Last week I finally began a theme I meant to kick-off at the beginning of the year, which is to feature public domain films that you can find easily online. This week will continue a horror theme, the genre does have its fair share of public domain films that are newer than most. Today is the film that redefined the zombie genre forever, which you should have seen by now Night of the Living Dead.
Stephen King’s philosophy on how he approaches the horror genre as a writer is three-pronged. “I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out” (Danse, 25). He believes this to be a hierarchy system in which he has three methods of attack in which to impress the reader. He will, without question, attempt each of these tactics through the course of either his writing and/or filmmaking.
In the novel Desperation, as in the film version of The Shining, I feel there is a tremendous undercurrent of terror running through each of these tales. Maximum Overdrive relies mostly on the gross-out as its means to scare the audience but that does not depreciate its aesthetic value. “But the gross-out is art, and it is important that we have an understanding of this. Blood can fly everywhere and the audience will remain largely unimpressed. If on the other hand the audience has come to like and understand – or even just to appreciate – the characters they are watching as real people, if some artistic link has been formed there, blood can fly everywhere and the audience cannot remain unimpressed.” (Danse, 189).
And we are impressed to an extent in watching the havoc that King has created in this North Carolina town. That gag reflex does work on us on occasion. We are drawn into certain situations. The drawback of the gross-out being so dominant is that it’s the only level on which this film worked and it’s the bottom level. The reason it doesn’t climb higher is because “the gross-out serves as the means of last-ditch sort of identification when more conventional and noble means of characterization have failed.” (King, Danse, 190).
One thing that may have been a challenge to King is that this was his first produced first full-length narrative screenplay. His first two screenplays were Creepshow and Cat’s Eye. The former is an homage to EC Comics, it tells five tales and is masterfully put together by George Romero. Cat’s Eye, which isn’t as good, but it is in the same anthology format. Stephen King had written many screenplays that weren’t used prior to directing his own film. Scripts for The Shining, Poltergeist, The Dead Zone, Children of the Corn and Cujo all weren’t used for various reasons. And he had previously given an idea to the Dino de Laurentiis Company for something called Training Exercises, which was never produced. This is likely what prompted King to finally direct but just because he was finally directing didn’t mean producers wouldn’t interfere.