Saturday, December 5, 2009

Is the Academy Scared of Horror?

In the world of cinema, there is no greater honor than winning an Academy Award; and there is no greater Academy Award than The Academy Award for Best Motion Picture. The award is presented annually Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to the greatest movie of the year; however, horror movies have largely been ignored by the academy. In fact, there's only been horror movie to have ever won this Award, and that is 1991's Silence of the Lambs (it actually ran the table that year, walking out with five of the most significant awards offered). This is kind of a stretch however, since it's actually much more of a psychological thriller than a horror movie. Now, this is much more than just "Waah, I like horror movies and they never win", because many of these movies have gone on to cement undeniable legacies in our culture.

Let's look at some of these horror movies, plus whatever won that year. I'll start off with 1978's Halloween. John Carpenter's introduction to the unstoppable killer Michael Myers would literally shape the world of horror for the next decade, as it would set the groundwork for Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, and an entire army of one-off slashers. '78's Academy Award went to The Deer Hunter. Ever hear of it? Me neither (or any of the other nominations for that matter.) Ten years prior, George Romero basically invented the zombie genre with Night of the Living Dead. To this day, zombie movies still follow the "rules" that Romero laid out. A musical adaptation of Oliver Twist took the award that year. Yes, a story that was over 130 years old won out over a movie that literally created a sub-genre. Soon after, William Friedkin unleashed The Exorcist on unsuspecting movie audiences. This tale of a twelve year old girl's hellish ordeal with demonic possession shocked the movie going public to its core, and it's reputation as one of the scariest movies ever released is world renowned, along with images of Linda Blair puking green slime and rotating her head on her shoulders. To this day, it finds itself in the top three of any "Best Horror Movie" list you'll come across, if it doesn't top the list off altogether. I've never heard of 1973's Award winning picture, The Sting, but at least The Exorcist received a nomination that year. Not so lucky was 1931's adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula. The Count led the way of a whole slew of mon-stars that Universal released in the 30s, paving the way for the emergence of horror itself as a genre. Indeed, if someone says "Dracula", you're most likely to think of Bela Lugosi with slicked back hair and that piercing gaze. Cimarron won that year, and throughout Universal's fifteen years or so of releasing defining horror movies, they didn't receive so much as a sniff of a nomination.

I understand that horror is a somewhat controversial genre, but its cultural impact is undeniable. It's high time the Academy realized this and started giving credit where it's due, and acknowledging that even though they can be damned unnerving, their contribution to cinema deserves their attention. In my opinion, their sheer staying power demands it.

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