Why Are Horror Movies Never Critically Praised?

I was flicking through the movie channels yesterday when I came across the classic cult ‘Carrie’ (1976) starring a very young and terrifyingly terrific Sissy Spacek as well as John Travolta pre Saturday Night Fever fame. The flick is not only a perfect horror movie, but it ticks all the boxes for the American Film Institute criteria on what films should be selected for the prestigious Top 100 Films Of All Time List. It was a critical and box office hit, but most importantly it has lasting influence – there is not a Halloween that goes by when someone doesn’t dress up as a blood covered Carrie and most movie enthusiasts are aware of the iconic scene where she gets covered by pigs blood when accepting her prom queen win. So why did this AFI top 100 nominated movie fail to make the list?

Spacek gets her revenge in ‘Carrie’ 1976

Generally movie critics (who I assume make a large proportion of the American Film institute voting body) have a distaste for horror movies – well when you have crass films like Piranha 3DD (2012) or unimaginative flicks like Freddy VS Jason (2003) it’s not hard to understand why the genre has a bad rep. So unsurprisingly horror films get little representation on the 1998 and 2007 AFI Top 100 Movie List. Can Hitchcock’s greatest masterpiece Psycho (1960: AFI 1998#18, 2007#14) or the epitome of the classic gothic story Wuthering Heights (1939: AFI 1998# 73) be considered horror? ‘Psycho’ has a strong case as does ‘Silence of the Lambs’ (1991: AFI 1998#74, 2007 #65).

The nineties sleeper hit may technically be a thriller/ crime movie, but there are so many elements of horror that I think it can be lumped in that category plus I was shit scared for the most of it. It’s also one of those pictures where you think you’ve seen it before because you remember all the iconic scenes like when Dr Hannibal Lecter, played by Anthony Hopkins creepily tells Clarice how he ate one of his victims. But I thought I must completely watch it from start to finish because there are some parts I can’t piece together.

After viewing the first ten minutes I was pretty sure I hadn’t seen it from the beginning. I didn’t realise that Clarice, played by the ever versatile and Oscar-winning Jodie Foster, was a rookie FBI agent who had reluctantly been persuaded by her superior to get in the mind of cannibal Dr Hannibal Lecter to help solve a case of serial killer Buffalo Bill. I’m not sure if in realty the FBI would seek help from a psychopath, it seems pretty far-fetched to me, but then again so are most horror films.

Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins in their Oscar-winning roles 

Over the years Hannibal Lecter has a comical and somewhat camp persona, I first introduced to him when I watched the prequel Hannibal (2001) in the cinema and vividly recall the audience laughing when he murdered is victims, especially when he ate the brains off Ray Liotta whilst he will still conscious and at the dining table – so to say his character gave me a sleepless night in this 1991 Best Picture Winner is perhaps an over-exaggeration, but then again he was truly frightening when he escapes his incarceration, which suggests why he was voted the Top Villain Of All Time 

‘Silence Of The Lambs’ trailer 

Perhaps the supporting character Buffalo Bill terrified me more, not only was he truly disturbed for killing woman for their skin in order for him to make a body suit, but he was loosely based from real murderers –  Jerry Brudos, Ted Bundy and Ed Gein – with the latter also inspiring Norman Bates in ‘Pyscho’ (1960) and Leatherface in ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre'(1974). Nothing thrills a horror geek more than believing some of the plot is based on true events – although that term is used so loosely in almost all movies of this genre that I wouldn’t be surprised if a scary movie about a giant people eating dinosaur would have a ‘based on true events’ disclaimer.

Hopkins gets into character on the set of ‘Silence ff The Lambs’

‘Silence of the Lambs’ may not be a traditional horror movie, in fact it combined traces of horror, thriller and crime to create its own genre which inspired movies like ‘Kiss the girls’ (1997) and even television programmes such as CSI (2000 – 2015). For inspiring a string of thoughtful and psychological thrillers that came after I give it a 3.5 out of 5.

Ted Levine plays the disturbed ‘Buffalo Bill’

Perhaps in the Twentieth Edition of the Top 100 Films of all time the AFI committee could consider more classic and traditional horror movies like ‘The Shining’ (1980), ‘The Exorcist’ (1973) or the amazing and perhaps my personal favourite ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ (1968) to feature in the coveted list.

Hoffman Blows Childhood Favourite Creation Out of The Water

Long before the late Robin Williams did his best drag impression in ‘Mrs Doubtfire’(1993) Dustin Hoffman arguably played it more convincingly in ‘Tootsie’ (1982: AFI 1996 #62, 2007 #69). Sure Williams had the advantage of superior make-up to effectively disguise his identity, but Hoffman’s character was better developed and it always bugged me that Mrs Doubtfire introduced herself as English rather than Scottish (those darn Americans!) in the 1993 film set in San Francisco based on a book by British author Anne Fine (those darn Americans!).

When I sat down to watch the 1982 Oscar Winning movie for my AFI 100 movie challenge I definitely had my favourite childhood film to compare it to, but to be honest the only similarities are that the protagonists dress up as women to deceive people close to them with hilarious consequences. That’s where the comparison ends.

In ‘Tootsie’ Hoffman plays Michael Dorsey an out of work actor who has a reputation of being difficult so no one in the industry wants to work with him. He hears of a upcoming role in a soap opera and auditions for the part of ‘Dorothy Michaels’ disguised as a woman and wins the part.  Much to Dorsey’s shock his creation becomes an overnight sensation because of ‘her’ feisty and no nonsense attitude. But things get a bit awkward when Dorsey falls for his co-star Julie Nichols played by innocent and timid Jessica Lange. There is even a really cringy scene where Michaels who is meant to be a middle-aged feminist tries to kiss Lange.

Lange and Hoffman get cosy

Although the movie is entertaining and Hoffman is brilliant as the eccentric Michael Dorsey and equally nuts Dorothy Michaels I wondered if the flick was good enough to make it on AFIs list of 100 movies of all time. What separates it from all the other comedies where the main character cross-dresses to trick people? Firstly the script is sharp and punchy and unlike family friendly ‘Mrs Doubtfire’ this film is for the adults. The supporting cast is terrific, Teri Garr (Phoebe’s mum in Friends) plays the ditsy and hopeless romantic acting student of Hoffman and I think she should have taken the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress rather than wooden Jessica Lange.  Bill Murry brings in his typical dry wit dry humour as Hoffman’s roommate in his pre-Ghostbuster superstardom days.

Dustin Hoffman, Terri Garr & Sydney Pollack on the set of ‘Tootsie’

But most importantly Michael Dorsey /Dorothy Michaels is believable and more likable than William’s creation in this Sydney Pollack classic. There are a few flaws in ‘Mrs Doubtfire’ that I’ve come to realise as I’ve grown older. Firstly Robin Williams character is pretty much a loser, he lives off his wife, behaves likes a big kid and we are supposed to feel empathy for him when she throws him out? In real life a character like that wouldn’t have the intelligence or guts to pull of Mrs Doubtfire. In fact he would probably break down in tears the moment he steps into his old family home again. Hoffman’s character is a go-getter, a perfectionist who knows what he wants and is ruthless in his pursuit which makes the movie more realistic than the similar plots made before and after the 1982 classic flick. Although one can argue Williams complete and utter dedication towards his children gives him the courage and determination to succeed in his trickery.

Robin Williams On Dustin Hoffman’s ‘Tootsie’ Performance

Dustin Hoffman is perhaps the most underrated performer of his generation. In the 1970s only he and Jack Nicholson were able to immerse themselves in completely different roles in a believable manner. So it’s sometimes frustrating that De Niro and Pacino gets all the praise when most of the time they often played one dimensional characters (but brilliantly nevertheless). For the shear genius of Hoffman who despite having a stellar supporting cast can carry this movie by himself I give ‘Tootsie’ a 4.5 out 5.