How do other countries see the homegrown horrors we create on celluloid? When “A Nightmare on Elm Street” debuted in Japan, did horror fans on the other side of the world get to see the art of painter Matthew Joseph Peak? Or when Tobe Hooper’s “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” finally made its way through the tangle of draconian censorship laws in the U.K., were audiences greeted with the original, jarring image of Leatherface going to work on one of his victims–or something stranger?
Throughout the month of October, we’ll be looking at the iconic cover art and posters for some of our favorite horror films–as they were seen around the world.
When preparing for this project, I realized that Germany is a country whose horror output represents a pretty large blind spot in my film literacy. And that’s largely, I feel, because horror films haven’t really been a big domestic product for Germans.
Don’t get me wrong: masterpieces like Murnau’s “Nosferatu” (1922) and “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (1920) were – and remain – hugely influential, but conditions in post-war Germany weren’t exactly hospitable to a thriving horror market on either side of the wall.
The Eastern half of the country had to contend with fairly strict Communist censorship laws which didn’t have room for such proletarian concerns as spooks, ghouls, and goblins. The West, meanwhile, instituted fairly restrictive policies aimed at protecting the youth (thereby limiting who could see what authorities deemed potentially harmful media).
The net result is that horror in Germany didn’t have the kind of wide audience-friendly boom we experienced here in the U.S., simply because no audience was allowed to form around the genre. As a result, horror films — and the accompanying art — skewed much older for those precious few entries in the genre.
Did I say older? I also meant “older and more extreme” with films like 1987’s gross-out flick “Nekromantik” more or less forming the far side of German horror, with Kinski’s “Nosferatu” remake representing the other side. There are plenty of interesting German horror filmmakers – they just don’t make their movies in Germany.
The occasional piece of artful sleaze (I mean that in a good way) like 1970’s “Mark of the Devil” (“Hexen”) might make its way through, but thrillers seem to predominate over straight-up monsters and supernatural horror.
Enjoy the posters but think about how fascinating it is that an entire art form — the horror movie — was choked out of existence not because of a lack of an audience, but because external forces created a condition where the audience wasn’t allowed to exist.