A Horror Fan's Defense of the Late Roger Ebert
I grew up watching “Siskel & Ebert.” I was a film buff from a young age with limited access to new movies. I lived in a small town with one cinema and three screens. It’s the kind of town where everyone is decked out in NASCAR gear and believes wresting is real.
I kept a notebook of flicks that I wanted to watch from their reviews but I didn’t always agree with them. I remember watching Ebert go off on his infamous diatribe about slasher movies and rolled my eyes. I also recall their review of “Psycho II” where they praised every aspect from the screenplay to the performances but then give it thumbs down because they just didn’t want a sequel to “Psycho.”
All that being said, I am always befuddled by my fellow horror movie fans who rag on Ebert. One podcaster even said of him, “He didn’t like horror movies” and “He didn’t like gore,” etc. WRONG! Objectively wrong.
Ebert gave favorable reviews to many horror films including “The Last House on the Left” (1972), “The Exorcist,” “Jaws,” “The Omen,” “Dawn of the Dead,” (1979…very gory) “Christine,” “Fright Night,” “Child’s Play,” “Misery,” “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” “Candyman,” “Interview with the Vampire,” “Scream,” “Scream 2,” “The Blair Witch Project,” and, of course, “Halloween” (1978).
As a horror fan, it is important to remember two things: (1) we demented devotees cut our genre a lot of slack; (2) a professional reviewer has a somewhat objective standard that he or she works with including judging the acting, screenplay, cinematography, editing, etc. Ebert found many horror films to be subpar and, let’s face it, he was right.
For example, “Friday the 13th” (1980) may be a classic in my eyes but it is far from a great film by any objective standard. Although made for more money than “Halloween,” it looks like it was filmed for twelve bucks. The acting is mediocre (except for Betsy Palmer) and the dialogue is bonkers (what’s with Kevin Bacon going on a meteorology rant?). Also, and this is important, character development is lacking to say the least. If you don’t take time to get to know a character, you end up not caring for him or her. Thus, Ebert was right that we are largely left with rooting for the killer and that bothered him and, at times, bothers me. I’m not disturbed by his moral worldview objections, I’m disturbed by the lack of suspense that a movie holds when characters are just flesh bags to be knocked off. Character development is why “Halloween” (1978” will always be superior to “Friday the 13th” (1980).
I still love “Friday the 13th” (1980), especially “Friday the 13th Part II” (1981) because Amy Steel’s character is developed and we are rooting for her which brings the added element of suspense to the film (Ebert swung and missed on that one as well). But, unfortunately, he wasn’t wrong about a lot of horror movies even if I (and we) still enjoy them.
I for one miss the salty critic. He was often wrong but always entertaining and thought provoking. Rest in peace Roger!