This summer’s blockbuster offerings have served up everything from giant Japanese monsters to super powered mutants to an American Patriot gone rogue to protect the very county persecuting him. Overall, this was a great summer for movies and a great summer for blockbusters that showed its teeming audiences that story can meet spectacle in the middle without one being sacrificed for the other. Without a doubt, the summers weirdest and yet most surprising moneymaker has been Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy; a space romp set in the same comic universe as the Avengers, yet independent enough to set itself apart from its predecessors. Guardians introduces us to Spacelord and his ragtag group of interstellar misfits as they fight, steal, and even save the galaxy, all while trying to make a buck in the process. It’s filmmaking that harkens back to the golden age of the 80s when special effects, a good script, and just the right dose of humor all found a way to get along nicely. It wasn’t too uppity to resist the urge to make fun of itself and dammit, green skin, fur and everything, we loved its characters. The movie is a success, both in its gross and its intentions. So what can horror then learn from Guardians of the Galaxy?
1. BE YOURSELF
If Guardians has one lesson to tell the horror genre, it’s this: be yourself. Don’t be apologetic for what you are; just try to be the best at what you’re good at. Horror has long been the red-headed stepchild of cinema and when its does succeed, its usually does so at the surprise of filmmakers. The 80s, however, saw horror turn its creators, its f/x artists and its actors into bonafied rock stars. Everyone wanted to open the cover of Fangoria magazine and see their name, their face immortalized in its pages. Horror owned its place amongst the heavy hitters in Hollywood and proved that its rebellious, outsider folk heroes were on par with their celebrated contemporaries. It thrived and audiences were delighted to see what monstrosities were awaiting them when the curtains opened and the lights went down.
Fast forward thirty plus years into the future and horror has long been sliding down a slippery slope where theatrical runs for genre films are rare and the VOD market is so saturated that the occasional gem very often slips through the cracks as soon as its is released.
Many people saw Guardians as simply too weird to appeal to mainstream audiences. Two of its major, not just peripheral, but MAJOR characters are a tree and a raccoon. For many, this would mean a most certain hard sell. For Marvel it meant a chance to showcase their extended universe in all its bizarre glory.
Be a horror film. Don’t try to mask your content in a way that it might appeal to a wider audience. Revel in the gore, the blood, the violence and above all, THE WEIRDNESS. Horror fans LOVE to see the bizarre, the unexpected and, ready for this? THE HORROR!!!
2. INVEST IN YOUR CHARACTERS
Peter Quill, aka Starlord, works so well on the screen because he is a sympathetic character. He is flawed, yet still heroic and audiences can relate to him. He is selfless, yet arrogant and above all else, he is still vulnerable and therefore human. Peter Quill is likeable. His entire band of rogue outlaws are LIKEABLE. They have CHARACTER. They are not a lone black ops operative charged with leading a band of survivors through a zombie infested wasteland. They are instead the 12-year-old boy trying to rescue his sister from a town in rural Missouri…well, also infested by zombies, but you get my point!!! They are the unlikely heroes, the kids at the back of the class, but their collective strengths make them heroes.
3. A LITTLE HUMOR GOES A LONG WAY
Horror movies of the 80s knew that often the scare was a one-two punch; make them laugh then bring on the horror. The dark humor of the 80s served the era well and brought us some of our most beloved horror films. Re-Animator, Return of the Living Dead, and An American Werewolf in London all relied hugely on black humor to intensify their more horrific qualities and their ability to not take themselves so seriously also endeared them to even the most hard-to-please horror fans. The time for torture porn horror has passed. Lets take a cue and realize that although the ole screwdriver-to-the-head gag is always welcome, that there is a context where it has more impact than if its one of 12 screwdrivers-to-the-head in the same 5 minute scene.
4. TAKE RISKS!
Horror is ballzy, absurd, ridiculous, extreme, unrelenting and we LOVE it. For some reason we started seeing more and more horror films that stopped short of greatness and we often think to ourselves, “damn, it was SOOO close”. Go CRAZY!!! Marvel could have easily pushed another safe tent pole franchise out, because DAMN! they have a big enough catalog of heroes and villains that it would be no large feat to do so, but instead they went with a concept that easily defied classical categorization in the superhero universe and IT WORKED.
This might sound more like a call to arms than a simple editorial, but with TGOTG earning more than $215 million dollars at the box office since its release, maybe this should be a wakeup call to horror creators everywhere.