A recent conversation involving the short-lived, obscure (but highly entertaining) Fox television series "Werewolf" prompted us to take a closer look at some of the failures peppered throughout the history of supernatural horror in television and film. And there are a lot of them.
The genre has always been somewhat popular (especially in literature), and projects continue to appear on screen with some regularity. Unfortunately, the quality of those productions remains quite low. Sure, there are exceptions. Television shows like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel" and films like "An American Werewolf in London" and the recently successful "I Am Legend" adaptation instantly come to mind. Still, for every "Buffy" we get dozens of "Dracula 2000s" and "John Carpenter's Vampires."
Why is there so much terrible horror floating around out there? There are the obvious reasons. Often film and TV projects that deal with classic supernatural subject matter (vampires, werewolves, zombies and all of the usual suspects) are saddled with low budgets and thus suffer from poor special effects, awful writing and a quality of acting that is surpassed by a fourth grade production of "Peter Pan." In addition to those obvious drawbacks, there are a host of other, slightly more subtle reasons. Handicaps that so often doom projects in the genre before they even begin pre-production.
The big question is this. With all of these negatives, why do we keep tuning in for more? Are horror fans simply gluttons for punishment? Maybe by highlighting some of the traits that make these pieces of "art" awful, we will find the answer...
So how do we relate to this?
An important part of the acting process is finding a frame of reference. At least that is what they tell you in a college acting class. When preparing for a role it is helpful for an actor to relate to the character and situations in the narrative. For films and shows that deal with a supernatural subject matter, this isn't easy. No one has had any encounters with werewolves, vampires or zombies (as far as we know!) and so there are no real-world experiences to draw upon. More often than not, the performances come off as forced and hammy because of it. Sure, a lot of times the actors in these low-budget affairs are lousy, but even good actors can struggle with the material (i.e., Christopher Plummer in "Dracula 2000," Hugh Jackman in "Van Helsing" and the entire talented ensemble in "It").
This is a serious work!
It may seem hard to believe, but there was a time when most horror contained little to no humor (honestly!). That has thankfully changed over the last 20-30 years, and these days it is hard to imagine watching the supernatural without some form of built-in levity - whether it be satirical overtones, a comic relief character or self-aware dialogue. Humor helps offset the naturally occurring, over-the-top nature of the subject matter, and films with poorly executed or simply no humor ("Underworld" comes to mind as a modern example) suffer. That is part of the reason why, although horror buffs won't readily admit it, the "classics" like the Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee "Dracula" films and the original "Night of the Living Dead" don't hold up very well. The sheer absurdity of the supernatural needs a good dose of comedy in order to create a little balance.