From “Get Out” and “A Quiet Place” to the “The Walking Dead,” the horror genre has as strong a hold on pop culture as ever. With the latest installment of its “Visionaries” documentary series, AMC and director Eli Roth will be taking a look at how we got here with the upcoming “History of Horror.”
After the gross-out terrors of “Cabin Fever” and the torture scares of “Hostel,” Roth’s credentials as a creator in the genre are beyond question. But in the interview subjects that appear in the series — including Jordan Peele, Rob Zombie, Edgar Wright, Diablo Cody, Norman Reedus and Stephen King — and his role in the show’s panel presentation at TCA on Saturday, Roth is also a devout fan and student of the genre.
“Luckily my wish list came true,” Roth said of the voices he called up on the seven-episode series, followed by a gesture to his fellow panelists: “Nightmare on Elm Street’s” Robert Englund, Catherine Hardwicke (director of “Twilight”) and Alex Winter (of “The Lost Boys,” and the less horror-tilted “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”).
In describing a series that looks to where horror as been as well as the impact it’s had, one of the more fascinating aspects of the panel discussed how the social climate shapes the genre.
Winter nodded to Hardwicke when he described his anticipation of new horror films that offer “a break from the usual patriarchal experience,” while Englund described conversations with “Nightmare” director Wes Craven that referenced divorce, alcoholism and drug abuse in Freddy Krueger’s victims that reflected a loss of innocence in the ’80s.
Roth spoke about the impact of the 2008 mortgage crisis on the blockbuster popularity of “The Walking Dead,” which reflected fears of displacement and a hostile world in its debut two years later.
“I do feel like maybe in two or three years there’s going to be some show that will reflect the political divide in this country,” Roth said. “It’s not going to be specifically about that, but a couple of years after it starts we’ll go ‘oh that’s why we were all so into that.’”
The panel also touched on the divided opinions that come with horror, in particular with what what one question from the audience of journalists described as a more “Sundance” branch of the genre, with recent films like “The Witch” and “It Follows,” and the divide between critical and audience reaction.
Roth described himself as a fan of both, and said it was a situation of fans “expecting pizza and getting steak.” He cited the six Razzie nominations earned by Kubrick’s “The Shining,” and excitedly remembered asking King in “History of Horror” about Kubrick’s adaptation, which the horror novelist has long dismissed. “It’s like a beautiful Cadillac with no engine,” Roth remembered King saying. But that difference of opinion comes with the territory.
“Horror fans, the only thing they love more than horror movies is fighting about horror movies,” Roth said. “We’re still arguing about the ending of ‘The Thing’ 30 years later.”
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