We’re living in the Age of the Genre. Superhero movies are as thick as maple leaves on the ground after an October thunderstorm. We’re getting spear-and-sandal epics, giant, city-destroying monsters, zombies, zombies and more zombies. On the gaming front, Telltale Games is putting out some of the best point-and-click adventure games I’ve played in years; we got cowboys in Call of Juarez, a campy ’50s UFO invasion in Destroy All Humans, and kung-fu bad cop Tequila in Stranglehold. And, of course, Dead Rising and Resident Evil 4 gave us yet more zombies. It all begs the question: Is the culture machine’s newfound reliance on established genres just a fad, or a taste of things to come?
Colin Geddes was the organizer of Kung Fu Fridays at the Royal Cinema in Toronto until the event closed in 2006. He has been the Program Director for the Toronto International Film Festival’s Midnight Madness program since 1997, bringing us the likes of Six-String Samurai, Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris, Ju-on: The Grudge and Hostel to festival attendees. And his independent film distribution company Ultra 8 Pictures has brought many unique films to a wider audience. The Escapist sat down with Geddes to get his take on the trends shaping the film and gaming industries.
The Escapist: Genre films are on the rise. A quick search of the Internet Movie Database lists dozens of zombie movies in just the last couple of years. As a fan who’s made it your life’s work, how do you explain this burst of activity?
Colin Geddes: OK, first we’re going to have to work on your definition. What do you mean when you say “genre”? Because “genre” is a word that is thrown around a lot, and it is thrown around, usually, totally wrong. “Genre” is a category. So when you say “genre films,” or “genre media,” you’re talking about everything. You’re talking about crime films, romance films, musicals, everything. So are you asking about action genre, horror genre? You’ve got to be specific when you use the word “genre.”
TE: Okay then, let’s say horror movies, monster movies and superhero movies.
CG: OK, so using horror movies and I guess comic-book fantasy films would be the other genre. So, back then to your question: The thing with horror films … there is a misconception that there is a new popularity of horror films. Horror films have always been popular. If we’re talking about cinema history, there has never really been a period where horror films have fallen out of favor. Musicals may come and go, westerns may come and go, horror films there is always an audience for. As far as particular types of horror films; maybe they peak up and down. You have the introduction of slasher films in the 1980s, and then that petered out. Then they kind of got reinvented with Scream, and it happened again. But it is interesting that you always get people in the popular media who will perk up and say, “Oh, horror is popular again because of Scream.” It’s always been popular.
TE: What, then, would you say is the reason for horror’s longevity?
CG: If you want to look at it in these terms, and I like to look at it in these terms, horror films at a root level are called – and this is a term actually that Wes Craven used – “boot camp for the psyche.” When you go to a horror film, one of the reasons you’re going there is as part of a communal cathartic release. If you go see a horror film and you’re in a room with a whole bunch of people and everyone screams at a spider or a snake, if you’ve got fears of spiders and snakes, hearing everyone else react to it makes you feel like you are not alone. So it’s this kind of affirmation of, “You know, it’s okay to be afraid of that.” And then you’ll have things like boogeyman monsters like Freddie or Jason or whatever, and the screams and scares that those excite are kind of indicative of bigger, wider issues. And the other thing is, as horrible as life is, you can go into a horror film and scream at stuff which is pretty farfetched. You’re probably never going to have to worry about being chased by a whole bunch of CGI monsters like in Hellboy or something.
TE: What do you think is the next major type of movie we are going to see take hold?
CG: We’re still going to see a lot more superhero films, I think, especially with the big numbers Iron Man did over its opening weekend, because Hollywood is always looking for new properties, and comics are kind of a new territory for them, filled with a lot of works. You’ve already got your story; you’ve already got your storyboards, which can be translated with a lot more ease than coming up with an original story. So I think we’re going to be seeing a lot more superhero, and a lot more films derived from comic sources. As far as the next new thing, I’m not too sure I know what it would be. And that’s the fun thing about it; I don’t like trying to predict, I like trying to be surprised.
TE: A lot of videogames are being made into movies as well, but they’ve had a much lower success rate than comic book adaptations. Do you think that’s due to the quality of the stories or just the amount of investment being made?
CG: I think it’s just the quality of the videogames’ stories. I’ve just read they’re working on a movie adaptation of the videogame Joust.
TE: Which has no story at all.
CG: No story, but you know what? It does have a neat concept, I think. Flying ostriches with sabers, jousting with javelins … I don’t know. No story. I’m not well versed enough in the original source material for some of these games, but I think when you’re trying to translate a game into a film, there’s really not a lot there in the first place to work into a full adaptation. So a lot of these adaptations, what we’re doing is really just taking the name and making a film. They’re more or less purchasing the name and a couple of small elements. I think that in probably 10 years, there’s going to be this weird nostalgia for videogame film adaptations; films that were kind of considered crap when they came out, but there’s going to be a whole generation that were kind of weaned, kind of grew up on those.
TE: So the two industries are playing off each other, but they’re also in competition.
CG: Yes. They’re pointing out some of the poor box office grosses for action films where in the past they’d be a sure thing for older teens, like 17 to 19, at the mall. In the past they’d do good; now they’re not doing good. Why? Well, that’s because they’re spending their money on other stuff. They’re not spending it on records, they’re spending it on videogames.
John Evans will be studying journalism at Humber College next fall, and is looking forwards to having the professors tell him how he is doing it all wrong.