Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Horror film standards

Why or why, in horror movies and slasher flicks, does the "good" guy always hit the "bad" guy just enough to break free, and then simply run off?

As a rule of thumb, if you ever have a chance to smack an attacker and it gets him off of you, spend the next couple of minutes or so as your one and only goal in life, to finish the damn job. Think Pres. Bush in the first Gulf war. He could have finished off Sadman Insane, but no, like any virgin in a college slasher flick, he kicked ass, then ran away.

Yes, of course it's a plot device to allow the story to continue, but I also think it's simply bad writing and the writer admitting they aren't good enough to do any better. I think it also says about the character that they really don't deserve to live. Is the compulsion to escape really stronger than the compulsion to live? I can accept certain things, like a slashed throat means the actor pulls his head back to display the appliances and F/X, when in reality you would lower your head in a vain attempt to stop the blood flow. But it gets out of control.

And that is the idea, right? To feel out of control? That circumstances have gone beyond your ability to handle them, and yet, in the end, you succeed? Unless it is the type of film where everyone dies in the end. Which I kind of prefer, actually. But it depends, on whether I was looking for horror, or slasher flick. I think in a slasher flick, someone needs to survive. In a horror film, anything goes.

I wrote a short story once where the protagonist dies in the end, by his own hand, because he couldn't take his reality. That, was horror, it left you with a horrible feeling in the end. The first time I saw Cronenberg's, The Fly, I felt like I needed a shower after that. He turned out a great horror film.

Horror, is either to have a roller coaster ride to Hell, then a catharsis in the end, so you can have that, "I survived Hell, and walked away from it in the end." But there is that other kind, where you don't feel you survived anything but you have experienced the worst things possible, and after the end of the titles, you are free to go back to your life, safe, secure, but maybe not feeling fully secure; maybe a nightmare that night; maybe the film sticks with you for a day or two. "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" was like that for me. Very disturbing.

Slasher flicks are like a roller coaster ride, with a puzzle, something to intellectually keep you going. So when it is a cheap thrill, as I mentioned before, where someone takes out the killer, then simply runs away, so the killer can come back to get them again, and again; or when the killer is killed, but comes back to life, again and again, it just feels like a cheap thrill, a video game with a reset.

I suppose I prefer a horror film with a thriller element, something that is visceral with an intellectual component. When you do that, you can't have those cheap thrills. You have to supply a solid scenario. If one of the "good" good guys or girls takes out the killer, even momentarily, rather than have them simply run away, have something happen so they can't kill the killer off completely. If you have them fall through the floor, have a set up ahead of time about how the building is very unstable, or there was a good reason for the floor to be weak.

So, you need the killer to get taken down a few times in the film, but you also need him to get back up, but reasonably so. Hidden set ups and interrelated components, reasonable interruptions, all need to be peppered through the storyline.

Also, hindsight needs to show proper foresight was possible. You can't just have the killer know what the people will be doing, so he can set things up ahead of time, when it is unreasonable for him to know certain things.

I've been watching a lot of horror films the past two weeks, trying to get a handle on them. I've found some very good low production films, and some very bad, high production films. It's pretty hit and miss. But I find it really upsetting when I watch a high production value film and they have fallen down on something as simply as having used a quality script. Because, one good script, well thought out, and even poor production values can't kill the feeling that you have had a good time.

So, I don't know, do studios just think the kids are stupid? Because it is my understanding that we are getting smarter, not dumber. Just because academic grades are falling, does not mean that kids don't still pay a great amount of attention to their favorite entertainment forms.

So wise up studios. And for you screenwriters, plot well, plan well, and don't take conceptual shortcuts. Let's raise the bar, not lower it.

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