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TUSK: The Weekend That Horror Fans Turned Their Backs on Original Horror

Kevin Smith's TuskIf you ask any given horror fan what they dislike most about the genre, the answer you’re likely going to hear back is in regards to the inherent lack of originality that has in many ways come to define the landscape of modern horror cinema.

Remakes, sequels and rehashed ideas are pretty much the only things that we see up on the big screen in this day and age, and horror fans are pissed off about it. Horror fans, more than anything else, want originality, and they’re not going to be happy until they get it.

At least, that’s what they claim to want. Because on a day like today, I can’t help but feel that horror fans are confused about what it is they really want.

This past weekend saw the theatrical release of Kevin Smith’s Tusk, a boldly original slice of cinema that opened in 602 theaters across the country. A film that shattered horror movie conventions and blazed its own whacky path of mayhem, Tusk pulled in an estimated $846,000 over the weekend, essentially making it a bomb of epic proportions.

In addition to the poor box office results, Tusk was also poorly received by the few who paid to see it, as both critics and fans alike trashed Kevin Smith and found little merit in his latest directorial outing. That Tusk was the most brazenly original horror film of the year mattered little to the horror fans who took to social media to crucify it… and therein lies the problem.

As I mentioned in my review here on HL, Tusk was essentially Kevin Smith’s ‘fuck you’ to Hollywood and the studio system, as the lifeless corporate machine had sucked the fun and independent spirit out of his soul, in recent years. His crazy ‘man-turns-man-into-walrus’ flick was a direct response to that, and goddamn was it refreshing to see an established filmmaker throw the rule book out the window and just have fun.

Unlike 99.9% percent of theatrically released horror films in the past several years, Tusk was an original vision that could’ve only been made by one person on this planet, to the point that it’s a minor miracle that the film was even unleashed upon mass audiences. I felt the same way about Rob Zombie’s Lords of Salem last year, which was very much cut from that same cloth of independent originality.

Lords of Salem

Like Tusk, Lords of Salem before it performed poorly at the box office and was lambasted by critics and horror fans alike. Rather than celebrating the originality that they’re always begging for, fans angrily trashed Sheri Moon’s performance and criticized Zombie for taking the chances he took, overlooking the fact that they had finally been handed the original slice of horror they had been craving.

And then you have those who just plain didn’t bother to see Lords of Salem. Just over $600,000 was made opening weekend, in 354 theaters, which says to me that many horror fans didn’t even buy a ticket to 2013’s most original theatrically released horror film – nor did they buy one for 2014’s, this past weekend.

Why is there such a lack of originality in the horror genre? Well, for starters, it’s because those who pay to see horror movies are a whole hell of a lot more likely to support unoriginal horror than they are original horror. And yes, that includes us diehard fans, who constantly take our chances to support, applaud and celebrate original horror and instead ignore, criticize and hate on it.

We’re not all guilty of this, mind you, but the community backlash towards films like Lords of Salem and Tusk, coupled with their box office failures, says to me that horror fans don’t quite want what they think they want. And that same message is sent to the studios, who respond with unoriginal dreck that’s almost guaranteed to pull in a ton of money – because we will all support it, no matter how much we claim to be sick of it.

Now it may come off like I’m suggesting that anyone who didn’t like the aforementioned films is a bad horror fan, or in some way has misguided opinions. This is not at all what I’m suggesting. Both Lords of Salem and Tusk are highly unusual to the point that I totally get why anyone wouldn’t care for them. They’re admittedly hard to digest, especially when we’re so used to movies that follow a certain set of rules.

The issue here is not that most didn’t like those movies, it’s that most failed to celebrate the one quality they share; their genre-defying originality.

Whether you liked Tusk or not, you, as a horror fan, should’ve taken to social media and your blog this past weekend not to criticize it and hate on the celebrity whose cameo dragged down the latter half, but rather to celebrate what Kevin Smith did and encourage others to get out there, buy a ticket and do the same.

You don’t have to like it, but to not applaud originality and creativity goes against everything we claim to stand for, here in the horror community. And if we continue to blow these chances to support original horror and show the studios that we want it, then all of our message board rants about the genre’s unoriginality mean absolutely nothing.

From where I stand, we’re sending mixed signals, claiming we want one thing and then continually proving that we actually want something else. If I was in charge of a major studio, the last thing I’d do in the wake of fan reaction to recent original horror films is give other filmmakers money to make original horror movies. I’d much sooner use that money to fund the next remake, and that’s precisely the logic that’s surely being exercised right at this very moment in time.

Not because the studios don’t know what we want. But because WE don’t know what we want. Don’t blame them. Blame the community.

When remakes and unoriginal movies come out, horror fans bitch and moan. When truly original shit comes out, fans trash it and fail to support it. So take a good hard look in the mirror and ask yourself; what do you really want?

Furthermore, when you’re sitting in your local theater watching films like Annabelle, Jessabelle and Ouija later this year, try and remember that Tusk represented the antidote – an antidote that we all carelessly flushed down the proverbial toilet, as we always seem to do.

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If you don't get enough of me here on Halloween Love, you can also find me on Dread Central, iHorror and Shock Till You Drop. Contact me via john@halloweenlove.com.
  • Levi Everaerts

    Nailed it.

  • Whitey Mack

    I agree with most of what you said. To me there are two types of horror fans. The ones who DO love originality (OG horror fans) and the ones that keep paying to see movies like Paranormal Activity. (Neo horror fans) I for one am just as big, if not more of a horror fan than most people and I WILL NOT contribute to box office grosses for found footage movies, remakes (Except Rob Zombie’s Halloween films) and sequels to movies that sucked when there was only one. I absolutely LOVE Rob Zombie and Eli Roth films. ALL OF THEM!!! Lords Of Salem and Hostel were cool as fuck! I can not wait for 31 and Green inferno. I have not, however, seen Kevin Smith’s current opus, “Tusk” yet. I am not a Kevin Smith fan, but if Tusk is as original and fun as I hear, I actually feel bad that I did not contribute to the opening weekend gross for it.

  • Kristin@Blood, Sweat and Books

    Well said.

  • JOBLU

    You are overlooking the fact that TUSK sucked hard. It’s a fucking disaster of a film – the premise is great, but the execution is god-awful!
    Sure Michael Parks does some truly great monologuing in the first act, but all of that is ruined by the shit that follows. The walrus reveal is a joke – the makeup is straight out of a TROMA movie, overlit and shot too wide to boot. Johnny Depp shows up in the third act as one of Mike Myer’s rejected characters from Austin Powers who can’t decide if he’s Jewish/Yiddish/French Canadian. There is a B story about Wallace’s girlfriend and her mystery lover (the real mystery is how Smith overlooked the unintentional comedy of a fat hairy hand coming into the crying CU of the girlfriend’s face). AND FINALLY, after building up to a cheap ripoff of THE FLY’s ending, Smith pulls his punches and gives us a very dumb epilogue that features a big reveal…. a reveal of the VERY SAME walrus makeup we saw in the middle of the movie, unchanged, undeveloped, unhealed.
    This movie is a FUCK YOU from Kevin Smith, no question, but the FUCK YOU is directed squarely at his own fans and anybody dumb enough to watch this dreck.
    Smith is the real monster here. I want original horror movies, not shitty ones.

  • Frank Browning

    Though I’ve not seen Tusk yet, I have seen ‘Lords’ and absolutely loved it.

    People are so picky and hateful and have no idea how to enjoy a film.

    I always say, either enjoy it because its good or make fun of it because its bad (whereby you are still having a good time).

    Respect.

  • ThreeOranges

    Many horror fans don’t want new, original horror. They want more old, great horror that they haven’t seen. They want to react to something the way they did when they first saw, to use Roth’s example, Evil Dead.

    But horror is like heroin. You’re not going to feel that way again. Sorry, junkie.

  • Jerry Bradshaw

    A lot of it is also how many theatres carry the films. There are currently two in a 75 mile radius in my area that are showing TUSK. I’m excited to see it! Lords was the same story. These kinds of films tend to not be added to the list by some of the mainstream cinema franchises.

  • Nick

    Tusk and Lords are both great films, but they intentionally go 110% balls to the wall bizarre, which alienates a lot of audiences. In the early 2000’s, Cabin Fever and Hostel were independent and original horror films that also had themes that could draw a wider audience, hence their success. I think what horror fans want is a sort of gray area that isn’t TOO bizarre, but also not too routine. I personally loved Tusk, but I’m not sure that every horror fan has been waiting for a movie about a man turning into a walrus, so I do understand the backlash on the film itself. However, the concept of films as bold and unique as Tusk and Lords playing under the same roof as major blockbusters is something every horror fan should appreciate. If we don’t support it, who will?

  • R J D Argonaught

    sucking hard is good , no ? ? ?

  • R J D Argonaught

    Look the bottom line is Kevin Smith hasnt made a good film in many many years and everyone who thoguht this one was going to be great was wishful thinking. too much easy money and too much ppl kissing his ass. he lost the eye of the tiger.

  • John Squires

    Amen. It’s mostly a nostalgia-driven fandom, which has its downsides.

  • John Squires

    Big fan of Zack & Miri and I thought Red State was exceptional. Did you see Red State?

  • John Squires

    Exactly. And that’s precisely my point. Love or absolutely hate movies like those, you simply have to respect and appreciate them.

  • Frightoverse

    Tusk had Kevin Smith all over it, his scent was steaming from the film. And it was great. The elements Joblu mentioned, particularly Johnny Depp’s role, may be fair assessments, but this was a story developed from a blog, so I had no expectations. Which made the culmination of ideas, which he uses by bouncing around a fluid timeline, all the more rich. Would I have loved to see a grey walrus with little scars at the end, sure. But the theme that was catapulted into the seats made me quite content. Another Smith film where he talks about his social life and friends via mundane living, but with potent commentary on humanity.

  • Mister D

    Didn’t this happen with Drag Me to Hell and Cabin in the Woods as well? Of course, this was part of the point of CitW – the fans slavish desire for films to stick with formula, and lash out when they don’t get what they want. That said, films like The Purge, Mama, Human Centipede, Insidious, and Paranormal Activity were successful original films. Sometimes its a matter of timing or advertising, but in the end I think the horror audience is smaller than we want to believe. If a film doesn’t have some crossover appeal, it isn’t going to do well.

  • Mister D

    I went in knowing what to expect, and I enjoyed it. But this isn’t really a horror film. It’s a comedy, albiet one with a dark streak.

  • R J D Argonaught

    i can only compare he early stuff to his recent stuff. i thought he was really going to do something great after his first three films.

  • sb72

    How dare you try to shame people. I personally know over a hundred people who were ready on opening night, but Canada got shunned. I am very confident theatres here (especially in Western Canada) would embrace the fuck out of it, if we were given the opportunity. So fuck you and your shaming people. I turn the shame back on you.

  • John Squires

    Oh. That was an intelligent response. Thanks for reading, sb72.

  • Dan Holmes

    I loved Tusk. In a era of remakes and reboots, i thought it was refreshing and original. I loved the way that horror and comedy were combined in this movie. John Carpenter’s Halloween became popular as a result of word of mouth and hopefully people will give Tusk the same respect. I found out about Tusk, when I stopped at a gas station and the guy, who was at the cash register was the guy, who works part time at Barnes and Noble in the movie department. He said that Tusk was part David Lynch and part David Croenberg. I don’t think the movie is part Lynch and Cronenberg, but an original piece of work. Hope you all will check it out and spread the word.

  • William Coffey

    What’s wrong with over lighting something? Look at how affective a film like “Hellraiser” was for fully revealing the Cenobites rather than just hinting at them? I’m not trying to compare Kevin Smith to Clive Barker, but it does work. Here, I thought it worked. I laughed, I was repulsed, it was everything I expected from “Kevin Smith making a ludicrous horror comedy on a ton of drugs” to be.

  • William Coffey

    It’s opening in Canada next week.

  • RedRinger

    I really wanted to go see this last weekend and still want to see it. The only reason I didn’t is because the closest location is over 3 hours away from me. I love Kevin Smith, and I think John Squires and Eli Roth in his clip are spot on.

  • joeybot

    There IS that, but let’s face it, there’s not a lot of great horror being made either. Where’s the equivalent to Evil Dead? It’s mostly garbage made by hacks…like Tusk!

  • Mike C

    It’s per-screen is decent for an extremely weird horror movie directed by and starring comedy actors with almost no real advertising. 800 theaters means people in the middle of the country were going to have to drive hours to see it. Would you drive hours to see this movie? It’ll do fine on VOD.

  • John Squires

    Again, my main issue is not the box office. I didn’t expect it to make much more than it did. The issue is horror fans trashing original horror, when they claim to want original horror. You don’t have to like a movie like Tusk, but at least appreciate it. That’s all I’m saying.

  • joeybot

    I think the funniest aspect of this article is saying that rejecting a Kevin Smith movie is rejecting horror. Isn’t that just good sense at this point?

    Oh, and is this THAT original since the premise sounds the same as Human Centipede? Smith came up with the idea while the was screwing around on the radio, why does this seem like a movie worth paying for? Plus, was it even marketed, who knew this was out except Smith’s podcast fans?

  • John Squires

    Though the idea can be compared to Human Centipede, Tusk is incredibly original and very much its own movie. And yes. Rejecting any original horror movie, no matter who made it, is rejecting original horror as a whole. I fail to see what’s funny about that.

  • joeybot

    That’s stupid. Rejecting the dumbest sounding movie by one of the worst working directors is rejecting all original horror? Get some standards.

  • John Squires

    Sigh. You’re totally missing the point. We need to celebrate original horror, as horror fans. Can we at least agree on that statement? Or is that stupid too?

  • joeybot

    That’s a fine statement. But stop being a drama queen, I think you’re the one missing the point. Which is that people take movies individually, why do they have to see every garbage horror movie or they’re turning their back on horror? Did you cry when no one went to see Hold Your Breath when it was in theatres? Why would anyone pay real folding money to see an Asylum movie? Do those fans hate original horror too?

  • I get the economic incentives to make all these remakes. The fanbase is already built into the name, so it’s easy to market and it’s something familiar to many who might not be die-hard horror fans. These movies are typically cheap to make so more profit! But it’s true, there needs to be more chances taken with horror films. Everyone is afraid of taking those giant leaps of faith though. Glad Kevin Smith did though, regardless of how it did it’s refreshing to see people execute unique concepts to give us something different.

    And no good filmmaker wastes their time to create something just to say “fuck you” to an institution. That’s too much time, emotion and energy for such a superficial pursuit.

  • Smegtasticus

    It wouldn’t have hurt if most of the comedy hadn’t fallen completely flat. Johnny Depp as a Quebecois Inspector Clouseau meets Dr. Sam Loomis was one of the most excruciatingly unfunny things I have ever sat through. This movie stunk…