Horror, for all its rebellious intentions and rock and roll attitude has a habit of being a slave to convention. Even as a fan I can admit to the genre being held back from its potential by the shackles of formula. Horror, for as much as we love it, tends to largely stick to the blueprint, of which, at least there are several:
- Pretty kids winding up exactly where they shouldn’t be.
“So, all I’m saying, Cindy, is that hey, yeah, this place definitely appears to be built on top of an Indian burial ground on the remains of that Satanic Church that burnt down with all of those evil psychic kids inside, but that doesn’t mean we should stop making out.”
Yeah, kids go in a haunted house, sign up for summer camp, try to play a prank in a graveyard… we get it. We really do. Teenagers sell and they definitely sell on the weekends during slumber parties when Brad may or may not stop by after your parents are asleep. It’s easy money for those VOD indies.
- A supernatural something wants to destroy the world.
“Our chances are slim. We have to recite the passages from the book at exactly midnight. I’m just a Marines trained Navy Seal with an Army Ranger background and a shady past with a black budget operation that took the life of my partner that I still blame myself for, but I’ll give it a shot.”
Let’s face it. Hollywood rarely gambles on the unfamiliar so if they do drop a dime or two into the red-headed stepchild of cinema you betcha they are gonna pepper it with the ABC’s of how to make an action movie to narrow that gap for the audience.
- I know what you did and now good luck getting your hand outta that Pringles can.
“What did I ever do to you? Did I sleep with your wife? Did I poison your puppy? Wait, it couldn’t have been you that I embezzled all that charity money from, right? Right?”
Who doesn’t like to see some despicable people get their comeuppance? I know I do! The fine line between horror and thriller has more recently become the fine line between horror and torture porn.
- Dude, your garage sale is haunted AF!
“I’m on my way over. I just haveta hide this ouija board my wife told me not to buy. There we go, fits snugly in that demon box I got offa ebay.”
Evil spirts are ASSHOLES. Forget about buying a new house, a doll for your little girl or even a new car. Seriously, it’s not worth it.
These scenarios, just to name a few of the worst offenders, paint different canvases with different hues, but most are still using the same palette.
Swamp Thing, introduced in House of Secrets #92, has had many incarnations from film to cartoons and animated movies. The origins and the tone of the original comic, laid out expertly by the team of Lein Wein and Berni Wrightson, painted a surreal horrific landscape of a man at odds with his own body and a seemingly unholy resurrection at the hands of science. This body horror was just the beginning as the entire swamp and the geography surrounding it teemed with oddities, once-men, now disjointed, patched together with alien gristle and sinew, shambling in the fog of a painful afterlife in the stagnant waters of the bayou.
There was no clash for control of the world, no group of teens in the wrong place at the wrong time, there was horror, and it was oozing out from every moss covered rock and crag and branch and vine. What Swamp Thing represented was a monster unlike any other; one that had retained its intelligence and in many ways more humanity that its antagonists. It was daring horror world-building on a scale that was limitless in its possibilities.
Now, I get what what Blumhouse and others are doing. I understand that dipping their toes in the waters of that “world-of-horror” model makes sense. What we HAAVE seen successfully is what a full plunge can do should you respect the source material (yeah, I’m looking at you Mummy, tisk tisk) aka the MCU. Swamp Thing could represent an opportunity not only for horror, but for the DC Universe, which has admitted tripped when trying to emulate the Marvel model. A universe that doesn’t have to rely on a handful of haunted objects, a date on the calendar or a house with a sinister past is one without boundaries and one that can expand within its own mythology.
This is the kind of trust that the genre has lacked in itself. To be able to look forward and build characters, locations and events that are sustainable through forging a new narrative geography is essential to the future of a new horror that relies less on jump scares and more on atmosphere and investment.
Swamp Thing premieres on DC’s streaming service May 31st and currently holds a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes.