Robin Wood on DIARY OF THE DEAD
Unlike many horror film fans and scholars, I have not been interested in the genre since childhood. Many writers on the subject fondly (or disturbingly, given hindsight) recall their childhoods spent in front of the television watching FRANKENSTEIN films late on Saturday nights, reading FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND and wishing that Halloween were everyday of the year. While the candy was tempting, I didn't have anything to do with the rest of it. I came to horror films late in the game. My first job was as a clerk at Hollywood Video, which gave me my preliminary film school education. My household was never flush with movies. My uncle always had the best - a projection TV in the 1970s, a laserdisc player in the early 1980s, a complete line of classics issued by Key Video for his Betamax player. At Hollywood Video, I rented over 500 films and really set myself to enjoying, studying, and criticizing movies. I turned to horror first out of curiosity (why were there so many direct-to-video-age films in the store and how come people only seemed interested in SCREAM?) and later out of something of a voyeuristic desire to see things that other genres could not offer. I'm not a violent person, nor am I cruel, sadistic, or morbid. But horror films breached some interesting questions and topics amidst their visual trickery, velvety melodrama, and slew of iconographic signifiers.
I decided early in my undergraduate career that film studies was the way for me. I ate the stuff up, reading and watching as much as possible, often with friends, girlfriends, and mere acquaintances in tow, but just as often without. Sometime four or five years ago, I had a relevatory moment, and it was thanks to Robin Wood, a pugnacious, taxing, and brilliant literary scholar-turned-film-scholar. I was reading two of his pieces on George A. Romero's "Dead" films, one specifically about masculinity in DAY OF THE DEAD and the other more generally about the series and in his excellent book HOLLYWOOD FROM VIETNAM TO REAGAN. Here was the socially-conscious criticism that I had been after. I had always thought that Romero's stuff was radical, special, and accomplished, but this writing helped confirm and heighten my assumptions, observations, and appreciations. Horror films could
be radical, could
be deadly serious and
funny, and could
say very important (yet non-didactic) things about the world.
Wood's writing gave me a new appreciation of social horror - works by Romero, Larry Cohen, and a few others - and helped fuel my distaste for the un-ideological "torture porn" since SAW.
Wood has a piece in this month's FILM COMMENT about DIARY OF THE DEAD
and its place in the series. Read it knowing that Wood tried to stop being a film critic upon his academic retirement, but interesting films keep cropping up. Though it remains doubtful, there could be hope for a wider release of DIARY OF THE DEAD. Judging from this article, it is likely to be timely, special, and wholly Romero.