Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Post-Hallowe'en Slouch Potato Musings

There really are days when I think I should just cancel the whole movie channel network on television. Last night was one of them. I came home to find the youngest dressed in his Samurai suit, pumped and wired, for last night’s festivities. For the uninitiated, it was Halloween and it was also his last Halloween as a participant.

He had reached the magic age of 12, after which its door duty all the way in my household. He was busying trying to pass the time until his brother got home from guitar lessons so he could go out. The Last Amazon or I would have taken him out, but at 12, apparently it is not cool/sick to trick or treat with a mother or big sister in tow.

He thought he would watch an appropriate type Halloween movie to get him in the mood by choosing one of the movie channel’s fright night offerings. I have mixed feelings about Halloween. I think it’s relatively harmless and the children seem to get a great deal of pleasure concerning it and chocolate is always a good thing but the glorification of evil and gore leaves me squirming with unease.

Which is part of the reason I made the youngest dress up as Winnie the Pooh for about 5 years running – until he balked and appealed to another authority for saving. For the longest time, I had a Pooh Bear, Batman and Xena. I really miss those days when I use to take them out. When we would arrive at a house Xena would take the lead holding her sword high, issue her battle cry to rally the boys for a charge up the steps. Sigh.

Anyway, the movie he was watching was something called Saw ll. I have never seen Saw l and after watching 20 minutes of Saw ll it is doubtful I ever will and never will he until he can pay his own damn rent. But it got me to thinking, if the purpose of this kind of movie is to entertain; who exactly is the producer’s target audience for this kind of slash and gore fest?

Maybe it’s just me, but should we, as a society, be pandering to the deranged and mentally unbalanced in this way? I wouldn’t take my 16 year old to the coroner’s office to watch autopsies on a regular basis or send her to shadow the police at a murder scene for the entertainment gore value. Nor would most grown-ups I know find it a relaxing way to spend their down time. So why do we indulge Hollywood with enough cash to keep the motivation on the high end for churning these truly atrocious slash/gore films?


Bruce Gottfred said...

I really, really, really don't understand these extremely gruesome movies that have been released in the past few years. Another is Hostel, which apparently is about a business which involves kidnapping travelling students and having rich 'businessmen' pay to torture them.

The only possible explanation I can come up with as to why kids would want to see these things is as a rite of passage/dare sort of thing. That's what I hope, anyway.

Kateland, aka TZH said...

Bruce, it's a far cry from
Shelley's Frankenstein isn't it?

Glad for the head's up about Hostel. I will nix it before it becomes an issue.

These movies have R ratings so I suspect that mostly its the over 18 crowd going but how long does a rite of passage last these days and when does adulthood finally start?

Chris Taylor said...

I think the answer lies in the fact that horror movies are ridiculously cheap to shoot, and they still manage to draw out the college kids on a weekend night. Their key demographic is 16 to 25-year-olds. It's in the
industry's best fiduciary interests to keep cranking them out.

This scholarly article is a terrific but long-winded theory for understanding the popularity of horror flicks.

I don't enjoy horror flicks at all, but I do enjoy Godzilla movies, and I think they share some commonality.

When guys watch a Godzilla flick we tend not to identify with the people whose cities and livelihood are being trampled by the guy in the rubber lizard suit. We identify with Godzilla -- who usually has some other monstrous nemesis to take take down. We enjoy it when Godzilla deals out a richly-deserved WWF-style beating to the other monster. I suspect the same dynamic is at work in horror flicks. You or I may watch a horror flick's gory unreality and instinctively identify with the victims, but the folks who enjoy the stuff identify with the killer.

Although the calculus is not one I would make, the paper says that audiences often feel the victims "deserve" their fate by behaving in unsound ways (drinking, drugs, sex, entering haunted houses, going places they shouldn't -- stepping outside the zone of reason and control that your average person wouldn't). It is therefore a satisfying resolution when a "deserving" victim gets dealt with harshly by the villain.

The study also shows, interestingly, that the same people who enjoy horror flicks also have a marked aversion to witnessing documentary evidence of real-life gore like cows and monkeys being slaughtered, or a child’s facial skin being turned inside out in preparation for surgery. Like Godzilla movies, they know the fantastical settings, scenarios and slayings of horror movies rarely show up in our day-to-day reality. But when they know it's real, they don't like to watch it either. The movie's unreality insulates them from the traditional moral calculus one would make if the situation were real.

Anyway, the article makes a lot of interesting observations. I have a cousin who has experienced what I would call a real-life horror movie, and she loves slasher flicks. I could never really comprehend why, but the article I linked to goes a long way toward connecting some of the dots.

Kateland, aka TZH said...

Thanks for the article, I gave it a quick skim and I do intend to go back and give it a more through reading but a couple of things stuck out.

I am not sure of this transference/punishment theory. If we look at the demographics of gore fans they also represent the most permissive generation. Why would any of them, presume that sex with one's boyfriend is worthy of punishment? And than take a movie like Fatal Attraction, most instinctively empathise with the Douglas character even though he is guilty of adultery.

The article focused on traditional horror genre and 60-70's style grade B flicks with their obvious campy style. Godzilla, Jaws, Psycho and the Exorcist share very little common ground with what I saw in SAW2 - which by the way does include a 12 year boy as a victim.

By the way, can I say that I am surprised that your not a big fan of slasher/gore flicks?

Chris Taylor said...

There's more to it than just the punishment / transference so don't get hung up on that, necessarily. Although I think SAW 2 does follow the conventions very closely -- i.e. punishing the losers lame enough to get trapped in the sadistic killer's Rube Goldberg house of deadly implements.

The authors actually debunk the punishment / transference theory as being insufficiently explanatory for the wider range of convention-busting horror flicks. There's a whole ten-point model of what drives people to see these things, taken as a whole it's an interesting look into an alien (to me) world.

I will say I am not necessarily squeamish about gore, but gore must have context, structure and reason. It must be a just gore, or failing that, documentary-level detachment. A homicidal maniac running around killing random strangers doesn't rise to the level of just cause or documentary purpose. Whereas watching the intense bits of Saving Private Ryan or Black Hawk Down does, because it is an attempt to have an honest (in the non-sanitized sense) depiction of modern warfare. I do not get the sense that slasher cinematographers are trying to produce gore to show us the heartless monstrosity and dead consciences of serial killers.

Most of all, though, slasher flicks have ludicrous one-note characters that simply do not exist in real life. I used to live in a house that was broken into three or four times, and once woke up to find two much larger men rummaging through my stuff. They were just robbers, not killers, but waking up outnumbered in your own bedroom tends to alter one's perception about the safety and security of home. I slept with weapons at arms reach for quite a long time, and the tiniest unaccounted-for noise could prompt an all-levels housewide inspection of windows and doors. People living under a perceived threat are not nearly as casual and unobservant as they are in slasher flicks. After living that way for a year or so I just didn't have the frame of mind to pay money for someone else's portrayal with bad dialogue and characterization on the big screen.

Kateland, aka TZH said...

Oddly enough, I am not especially squeamish about gore in the kind of flicks you mentioned nor am I in real life.

I have no problem with killing animals for hunting or even wringing a chicken's neck for food. I wouldn't hesitate to use kill to put an animal out of pain.

I have had a few incidents in my life where I have judiciously used violence (of the gore inducing kind) and would not hesitate to do so again if my life or another's was threatened.

But the Saw genre represent almost a kind of sexualization of gore which repulses my mind. I can't escape the feeling that they are psychological unhealthy and unsound.

We spend so much time in our society surpressing violence in our everyday behaviour rather than learning to effectively channel or handle our aggressive impulses, so I am left to ponder if the appeal of the SAW gore genre are the logical manifestions and natural consequence of an unhealthy surpression of our violent instincts..