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The Wicker Man and Cattle Prod Cinema Responses

Friday 27 September 2013, 13:59

Mark Kermode Mark Kermode

I blogged recently on the new version of The Wicker Man out today and why I don't like 'Cattle Prod Cinema'. Here are some of your responses.

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    Comment number 1.

    I like how you've started to describe the ending of The Wicker Man as "Titanic". Can we now have a cut of Titanic which ends with Jack imprisoned in a burning effigy, perhaps screaming "Top of the World". At the very least this would sort out those piano lid arguments.

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    Comment number 2.

    Just saw "The Hunt" (Jagten) so thanks for the heads up on that a while back, just got around to watching it, while you're doing a house-keeping blog. To veer back on topic, the "horror" in that is the real deal: [[Sure if you want full entertainment I think thrills-and-spills can serve that up in a great fun way of course - if done with supreme skill.]] A gruelling film but so worthwhile watching and characters that you'd remember.

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    Comment number 3.

    "This episode of Kermode Uncut was brought to you by Fremantle Media UK"

    Or, at least, I hope it wasn't. If you get my drift.

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    Comment number 4.

    Maybe it's too late to join this discussion, but I'll try anyway.

    The short version is this: "cattle prod cinema" is neither inherently bad nor inherently good. Nor, for that matter, is it entirely new. The primary difference between modern horror cinema and the classic era of horror is that today a combination of improved technology and ballooning cinema budgets has allowed directors to put the creepy monsters they dream up on full display. In the past the limitations of SFX made this an impediment to scares for the most part, since they could rarely do it without eliminating audience's suspension of disbelief. Witness Jaws, a film made incomparably better by technical failures on the animatronic shark forcing them to keep it off screen for most of the film. Now that limitation is no longer in place and directors are free to show us the creeps. This however usually serves to undercut the horror, and so the next obvious choice is to go with the jump scares.

    Jump scares aren't new. There's a very good one in Jaws which I've never heard a single person object to, and Ridley Scott's Alien, in my opinion one of if not the finest horror films of all time, executes one to perfection in Tom Skerritt's "death" (viewers of the extended cut will understand the quotation marks there). The key thing in all of these is that a) they are executed well and b) they are not the only methods the film uses to scare the viewer. A lot depends on tone, and the example in Alien is made incredibly effective by coming at the end of a long period of enormous tension, followed by continued mystery, as we can only speculate as to Skerritt's fate (again, the extended version excepted, though even then it's much later that the truth is revealed).

    I'm sure the good Dr doesn't need to be told that there are modern horror films- truly great ones- which avoid relying on cattle prod techniques except where appropriate. Neil Marshall's excellent The Descent relies primarily on a combination of claustrophobia and paranoia to disturb the viewer, and The Woman In Black, while not lacking in jump scares, again made most effective use of paranoia to instil chills in the audience.

    The short version is: jump scares aren't inherently bad, but they are at their best when allied with good direction, and it is perhaps a little overly nostalgic to claim that they are a new blight on the medium

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    Comment number 5.

    Critics of so-called cattle-prod horror may think this is a recent phenomenon, but I think it's relative. If we were to ask people like James Whale, Val Lewton and Boris Karloff their opinions on Poltergeist and Evil Dead (films we now hold up as classics to which we negatively compare Insidious: Chapter 2) they would most likely have come up with the exact same criticism.

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    Comment number 6.

    Abrupt ending!!! I was expecting a little more from the feedback stuff. A blog over way too soon.

    Will there be an extended edition of this blog entry?

    Anyhoo... 'Carry on Screaming' coming out on blu-ray in a few weeks - funnier by far than the cattle-prod-humour coming out of Hollywood these past few decades... and a darn sight more entertaining and long-living than most horror films.

    I think the best horror films have always been a mixture of Cattle-prod, atmosphere and chills... Even the original deeply atmospheric 'Cat People' had the Val Lewton bus. I'd sooner watch 'Carry On Screaming' on a loop for a week than endure a single viewing of 'Cabin in the Woods' again in my entire life.

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    Comment number 7.

    I missed the whole cattle prod discussion - there's nothing wrong with it, but like anything, lazy people use the same tool over and over again to provoke the same reaction. Eventually, the audience tire of it, or become more aware that it's coming. Cattle-prod scare tactics need to be married alongside other more staple things; atmosphere, tension, a decent plot and convincing acting, otherwise yes, all you have is someone cattle-prodding you. Over and over. Because they can. It's not an effective use of $10-20 million, is it? Efficient, but efficient can often seem cold and clinical...

    Anyway, I have a question for the good doctor; a while back, many of us recommended the sci-fi series FarScape to you in response to a blog you did about our favourite sci-fi series. You said you had never heard of it, but were willing to check it out. I know you're often very busy, but I'm wondering if you did, partly because The Peacekeeper Wars was on syfy recently (not a good entry point for the novice, we're talking some mahooosive spoilers! A bit like walking into a film for the last twenty minutes...). It reminded me of how many of us suggested it, and naturally just thought it was worth a quick ask.

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    Comment number 8.

    Possibly the best use of this so-called "cattle prod" technique was used in the original 1968 Whistle And I'll Come To You. Not giving anything away but it involves one of the beach scenes and the clever use of sound. It perfectly understands the skill of making the audience jump at a moment they think they're safe. I'm gobsmacked this hasn't been utilised by other film-makers. These days, the jump largely comes at the point you're expecting it. It may still make you jump, but you're prepared for it and that's not the same.

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    Comment number 9.

    I agree with the lamentable horror available in the cattle prod division. It would be welcome if Mark could find time in his blogs to review and raise awareness of quality new release horror films that he catches at specialized horror film fests so that fans could seek these out on dvd where they don't make wide cinematic release. Ta.


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