The horror… the horror

With my finances looking grim as I approach the end of term, I really could have done without my recent trip to the National Wax Museum in its new home on Foster Place. Better value for money could almost certainly have been obtained by paying €5.20 for an oversized mug of dishwater froth in the Starbucks next door, but I decided to indulge my inner child and re-live the thrills and spills of seeing Mary Robinson, the Pope and Dracula all under one roof. If you have a friend who has been tempted by this unfortunate moneymaking racket, or have endured the experience yourself, then I have no need to elaborate on what a disappointing and genuinely unpleasant experience the Wax Museum proved to be. However, one element of the experience that was horrific for all the right reasons was the Chamber of Horrors. Having also gotten a revamp (no pun intended) since the Wax Museum of old, the new Chamber of Horrors has retained some of the classic figures, with some new creations on offer as well, including a particularly good Frankenstein’s monster. The attention to detail was impressive in these displays, and though the Chamber consisted of only two rooms, it made the whole experience much more palatable and, from what I picked up from the other flustered and belligerent people milling around, it was the only reason why most punters would not resort to physically assaulting the cashier who took a large wad of their hard-earned money at the door.

However, despite my otherwise abysmal experience at the Wax Museum (I do wonder if the ‘PLUS’ of their gimmicky new name refers only to an increase in the number of screaming toddlers attempting to vomit on my shoes), the Chamber of Horrors has stuck in my mind, and it’s made me wonder what it is about the creepy, the ghastly and the gory that seems to keep people coming back for more, even though they already know what to expect. The box-office has seen a recent upsurge in the number of sequels, prequels, adaptations and remakes of already-popular horror films over the last few years. In fact, in the last twelve months or so, no less than twenty-eight have appeared in mainstream cinemas, including rehashings of old favourites Friday the 13th, Final Destination and The Grudge. It appears there is something about horror cinema that not only keeps people coming back for more, but, more importantly, keeps people coming back for the same thing.

At the moment, we are wedged between two of the most eagerly anticipated horror remakes of the last five years. Last February saw the release of The Wolfman, a retelling of Waggner’s 1941 classic of the same name, starring Benicio del Toro and, unsurprisingly, the much-beloved Anthony Hopkins. The movie has a lot to offer, though it received a lukewarm reception from critics. From his sullen and introspective persona to his already impressively wolfish features, del Toro is well cast in the role of Lawrence Talbot, and the film benefited greatly from impressive computer-generated effects that were simply not possible for the 1941 version. The result was a more convincing and terrifying werewolf, an impressive and fantastically grisly transformation scene, but on the whole, a storyline that is less well executed than its slow-moving but more detailed predecessor. While I would hesitate to choose the recent remake over the original based on overall quality, the modern adaptation was impressive, and The Wolfman proves that, in some cases, there are technological advances that can justify the remake of a classic film, particularly within horror, where skilfully-used special effects can wield incredible results.

However, more exciting even than the release of The Wolfman, at least in my opinion, is the impending release of A Nightmare on Elm Street, which will finally arrive in cinemas on the 30th of April. Though originally planned to be a prequel to the original Wes Craven film, this idea was scrapped in favour of a fairly direct recreation of the 1984 original, though without the esteemed director, and, most unfortunately, without Robert Englund, the man who has played Freddie from the very beginning of the franchise. As the only Krueger that fans have ever known, present through all seven Elm Street films, an entire television series, even persevering with his character through the tragically comical Freddie Vs. Jason, Englund’s absence from the remake will deal a blow to its authenticity. However, Englund or not, horror fans will undoubtedly flock to the cinemas for another taste of Freddie, proving that while actors may age and go in and out of fashion, a horror icon like Krueger, who is practically unchanged in the remake, is truly timeless.

Other less timeless but more prolific sequels and remakes are still flooding the cinemas, or in some blessed cases, going directly to DVD. Gore-porn does not look set to go out of fashion any time soon, with Hostel remaining a cult classic amongst teenagers and a certain brand of college student, and yet another Saw film, the seventh in the series, in production as we speak. (A 3D production, no less – perhaps demonstrating that not all technological innovations are worth adopting in the name of improvement.) Fans seem to enjoy making their favourite villain into a kind of on-screen recurring nightmare, and while horror buffs often deride sequels as diluted forms of the ‘real thing’, they seem unable to resist another encounter with Krueger, Voorhees, Lecter or Myers, if they can get it. Presumably, the idea is that in order to be truly terrifying, a killer can never die, and must keep reappearing in more warped and grotesque forms until the viewing public eventually loses interest. However, is it really in the best interests of the film’s reputation to recreate a villain ad nauseam? The question is impossible to answer, as we have yet to see a horror film featuring a killer of any worth that has not been reproduced to death, and judging by the current trends in horror cinema, we are unlikely to see it any time soon. Suffice it to say that if a film is unconcerned with whether it is admired or criticized, as long as it can acquire some column inches, sequels, prequels and remakes are a guaranteed way to keep a movie fresh in the minds of the viewing public and keep them lining up at the cinema. Having managed to survive seven sequels relatively intact, we will soon see if it is indeed possible to improve on the original Freddie Krueger. Call me old-fashioned, but I have my suspicions.