Friday, April 30, 2010

Horror show

Last year I took on the Draconian institution that was Hugh B. Bain Middle School. You think such a victory would be enough for me, that I should leave on top. But like Brett Favre or Jay Leno or Aerosmith, I don’t know when to quit.

So now I set my eyes on a new enemy. Ladies and gentleman, I present the case against horror movies.

Today "Nightmare on Elm Street 32" came out. It will undoubtedly be the number one movie of the weekend. It’s another in the Freddy Krueger saga, following the Oscar-winning Freddy vs. Jason film.

The American film audience loves horror movies. I know I am swimming against a bloody, howling tide. We love a good scare and we love our violence. And we love it even more if that violence means nothing.

Every horror movie is the same, more or less. They involve young people, in their teens and 20s (though always played by 40-year-olds). It’s not cool to see middle-aged people fleeing slashers and serial killers. These young people are beautiful, vapid, idiotic and just plain boring. We don’t care about them nor should we. The movie doesn’t want us to.

That cute blonde girl running in the woods or the jock checking out the strange noise outside are objects to be destroyed, like the beaten-down cars at a monster truck show. They exist solely to be killed. And these aren’t just henchman who fall like bowling pins in your normal action movie, these are the main characters. These are the stars. Yet their only role is to die.

Every horror movie follows the same formula. There’s a group of six or seven young characters, almost always in a small town or in an isolated area. Jason doesn’t go to Manhattan. Invariably, there’s the sexy young couple who grope each other from the first minute on the screen. They are assured of dying.

There’s always a wise-cracking, frail boy involved. He’s a sissy. He’ll last longer than his sex-crazed buddies, but in the end his sarcasm will be the death of him.

Then you have the black guy. I don’t even need to explain what happens to him.

The best survivor is the lead woman, the Jamie Lee Curtis of the horror movie. The lead female of almost every horror movie I’ve ever seen survives. That goes for the lead male, though his odds aren’t as high. Usually, there’s a sexual tension at the beginning which is put through the wringer of a crazy, scrambled-egg face, fedora-wearing super bad guy wanting to kill them for no reason. After all their friends, maybe even relatives, have been brutally murdered, they’ll at least have each other.

So, for any of you aspiring horror film screenwriters all you need is A.) Headstrong female lead, B.) Brave male hero, C. Hot couple, D. Sarcastic sissy boy, E. Doomed black guy.

Invent some serial killer with a memorable trademark (hockey mask, chainsaw, claws, axe), set him down in a tony suburb or the woods and set up your future victims as having the time of their lives. They’ve just graduated. They’re on summer vacation. They’re young, sexy, happy and filled with boundless optimism. Then pick them off, one by one.

Don’t forget to throw a few chase scenes in the movie. Also required: The chaser must only walk, never run. Even though this person is walking slower than your average Floridian supermarket customer, the young, athletic chase-ee must run like the dickens. Yet he/she will trip about 5,000 times over twigs and messy blades of grass. This will be their downfall.

If the chase isn’t their destiny, then have them inexplicably walk alone into dark, mysterious places even when they know a serial murderer is on the loose.

These scenes are so clichéd that even making fun of them is clichéd. But the criticism still holds.

Once you’re down to the final two, set your climactic battle with the baddie. Have the local sheriff come by to help out, only to be paid for this kindness with an axe to the temple from the 6-foot-7 behemoth who somehow slips into a house undetected. They must use the doggie-doors or chimneys.

The two main characters will win the battle. They’ll cut the guy’s head off, run him over with an 18-wheeler, land a jumbo jet on his headless body and then burn the carcass into ashes. They’ll walk away in an exhausted, yet victorious embrace. Pan over to the bad guy and have his fingers twitch and cut to black. Or pan to the next day with the cops at the scene unable to find the body. Shocking!

By the way, that’s my biggest beef with horror movies. I just sat through two hours of boring characters dying brutal deaths for no reason only to titillate. I endured terrible acting, ear-ringing screams and an unending loop of “suspenseful” music only to have the movie’s climatic scene negated by your very lame attempt to shock us once more and plant the seeds for 18 sequels in our brains.

Oh my, Michael Myers/Jason/Freddy Krueger/Jigsaw is still alive!

Hopefully we get to see more sequels where the same exact thing will happen! And then we can see Freddy vs. Jason. Or Freddy vs. Jason vs. Mothra.

I’m no prude. I watch plenty of violence, but usually it advances what’s called a “plot.” Someone is trying to prevent a terrorist attack or uncover a conspiracy or get revenge. Horror movies are just slaughterhouses with the meat thrown in the trash.

Yet every year someone reinvents Halloween or Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street or Saw. A modern interpretation by Rob Zombie perhaps. The same cast of characters. The same no-name town. The same music. The same bad guy who just never dies, even when the movie tells you he will die.

Horror movies have their fans. To each his own, but at least come up with different material. The fact we’re still making movies about Freddy Krueger is just sad. He shouldn’t scare us anymore. We got over the bogeyman under our bed. We got over being lost in the supermarket.

Freddy should someday face the same fate.

And don’t even get me started on Chucky.

P.S. Big props for Roger Ebert's take. He says it much better than I could.


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