It's the bestestest season of the year -- H to the Ween! It always gets me excited, especially since this year, Toronto's TIFF Bell Light Box is celebrating with a look at the films of George A. Romero, whose chronicles of zombie misadventures were often disregarded by critics as exploitation “slasher films” upon release. The presentation of his work at the fancy new TIFF museum is testament to how critical opinion has shifted to reflect what many of Romero's fans knew all long.
It kinda goes back to the whole restructuring of the major film studios in the late sixties when soft drink companies and other marketing interests bailed out bankrupt Hollywood lots. These new corporate studios were run like any corporation with a product to sell; they conducted research on their target demographics and economics, all to understand what kind of films they ought to be pumping out to turn the quickest profit.
Understanding this, along with growing, social justice movement, there was a rising interest in art, music and movies produced by young people for younger audiences. Simultaneously, a shift was occurring with the invention of a new genre, the exploitation film, a branch of film-making that represents, according to University of South Carolina Professor of English, Tania Modleski, the birth of a post-modern conscious in the cinema.
In her article The Terror of Pleasure, Modleski illuminates the divergent trend between the Frankfurt School of thought regarding “high art” and postmodernism in popular culture. Commenting on the contemporary mass consumer culture, Modleski offers examples of the bread and butter of exploitation cinema, the “slasher” horror genre that are allegorical to the audiences’ roles and relationships with the consumer culture and spectator. On consumerism, she cites Romero’s zombie stomp, Dawn of the Dead (1978) and the shopping mall-storming undead as “depicting the worst fears of the culture critics who have long envisioned the will-less, soul-less masses as zombie-like beings possessed by the alienating imperative to consume.” The bourgeois beware.
However, whether you have an appetite for brai-- I mean, horror films featuring legions of the undead lurching ever closer to your hiding spot, or like me, you're more inclined toward werewolf-ism, it's another in a list of long-awaiting nods of vindication from the “establishment.” Although most of us in the audience picked up on Romero's threads of social commentary from the get-go, you can't help but feel good about seeing wall to wall gore in one of North Americas most popular new palaces of cinema...