The Evil Dead trilogy (1981-1992), and Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988). Unlike the more popular A-list horror films that strive for realism and focus on the freight, these campy flicks provide their audience with a more sadistically fun and satirical experience that not only celebrates classic horror, but also the things about it non-horror lovers tend to criticize. They are both a reflection and re-imagination of horror that are breathing life back into what some might consider a stagnant genre.
The following films are five of the most notable campy horror films from 2010 forward. Though not all the movies are what most would consider well-rounded cinematic successes, they have unique elements that work in tandem with the films’ campiness to create texts that not only entertain but have artistic and social value.
5) The Strangers: Prey at Night (2018)
This slasher movie is all about one of the greatest horror clichés: terrible decision making. The best actor on the cast is killed off immediately and, arguably, in the most foolish way, setting the tone for the rest of the film. Fortunately, establishing this early on allows the viewer to accept the ridiculousness of the film, which would otherwise be distracting. Though Strangers Prey at Night is by no means a great film as a whole, it belongs on this list for the campy magnificence that manifests exactly one hour into the movie. Pullman’s character, Luke, battles it out with one of the strangers in a public pool surrounded by blinking neon palm trees and string lights to the sound of Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” The contrast of the lighting and lyrics with the intense fighting is deliciously paradoxical. “Total Eclipse of the Heart” isn’t the only 80s aspect of the music in the film. The score written by Adrian Johnston makes of use of the synthesizers so characteristic of 80s music. This trend of including heavy synth in horror film scores is growing in popularity as the composers of the next four films demonstrate.
4) Patchwork (2015)
This heavy commentary on the superficiality and artifice that plagues modern society is surprisingly deep and cheeky. It unabashedly, and rather hyperbolically, highlights the crude, dark side of humanity through the story of three women that are murdered, hacked to pieces, and sewn together to create the perfect woman. Revenge quickly becomes their obsession as they try to find who's responsible for their transformation. In the process, the girls (now one horrific, undead, super girl) punish the men who’ve made them suffer mentally, emotionally, and physically. The camp in this film is in the aforementioned hyperbole and the switching of the guard where the killed become the killers. As a consequence, this film ends up being a cryptic celebration of “girl power.” like the use of synthesizers, the ‘girl power’ horror trend is also picking up speed. The next three films clearly exemplify this with female characters ultimately facing and beating male oppressors. Patchwork is also heavy on the cheesy horror dialogue, but that isn’t to say it’s bad. Some of it is actually quite clever and humorously dark (especially the scene where Madeleine goes in for her plastic surgery consultation).
3) All Cheerleaders Die (2013)
Mean Girls meets Jennifer's Body in this sassy take on high school horror complete with hair-flip sound effects. The overacting is perfect, the jock and cheerleader characters embodying the arrogant teens we all loved to hate in high school. Like in Patchwork, the killed become the killers only this time through the use of magic, not science. The undead cheerleaders go on a feeding frenzy snacking on the jocks responsible for their tragic demise. Even though the characters are all stock characters, it is precisely this that makes them fun and entertaining. Furthermore, if you’re not the kind that enjoys campy representations, the uniqueness of the storyline and seductive deaths are enough to at the very least amuse you. However, it’s not all campy fun; the scene leading up to the cheerleaders’ deaths, which sets the A plot in motion, is actually quite disturbing. This is where the film finds its depth; violence against women, sexual assault, bullying, and peer pressure are just some of the issues raised in this scene that continue into the film causing the mean-girl vibe to dissipate as the film winds down. The film then turns into a face-off between the girls and the embodiment of misogyny, Terry. Herein lies this film’s brilliance; it moves from amusing and trite to deep and horrific all while remaining satirical and gory.
2) Tragedy Girls (2017)
This visually stunning film has some freeze frames to die for (pun intended). The color and camerawork often turn aesthetically pleasing frames into tableaux vivant, one of the lovelier ones toward the end of the film paying a fiery homage to Carrie (1976).
It’s a mean girl’s slasher dream come true with an original storyline that follows a pair of sadistic best friends with a taste for murder. The duo is on a mission to commodify murder, using its tragedy and shock value to increase their social media presence and secure their place in history as horror legends. The apathetic teens repeatedly get away with murder making one cruel, snarky comment after another. Alexandra Shipp, who plays M-Kay, particularly makes this movie shine with her impressive performance. She presents M-Kay as the more (1988). Unlike the more popular A-list horror films that strive for realism and focus on the freight, these campy flicks provide their audience with a more sadistically fun and satirical experience that not only celebrates classic horror, but also the things about it non-horror lovers tend to criticize. They are both a reflection and re-imagination of horror that are breathing life back into what some might consider a stagnant genre.
1) The Final Girls (2015)
The crowned jewel of contemporary campy horror would have to be The Final Girls. This is the best example of a horror film that manages to completely mock slasher films while celebrating the music, overacting, gore, and clichés that together create their cult fascination. The storyline follows a group of teenagers trapped in the cinematic confines of the cult slasher film Camp Bloodbath. To survive, they must go along with the film making sure to follow the horror rules, the most important being “Don’t take your close off” and “no sex,” until the final girl finishes off the killer. The dramatic plot generated in the “real world” surrounding the protagonist and her mother provides viewers with the realism and relatability viewers expect from films. This serious overtone gives the more satirical storyline developed in the cinematic universe a depth and purpose it would otherwise lack, so that viewers can both have fun and something meaningful to contemplate. The film is also visually stunning, particularly the Camp Bloodbath universe, with bright colors, especially the neon pinks and purples characteristic of the 80s entertainment aesthetic, brilliantly contrasting with the dark situation the characters find themselves in.
All of these campy horror films are more than they appear. The participation of A-list stars such as Christina Hendricks, Craig Robinson, Taissa Farminga, Adam Devine, and Alia Shawkat, to mention a few, in these films only reiterates this. The films will pleasantly surprise you if you give them a chance, especially if you’re on the lookout for that dramatic and artistic substance the filmmakers managed to merge with the satire, hyperbole, and humor. Even if you’re not into that kind of analysis, you can still have a good laugh making fun of the cheesiness so many horror fans know and love.
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