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Ebert, AFI, and the Dead Teenager Movie


Let me begin by saying that there's a certain irony in the story I'm about to tell. I've spent the last week and a half in defense of the so-called "Dead Teenager Movie". When I started Classic-Horror, eight years back when I was younger and dumber, it was meant as a shining spire of enlightment, broadcasting a message of excellent horror in what I perceived to be a wasteland of Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees fansites. My notion of horror on the Internet has changed significantly since then, as has my appreciation of the slasher genre. Still, the roots of a site will always inform its direction in some way, and we have always been dedicated to the promotion of "classic horror" over "modern horror" (although the distinction has less to do with quality than it does with time -- the split between the eras, as I see it, occurs roughly at 1968, when Romero's Night of the Living Dead and Polanski's Rosemary's Baby turned the gore and mature horror formats into cinematic forces to be reckoned with).

I digress, however, even before I've started. Let me give you a little timeline:

June 20th, 2007: The American Film Institute releases its 10th Anniversary update of its 100 Years... 100 Movies ranking of the 100 greatest American films of all time.

June 21st, 2007: I post my reactions to the list. Roger Ebert posts his. In his reaction, Ebert writes, "To take a hypothetical possibility, if you were to see all 100 films on the AFI list, by the end of that experience, you would no longer desire to see a Dead Teenager Movie. (Yes, there could be a great Dead Teenager Movie. Please send me a list of the 100 greatest.)"

June 22nd, 2007: I email Roger Ebert, expressing my displeasure with ghettoizing Dead Teenager Movies. I feel very proud of myself, although later I realize I come off as a bit pompous. Oh, well, no-one will ever see it.

June 29th, 2007: Ebert publishes my letter with his response as the top item in his weekly Movie Answer Man column. His response completely fails to address my points.

July 4th, 2007: I receive an email from Egregious Gurnow of The Horror Review. Based on my letter to Ebert and Ebert's unsatisfactory response, Gurnow tells me he is planning to take up my defense in an article on his site and that he'd like my participation in responding to Ebert's request for the 100 greatest dead teenager movies. I agree to help.

July 9th, 2007: After a weekend of discussion and friendly debate, Gurnow's article, which takes Ebert to task for his anti-DTM sentiments, goes live. Accompanying the article is the list of the 100 greatest Dead Teenager Movies, compiled by Gurnow, The Horror Review founder Horror Bob, and myself. The list is also emailed to Ebert, per his request.

All of this goes to show that the American Film Institute's list has accomplished one of its goals -- it has us talking in excited voices about the movies. Perhaps not the movies that the AFI would like us to talk about, but talking we are.

My whole take on this is simple -- horror is my genre. I don't own it and I don't have some special fealty to it that no other person can touch, but it is mine, just as it is Gurnow's. Just as it is Horror Bob's. Just as it is yours. The genre is comprised of many layers, some of which are lofty and others of which can only be described as schlock. I may not like all of these layers, but they are parts of the whole and I accept them. I do what I can to spotlight the elements of horror I find to be worthy, but I try not to do it by denigrating those parts I could do without (I fail at this task on occasion -- I'm only human).

When a person like Ebert -- a critic who I usually respect -- fires a volley at my genre just for the sake of knocking it, I take the defensive. I understand not liking or appreciating the Dead Teenager Movie, but I do not understand the notion that it will somehow become obsolete in the face of "greater" works. I have seen just shy of 70% of the AFI's list -- more on their original list from a decade ago -- and I still like watching A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream, Sleepaway Camp and yes, even the occasional Friday the 13th movie. Once I've seen all 100 films, I don't anticipate my desire to watch a Dead Teenager Movie changing. You know why? Because I like some of them. No amount of Citizen Kane will change that, nor will it change my desire to watch Troma movies or Fulci flicks. I'll still watch Godzilla movies and Poverty Row Z-grade horror and all manner of sci-fi/horror flotsam and jetsam. To let my inner Joss Whedon fanboy out a little, you can't stop the signal. And you're only going to look like a pompous asshole trying.

I think the best thing to do

I think the best thing to do is NOT refer to Horror films (mostly slashers) as Dead Teenager Movies - a term, as you know, that was coined by Mr. Ebert.