Gruesome horror movies are making a comeback, and teenagers are flocking to the theaters to see them, in spite of or maybe because of their R ratings. Whats the appeal? Could these movies be a reflection of the
cruel reality we see on CNN and Fox News every day?
Think about it. Over the past few years, the 24/7 news channels have brought us 9/11, the BTK Killer, Natalee Holloway, child kidnappings, brutal terrorists, suicide bombers, and gruesome beheadings in Iraq. And thats just the tip of the terrifying iceberg. Perhaps filmmakers feel compelled to make movies that reflect whats happening in the real world. But why do we feel compelled to see these ugly events again on the big screen?
Maybe because it helps us deal with the horrifying realities in the world and provides a cathartic way to process tragedy and human loss. And since the standard plot of most horror movies includes good prevailing over evil, maybe these movies give us hope that it will happen in real life, too.
CROSSING THE LINE?
But are filmmakers crossing the line? When Chaos was released in 2005, movie-goers left the theater filled with despair and futility. At the end of the film, the lone survivor was the evil one whod murdered innocent characters in a variety of sadistic ways. As the screen goes dark, we hear his satanic laughter and realize theres no rhyme or reason for his behavior. He isnt playing out the forces of a heinous childhood as serial killer Aileen Wuornos did in 2003s Monster. Nor is he seeking revenge, as the parents did in Ingmar Bergmans The Virgin Spring (1960). Hes simply killing for the sake of killing.
Roger Ebert gave Chaos a zero-star rating, noting that the film was an exercise in heartless cruelty that ends with careless brutality. The movie denies not only the value of life, but the possibility of hope.
Ebert added that he believes evil can win in fiction, as it often does in real life, but I prefer that the artist express an attitude toward that evil. Its not enough to record it; what do you think and feel about it? Your attitude is as detached as your heros. If Chaos has a message, it is that evil reigns and will triumph. I dont believe so.
Steven Jay Bernheim, producer of Chaos, responded this way: Real evil exists and cannot be ignored, sanitized or exploited. It needs to be shown just as it is... and if this upsets you, disquiets you, or leaves you saddened, thats the point.
A RETURN TO THE SLASHER MOVIES
If being upset, disquieted, and saddened is indeed the point, weve had plenty of opportunities lately. Recent years have brought us The Devils Rejects, about a family of redneck serial killers; High Tension, about two young women terrorized in the woods; The Ring, about folks who are literally scared to death; The Grudge, about a lethal curse passed around like a cold virus; and House of 1000 Corpses, about teenagers imprisoned by serial killers.
Coming soon are remakes of two classic movies that provided the inspiration for many horror films: When a Stranger Calls (Feb. 3, 2006) and The Hills Have Eyes (March 10, 2006). Currently in theaters are Wolf Creek, Saw II, and Hostel all of which harken back to the graphic slasher movies of the 1960s and 70s (think Night of the Living Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Halloween).
For several years, filmmakers offered us a breed of movies that spoofed the horror genre, such as Kevin Williamsons Scream and its two sequels. These movies winked at the horror genre, providing irony and humor, and audiences responded by laughing.
But Tom Ortenberg, president of Lions Gate Films, which has released several grisly horror movies in recent years, says he believes splatter movies are making a comeback, and this brand of horror is alluring because its got touches of realism that audiences today can relate to.
Were never going to outspend the competition in the marketing or production of a movie, adds Ortenberg. Were not going to blow people away with the latest million-dollar special effects. What we can do as well or better than the studios, perhaps in retro fashion, is a realistic, gut-level, visceral horror movie that doesnt rely on special effects, and audiences are responding to that.
And theyre clearly slapping down their $7.50 to see these movies. Saw II, for example, had a budget of $4 million and has grossed nearly $87 million at this writing. Thats not bad for a horror movie.
HORROR THROUGH THE YEARS
The first horror movie, Le Manoir Du Diable (aka The Devils Castle) (1896), made by French filmmaker Georges Melies, was only three minutes long and contained some elements of vampire films to come. Later horror films grew out of a number of sources, including witchcraft, folk tales with devil characters, fables, myths, ghost stories, and Gothic or Victorian novels from literary giants like Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker.
Through the years, horror films have given us axe murderers, flesh-eating zombies, sadistic killers, mutant babies, possessed girls, and every other sort of ghost, vampire, monster, and alien designed to scare us out of our wits. Horror movies deal with our most primal fears: our nightmares, vulnerability, alienation, fear of death and dismemberment, loss of identity, terror of the unknown, and the horror that resides in all of us.
A MESSAGE OF HOPE
Movies have the power to change the way we think. Done well, horror movies can educate us, give us hope, help us deal with the harsh realities of life and death, and offer a cathartic experience in a world gone seemingly mad. And maybe THAT is the point. To look evil straight in the eye and know that we can survive and find goodness in the world.
The question is, how much of the evil and brutality in our world today is being perpetrated by the generation that was raised on Elm Street and wore Jason costumes for Halloween? And is this new trend of horror films going to exacerbate the evil that walks among us?
Jane Louise Boursaw is a freelance journalist specializing in the movie and television industries, and the author of the syndicated movie column, Reel Life With Jane. Visit her online at www.ReelLifeWithJane.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.