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Horror Masters Spill Their Guts at SXSW

Discussing the state of the horror genre

By M. Graupmann
|  Tuesday, Mar 16, 2010  |  Updated 2:38 PM CDT
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Every two months, a rotating cast of the top directors in horror films meet for dinner to discuss the changing face of Hollywood and what it means for their genre. It was Guillermo del Toro, director of “Pan’s Labyrinth,” that coined the term The Masters of Horror to describe this group and their influence.

Guillermo del Toro was not in attendance at SXSW this year. But Saturday’s “Directing the Dead: Genre Directors Spill their Guts” panel boasted some of the most notable directors of the horror genre today.

Comprising the panel were Ti West (“House of the Devil”), Neil Marshall (“The Descent”), Matt Reeves (“Cloverfield”), Ruben Fleischer (“Zombieland”), Robert Rodriguez (“From Dusk Till Dawn”) and emcee Scott Weinberg from Fearnet.com . Oscar nominee Quentin Tarantino was scheduled on the program but unable to make it to the panel.

With such a prolific showing of creative talent, the discussion flowed like…well, like fake blood in each one of their movies.

Weinberg’s first question invited the panelists to discuss their experiences with appeasing the MPAA ratings board so their movies could be seen by more and younger audiences.

Rodriquez revealed that when filming “Planet Terror,” he intentionally “made several shots more bloody than intended for the final cut,” knowing that the MPAA would require him to scale it back. He also decreased the color saturation of the fake blood in the screening film sent to the reviewers so they would not notice how much blood was really being shown to audiences.

Fleischer revealed the difference between a “hard” and “soft” R-rating. His conundrum with “Zombieland” was that his zombies can only be defeated through trauma to the head. Therefore, he accepted his R rating but worked to keep it on the “softer” end of the R-rating spectrum.

Each of the directors expressed concern that early screening audiences regularly ask them for more nudity and violence in their movies, but none ever feel motivated by this common request.

Another hot trend in horror films today is recreating horror movie classics for new audiences. Each of the directors agreed that remakes can be done correctly, but rarely are given the time and care that make them as good as the original. Most stated they would much rather develop their own stories than re-shoot someone else’s idea.

One exception caused quite a stir in the audience. Reeves revealed that his latest project is adapting the Swedish vampire film “Let the Right One In” for an American audience. Said Reeves, “We are telling a different interpretation of the same basic story. But it can also be successful because of the respect and commitment we are showing to the original source material.”

3-D technology like that used in last year’s “My Bloody Valentine” and James Cameron’s “Avatar” will continue to shake up the horror genre in the years to come. Rodriguez used 3-D in his 2003 movie “Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over” and intends to use it to fuller effect in the future.

Similarly, none of the directors wish to see traditional horror movie makeup go away, but they know a good combination of CGI and “practical” makeup effects are the only way to stay relevant in the movie business. Marshall stated, “We are merely enhancing reality, not replacing it entirely.”

It is undeniable that serial killers, giant monsters and screaming ingénues will continue to appear on film screens for years to come. According to Reeves, “Horror films—when done correctly—have the power to comment upon the fears and hopes of our society better than most other genres.”

Luckily, the new Masters of Horror are committed to overseeing them to guarantee they are done correctly.

M. Graupmann writes for KXAN.com in Austin.

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