The Lost World Is Steven Spielberg’s Nastiest Film, and I Love It

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It’s a truly demented series of mostly wordless action and horror set pieces whose technical proficiency is matched only by their cruelty.
Photo: Universal Pictures

The secret of Steven Spielberg’s success is that he is a horror filmmaker at heart. Several of his very early pictures (particularly Jaws, the 1975 megahit that put him on the map) actually belong to the genre, but once he became a brand name, he mostly sublimated his horror impulses into more respectable, family-friendly efforts. Blockbusters like Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), and E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982) still owe much of their success to the fact that their creator understands the elemental power of the dark and of the unknown — and that he could stage a good fright. Spielberg’s mostly benevolent aliens and phantoms retain their ability to terrify us: E.T. still contains one of the great jump scares of film history, and Close Encounters and Raiders would instantly have become two of the most disturbing horror flicks of all time if their finales had gone in slightly different directions. (It was also around the time of these films that Spielberg produced Poltergeist, which was nominally directed by Tobe Hooper but, according to many reports, was actually directed by Spielberg himself.)

Through the late 1980s, Spielberg pursued more prestigious efforts. But he scratched that horror itch again — and with lucrative results — with Jurassic Park, the most excellent dinosaur adventure that, for all its state-of-the-art special effects, still owed a lot to the creature features and monster movies of the director’s youth. (How fitting, also, that Jurassic Park, with its “‘Tis a mere flesh wound” portrait of corporate delusion, and Jaws, with its “the beaches are open” apocalyptic fatalism, are the two classics that suddenly feel the most relevant to our current coronavirus-induced madness. My colleague, Alison Willmore, discussed Jurassic Park’s newfound resonance eloquently yesterday, and she’ll be live-tweeting the movie tonight.)

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