The concept of Meta-Horror as a genre is something that has only really come into its own in the past few years. Films of the 80’s and 90’s although being “self aware” never really subscribed to the whole “break the 4th wall and have the horror universe as a real thing”.
Notable exceptions include Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, a bastard offspring of the Nightmare on Elm Street series, and Seed of Chucky. Both of which took the concept of the previous films in their canon and acknowledged they were films, but placed the latest in reality of a new film production. Quite simply Meta-Horror is something that’s painfully hard to explain so if nothing else why not see this top 5 as an explanation and a praising of the fledgling genre. It’s worth noting however that there is a difference between Meta-Horror and a parody, Scary Movie whilst having many references to the genre is not really in the spirit of the genre. And to pre-empt comments I will say now SPOILER ALERT for some of the following film descriptions.
Human Centipede II (Full Sequence)
How do you follow a film which is to some people the most disgusting and depraved things ever projected? Well writer/director took it to the logical next step of making it more disgusting. The Human Centipede series is well known at this stage, between general viral marketing and word and mouth to an excellent episode of South Park parodying it. For the few of you that are unaware of the original it follows Dr. Heiter and his aim to sew together 3 people from one person’s chocolate button to the next person’s open mouth.
The follow up is a fascinating affair. It follows Martin, played by a man who’s short acting career has either hit a high or a low, I’m not sure which. Martin is a loner who lives with his mum and is “a bit off”, like in the same way that a lot of people who take public transport are “a bit off”, simply put, you don’t want to sit next to him on a bus, in a park or at the doctors. Martin’s obsessed with the first film The Human Centipede (First Sequence) and as any sane person would want to do, he has the urge to recreate it, but with 12 people instead of 3.
Overall the film is filled with things that you wouldn’t want your mum or your worst enemy walking in on. But the concept itself intrigues me, the idea that the sequel is “real” because the first film is fictional. Although it isn’t as “meta” as some of the other films on this list it does do what it set out to do and bring some almost perceived realism after a fantastical series opener. I say realism but any scenes involving barb-wire or sandpaper may be stretching that term.
My Name is Bruce
The peppered hair star of such classics as Maniac Cop, Assualt on Dome 4 and Alien Apocalypse hasn’t always had the best career (as those titles might suggest). Amongst a certain crowd, such as myself, he is the “King of the B-Movie”, a living legend that has done the occasional mainstream piece but generally has kept under the radar since his bursting onto the scene in the Evil Dead Trilogy.
My Name Is Bruce follows the story of Bruce Campbell, playing himself, stuck in a rut of alcohol, bad acting gigs and a lack of money. All in all his life isn’t going great, until he’s requested by a small town to take care of their monster problem. At first Bruce thinks this is just a general meet and greet event until he quickly realises that a Chinese god is living in a local mine shaft.
The plot plays out as you expect after the reveal, the reason this makes the list is that it turns the concept of both a psuedo-biopic and a horror on their side. Having Bruce Campbell, someone who “acts” the hero and action god actually (in the context of the film) take on a real monster is an interesting one. Having anyone but Bruce, or even a fictional actor just wouldn’t have worked the same, and to be honest would have led this film to be a horror remake of The Three Amigos!
Tucker and Dale Vs Evil
Wrong Turn, The Hills Have Eyes and Texas Chainsaw Massacre; what have these films taught generations of horror fans? That hill billies in their various forms are insane and always on the lookout for some young flesh to pull away from the bone like a perfectly cooked red-neck chicken.
Tucker and Dale Vs Evil takes this concept and proposes that the bad guys are actually the sexed up drunk college kids. This is the beauty of the film and the Meta-Horror genre, it takes tropes and staples of horror films and turns the perspective around to produce films that are original in their writing and presentation.
Tucker and Dale are hapless loveable hicks who on the outside appear to be creepy freaks but in reality are tongue tied lonely guys that witness a group of kids kill themselves in all sorts of different accidents. For example one scene features a teenager fall head first into a wood chipper, but as one of the redneck protagonists start pulling out the mince meat minor the other kids look on witnessing what they believe is to be a brutal murder. Though this film is the same joke over and over, it puts forward in such a way that you can’t help but love the main characters and feel bad for their ignorance and situation.
Cabin In The Woods
I was one of many people that when they saw the trailer to Cabin In The Woods they thought that it gave away the entire plot of the film; this is not the case. After watching the film I was amazed that a concept as simple and as complicated as this hadn’t been done before at this level. Unlike the other entries I am going to avoid all forms of spoilers here as this is a film people need to watch fresh and untainted by my hatchet job of a summary.
However, this film is quite clearly as product of love and obsession with the horror genre. The whole film is based around the various pitfalls and tropes of the many teen horror movies there are in the world. The concept is turned on it’s head and within the first 15 minutes you are let in on the secret that will change how you view many horror films after.
The reason I see this as a Meta-Horror is not just because of the self referential nature of the script but also the myriad of horror homages that come throughout the film, there’s scary Japanese little girls and a brilliant nod to the Hellraiser series. All in all the film takes a love for the genre and like a good conspiracy makes you question all you have seen before and after.
Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
Behind the Mask is a relatively unknown film and this is a crying shame. The film starts as a documentary following a man who is inspired by the likes of Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. The college film crew interviews and observes the creation of the back story and abilities of soon to be unleashed on the world, the killer, Leslie Vernon.
From the scary door slam to “corner of your eye” disappearing trick this film breaks down how each act is performed and is essentially a how to guide for people wanting to kill off a load of sexy students. Even down to the art of picking your party of friends to torment is explained; you need your virgin girl who has the opportunity to become the hero, you need your jocks to put up a fight and you need the stoners as easy canon fodder to get the party started.
The reason this film is a must watch is down to the presentation and the world. This is a world where Elm Street and Crystal Lakes exist and goes someway to explaining how these “monsters” do it, physically not mentally, but it also explains the psychology of these horror films themselves. From the phallic weapon the heroine chooses to the running down a corridor is a symbol of rebirth. Admittedly it sometimes comes across like a film graduate over explaining everything to you but it’s still fun. The twist where it all becomes too real near the end makes for a fascinating watch. This film is so inward looking it feels like you are having a blindfold pulled away for all future horror films you watch, but it has dared to turn the Mockumentary into something watchable and educational.