Music Features

John Kenneth Muir's "Horror Films of the 1980s"

Prolific North Carolina writer and cult cinema advocate John Kenneth Muir is a good 18 steps above the usual dubious faux scholar/blogger.  His books have laid the groundwork for a future academic canon on horror auteurs such as John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper.  It isn't just that he loves even the lowliest obscure grindhouse relic.  He takes enormous time and effort analysing, unmercifully yet attuned to heretofore dismissed value, every release he turns his attention to.

Muir's masterpieces are unmistakably his hefty rundowns of decades in horror cinema.  Horror Films of the 1970s predated Tarantino/Rodriguez's Grindhouse and a viral online fetish for raw movies of the decade in its exhaustive rundown of the decade's genre work and passionate advocacy of what he dubbed "the Savage Cinema" (with classics like Straw Dogs on the high end and notorieties like I Spit on Your Grave and Last House on the Left treated with equal regard and scrutiny).

Now comes his assessment of the 80s.  The prognosis of Horror Films of the 1980s is rather grim, but not without hope.  Eloquent examinations of both acknowledged greats like Carpenter's The Thing and Cronenberg's The Fly as well as lesser known gems such as Kathryn Bigelow's Near Dark and Thom Eberhardt's Night of the Comet are finally as thoughtful as these films deserve.  Still, a dirgey tone that recalls the pathos of Boogie Nights hangs over the whole thing, as the emergence of home video and unimaginative sequels robs the 80s of the tactile inspiration that marked the previous decade.

Categorically, genre fans with the patience for books will know they must lap this up, but Muir's writing is friendly, fine and detailed enough (despite the occasional factual/grammatical flaw that is an unavoidable result of the pure volume of writing Muir puts out) that it merits both casual and academic attention.  In addition to thoroughly dissecting the horror films of the decade, Muir takes the time to put them into the context of world events and keep a running tab of motifs and themes that mark them.  Brilliantly, he lines up many of the decade's cinematic triumphs (as well as failures) within a disconnect between the optimistic fantasy sold by politicians and the real dread that dire circumstances created.

"Don't worry, be happy."

- The titular line of a pop hit by vocal virtuoso Bobby McFerrin, which, like Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A., had it's seethingly ironic subtext widely ignored as the mass media decided to take its outward happiness at face value.

"Be afraid.  Be very afraid."

- Dialogue and tag line for The Fly.