Tuesday, June 24, 2014

3 Problems with Horror Movies

When I was a kid, I wasn’t the most discerning horror fan. I would watch whatever I could get my hands on. I was blessed with a mother that didn’t really worry about what I watched as long as I didn’t repeat or take in some of the poorer lessons you can learn from those movies.

I still love horror movies, but as I’ve gotten older, I have become more discerning in my tastes. And that means that I’ve become pickier in what I look for in movies. And horror...well...it’s let me down some.

1) Shitty Main Characters

The slasher movies are a staple of the genre. A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Halloween, Scream, Sleepaway Camp, Hatchet, the list goes on. Sometimes, the killers have so much personality, or are become so legendary, they become popular with the audience. Not necessarily something to fear, but almost to root for...sorta. Or at least, someone to anticipate (see: Freddy Krueger and Jason Vorhees). And there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, but I hypothesize that in order to make it easier for the audience to root for the killers, at a certain point slasher movies started filling their casts with awful, shitty people.

The characters swear, the characters have sex, the characters party and make crude observations because they’re often teenagers and teenagers can sometimes be dicks because they’re still learning how to be people. However, not every teenager is a pot-smoking, foul mouthed little troll. When every single movie is populated with assholes with little more characterization then “they’re young, they like to drink, and they like to have sex,” they seriously just grate on my nerves and make me want them to die all the sooner. It removes all of the tension from any situation where the characters are in danger because the characters suck and I don’t care about them.

Characters can and should sometimes be bad people. If your characters were perfect little people, they’d have no reason to grow and change, and they’d be as interesting as a piece of unbuttered toast. However, you have to balance that badness with something interesting about them. Walter White will probably be studied for decades for how his characterization kept him riding a increasingly narrow fence for shitty while still being likable--or at least interesting--enough to keep following.

2) Sweet Christ, the Found Footage

Let’s say you’re hanging out with your family or friends for Christmas, and you’re in charge of filming the festivities. Suddenly, a giant raging Santa Claus comes stomping into your living room and starts murdering people in front of your eyes. Do you:

A. Put the camera down and defend yourself with a sharpened candy cane like a hero,

B. Drop the camera and run out of the house screaming like a child leaving a surprise in the back of your pants as you run,

C. Don’t stop filming as if the camera is superglued to your hand and pay witness to the Christmassy demise of everyone you know like some sort of sociopathic voyeur.

The answer is, of course, anything but C. And yet that’s what you get with many found footage movies.

We’ve gotten slightly more clever with this--Grave Encounters and Chronicle get around the standard found-footage problems with clever innovations, but most are the vast majority of movies still feature morons holding onto their camera long past the moment any sane person would have let the camera go. And they’re so prominent at this point.I can’t swing an arm around without knocking over a display case full of found footage movies--although that could just be because I’m in the Walmart.

Even directors that I like and respect are making them: both Ti West and Bobcat Goldthwait have found footage movies out now.

I think my biggest problem with these movies is not that they can’t be done well, but they’re a style that is often used simply as a gimmick that’s over represented in the genre at this point. Often the format isn’t used toward any purpose, it’s just the cheapest way to film a movie. And because of the nature of the film--footage that is found--the editing can be sloppy and amateurish with the excuse that it’s just raw film, and there doesn’t have to be any resolution to the plot because the person often just dies.

Remember when movies required directors to have an eye for framing shots and editing things in a tight and clever way? I miss that.

3) Can We Please Stop with the Rape, Now? [Obvious Trigger Warning Here]


If you need to understand how to read that last sentence, imagine Michael Shannon screaming at the top of his lungs. Why?

I am by no means in favor of censorship. I don’t think that we should avoid topics just because they’re uncomfortable or taboo. However, rape is way, way, way, way, way, way, waaaaaay overused. It’s in practically every horror movie you watch. There are other motivations women can have besides having been raped, molested, or otherwise sexually harassed.

Let me give you an example: I watched (part of) a movie called Contracted recently. It was a horror movie about a woman that has sex with a guy and gets an STD, but unlike your normal STDs, this one causes her to start rotting from the inside out.

I was totally on board with the idea...until the main character got her STD. The movie starts with a guy fucking a corpse in a morgue. Then, he goes to a party where the main character is in attendance. She’s a lesbian (they really, REALLY hammer this home), and she’s having relationship troubles. At some point she gets drunk, she’s kinda-sorta-not-really flirting with the corpse fucker. Then, he takes her back to his car and forces sex on her. I know because she begs several times for him to stop, that she doesn’t want to.

That’s rape. And that’s fucked up.*

Why did she have to get raped at all? Why couldn’t she be bisexual? She’s shown as having relationship problems with her girlfriend in the film, why couldn’t she have sex with this dude in a moment of vulnerability, and then have to deal with the awkward tension of hiding both her infidelity and her strange STD from her girlfriend? They don’t treat it like a rape, they treat it like a moment of vulnerability, like she deserves this STD for sleeping around...but that’s not what happened!

These movies sometimes try to justify including rape usually by having the victim get vengeance at some point. another movie I saw recently, American Mary, did that, and I’m sure Contracted would have eventually, too. The Hills Have Eyes 2 (remake) did, as well. It’s a worthless, lazy writing technique thrown into stories to either add some edge (oh my god! I can’t believe they went there!) or to provide some sort of motivation for the character to do something (as if that’s the only way women can be motivated to do things). It’s also sometimes used as shorthand for “this guy is a bad, bad guy.” But there are more clever ways to establish someone as evil than just having him rape or otherwise sexually assault someone.

Another closely related annoyance is that of the malevolent pregnancy, which often follows a rape in horror movies. As if the rape wasn’t enough, let’s make the entirety of how we understand the character be about what’s growing in her uterus. It’s like a bizarro version of the medieval idea that women were only good for sex and having babies.

Horror isn’t a floundering genre by any means, and I’ve seen lots of movies released within the past 5 years that have done very cool, very innovative things with the genre. But if these three things could go away, it would make sifting through the crap to find the corn a little easier on me.

*Yes, corpse-rape is fucked up, but the corpses don’t really care. Live women, on the other hand...