April Fool's Day
APRIL FOOL'S DAY. 1986
Director: Fred Walton

THEY WATCH. 1994
Director: John Korty

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl



A lot of horror cinema, being tacky stuff, tends to be meanspirited, sexist, pointless, mindless, ignorant mayhem -- woohoo! where do I buy tickets! -- & sometimes we're even invited to accept a psychopath (like Freddie or Leprechaun) as the series "hero" who we hope to see in sequels but as for the rest the cast, fuck 'em, who cares if anyone survives one film let alone return for another.

Let's face it's just fundamentally a heartless genre & the injection of humanity & decency in a horror film is not as spiffy as another "gag" wherein a disposable character gets both his arms ripped off & beaten to death with his own arms or some girl gets poached then soaked in her own blood.

But every now & then there's a tacky horror film that for all its sleezy cheapazoid grotesquery seems to have a heart. One such film would be April Fool's Day. Thematically it's as old as they come: Teenagers in old mansion are picked off one by one. But that ending (which I won't describe & spoil it) was surprisingly well-meaning.


I was trying to think of two or three other horror films with heart in addition to April Fool's Day. At first only a couple kiddy-horror films aimed at ages under twelve with child stars came to mind, followed by silliness-factor films like those about the Toxic Avenger. But the longer I thought about it, the more it seemed there really was a subcategory of more-or-less "humane" horror films out there though.

There's almost always sympathy for the monster in those old Universal type horror films. The early classic Nosferatu (1922) & Werner Herzog's 1990 close remake thereof is about a monster defeated by love. The original Mummy (1932) pursued a lost love across time. Willis O'Brien's King Kong (1933) was the biggest softy who ever stomped on pedestrians. The fate of Lon Chaney Jr as the Wolf Man (1941) tugs at the heartstrings much more than at our bloodlust. In The Creature Walks Among Us (1956) the Creature from the Black Lagoon gets his gills burned off & can no longer survive in the water; that scene where he's standing among sheep longing to return to the sea is just so sad.

That attitude of sympathy for monsters was carried into the 1960s with television's original The Outer Limits that only rarely had a truly monstrous monster; several of those strange beings had more humanity than the humans. And the sympathy-for-monsters also had a decadent survival in Japanese rubber-suit movies, with figures like Mothra or Godzilla becoming essentially monster-sized superheros.


They WatchIt's mainly modern horror that has made horror a tacky joke or an extavaganza of exploding heads for exploding heads sake. But the occasional exceptions can be even as great as Donnie Darko a creepy little modern classic with a heartwrenching conclusion. Dark Angel: The Ascent also has good-heartedness in it despite that the angel pulls out a rapist's spine & tries to give it to a rape victim as a trophy. The Ginger Snaps trilogy is bloody & extreme without losing its sense of sadness & humanity.

A lot of humanity is found in the area of ghost stories, from Portrait of Jenny (1948) to Ghost (1990), but such as these are supernatural love stories, not horror. Others which do have elements of horror are not blood-soaked horror, so of course films about ghosts would be more prone to humane expressions.

A spooky ghost story They Watch (1994) was based too loosely on Rudyard Kipling's wonderful novelette "They." The film's in great part about how sad it is to have one's child die. The first half hour is way too boring, showing a dysfunctional family (none of it from Kipling) & completely unrelated to the rest of the film which is pretty good.

The creepy owl-girl made They Watch excellent "quiet horror," & the presence of Venessa Redgrave as the woman who oversees the house of ghostly children, raises the calibre of the movie above the norm.

But even with a demonic presence that troubles the childrens' ghosts, it remains a bloodless film about the living grieving for the dead. It wants you to dampen your hanky more than your shorts. It is not apt to be sat through by the hardcore buckets-of-blood fans. But to see something of that same humanity in something that's bloody & gross just struck me as interesting & quite naturally rare, all thoujghts triggered by a viewing of April Fool's Day.
copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl



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