Since I’m one of those horror geeks who haunts the horror message boards all day, I figure I’d just express some opinions I’ve repeatedly posted on recurring threads on the message boards about classics of the genre that people watch for the first time and find “funny.”
This phenomenon of audiences finding unintended horror films funny has become a plague. The first real experience I had with it was at the beginning of this decade, when The Exorcist was re-released in theaters with all new footage. I went to the theater to see it with a friend who had also grown up with and been terrified by it, and we were horrified to find that the audience was laughing at some of the most heinous moments in this classic. A little 12-year-old girl impales her va-jay-jay with a crucifix and then rubs her mother’s face in the bloody mess!!! As a civilized human being, I simply don’t find that funny (the gay man in me isn’t giggling either…).
Another film that seems to give people the chuckles is the original 1974 Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This is a film that it took me almost a decade to get up the nerve to watch, and to this day, when I watch it, my stomach still does nervous somersaults. But modern audiences seem to find it hilarious.
I think the problem is that people don’t watch horror movies the way they used to—and neither are horror films made for the same purpose. Today, most characters are introduced in films simply to be disposable—we’re not meant to feel for them, and are programmed to anxiously anticipate a torturous demise for them. Used to be, when you watched a horror movie, you were able to imagine yourself in the shoes of the person experiencing all the atrocities—which is why I find The Texas Chainsaw Massacre so utterly vile. For instance, I can’t fathom being prodded and poked by a giggling freak while stuffed in a bag unable to see anything or defend myself, with no clue as to where I was, where I was being taken, or what was going to happen to me…all this after being chased through the woods by a giant freak in a human skin mask with a chainsaw. And that’s just a taste of what happens to the heroine in this film. But, viewers today think what she endures is just a laugh a minute, focusing on the “comical” behavior of the maniacal family rather than the actions they are inflicting on their victim.
It was during the Freddy/Chucky/Leprechaun wise-cracking killer era that we began to switch our loyalty from the victims to the killer, deriving gratification from their slaughtering techniques and the pleasure it brought them rather than fearing that we could actually be at the receiving end of their assortment of weapons.
Which is why we just don’t identify with the victims anymore and films have chosen to make the victims completely unlikable douche bags we can’t wait to see slowly mutilated. You know, rather than them just being beheaded in one swift motion like in the good old days. I personally went into Hostel the same way I went into The Texas Chainsaw Massacre over twenty years ago. I was absolutely nauseous at the thought of what might lie ahead for our unsuspecting victims. And even though they were portrayed as the epitome of douche bags, I was still sickened at the brutality they faced in the end, because the bottom line is, they’re human, and I still relate to them, even if they had some growing up to do (also helped that the lead male character is such a cutie). But my feelings are definitely not the popular ones.
And then you have the infamous Saw films. This new kind of horror movie isn’t even vaguely scary. Sure, the horrible death traps are terrifying to imagine being caught in, but we aren’t given time to relate to the characters who are in these death traps. We are introduced to them as they are trying to fight their way out of the death trap…and then later, we learn that they did something in life that Jigsaw considers despicable, and we totally buy his justification since they are already dead, we never knew them, and all we do know about them is the “bad” thing they’ve done.
But really, Saw and Hostel are mainstream child’s play compared to some of the gruesome films being labeled as horror films these days. And modern day horror fans absolutely revolt when the term “torture porn” is dropped because they believe it is a degrading term created by mainstream extremists to demonize horror fans. But you have to consider this. The term was never applied to The Exorcist. Or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, Psycho, The House on Haunted Hill, The Omen, A Nightmare on Elmstreet, Child’s Play, Halloween. It’s a term that has been created to describe modern horror films that feature beautiful young people being savagely and inhumanely mutilated for an hour and a half.
The very same people who protest the labeling of these films as “torture porn” are the ones who relegate every rated PG-13 film to being a piece of shit. Sure, some of them are, but a good number of them give us chills and thrills without any brutality—The Ring, The Grudge, Drag Me to Hell. If you think that a PG-13 movie can not be scary, then some of the scariest MADE FOR TV films of the past are going to be a total joke to you: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Trilogy of Terror, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death…
Since atmospheric creepy films are not being made as frequently these days, I most often turn to the campiest, funniest, cheesiest, and over the top gory films that are in large supply rather than go for the gritty and too realistic mutilation films. I go into these funny films with no expectations since they are presumed to be crap films from the start. For that very reason, I am often surprised and happy with what I see.
It just seems that movie goers today don’t want to give into the thrill of actually being scared. They take older films generally considered terrifying as a challenge. So every chance they get, they prowl the message boards to pronounce themselves as way above classic films in the genre that are widely considered the best, claiming they “sucked,” were “overrated” and “not even vaguely scary.”
Sure, different things scare different people and everyone has a different perspective on what’s truly frightening. But, if classic fear favorites don’t scare you, modern PG-13 films don’t scare you, and you cheer on the slaughter while watching unscary modern mutilation movies, then clearly, you’re unwilling to experience the rush of fear, immerse yourself in the terror, or give into the joy of being honestly frightened just for the fun of it.