Friday, February 13, 2009

Emptiness in Horrific Cinema

As the lack of originality in Hollywood continues, I am reminded that what Hollywood produces is dictated by what we, the consumers, are willing to hand over $8.50 to see. I struggle with the plethora of trite romantic comedies that run the same plot sequence with different pairings of prurient young men and women attempting to demonstrate the complexities of love. I struggle with action heroes who don't really represent honor or integrity, leaping from scene to scene supported with only catchy one liners that don't allow them to truly demonstrate any true heroic qualities. My greatest struggle with film today is that viewers flock to truly obscene horror films, filled with blood lust and now more than ever sexual lust, where the actors and screenplay have no other purpose than to desensitize viewers to death, sex, and thereby devaluing both. I have been troubled for the last month as I have seen advertisements for My Bloody Valentine and Friday the 13th. Please understand, I see value and purpose in some movies that others might consider "horror" movies. 28 Days Later, Alien, Scream, are a few (there are others as well) that I think move beyond the realm of shocking gore and sex and leave the viewer with some thematic significance. We see characters who demonstrate love, sacrifice and courage in times of great distress and anguish in movies like 28 Days Later and Alien. In Scream at least the writers had the creative ability to dissect the horror genre and include some level of mystery. Sure these movies are terrifying, but within them we see more than terror and death, we see admirable responses of characters within the crucible of pain and suffering, or at least we are able to step back and see the bathos that horror movies bring into the art of cinema. However, can we really say this of movies such as Friday the 13th? Not only is the premise that Jason Vorhees is still alive (at age 62) after being killed with an ax, machete, drowning, cremation, sent to hell, etc. (check out Wikipedia for other forms of Jason's demise) beyond ridiculous, but the writers and director of this film have chosen to include graphic sexuality as part of the story because the basic plot of Jason killing victim after victim (he has been doing this since the 80's) isn't enough to get people into the theater. Some may dismiss me as a prude, but I really question what one could hope to gain from this type of cinema? This really leads back to my point in the first sentence. I know we can make better choices at the theatre, and I hope we will begin to do so. We, the movie viewers, dictate what is shown on the screen. We feel the temptation that a movie like Friday the 13th brings. In what new ways will Jason take a life? What will that girl look like in the nude? In what outlandish ways will sexuality be portrayed on the big screen? If we are honest, many of us watch these films to have these questions answered, and usually we leave the theatre disappointed. We have given our money and time over to something that has done nothing for us mentally or emotionally. Instead it has only shocked us for a moment, and twisted our view of concepts like death and sex that are not trite or trivial, though we were made to believe so for 90 minutes.

Habakkuk 1:13 -Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, And You can not look on wickedness with favor. Why do You look with favor On those who deal treacherously? Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up Those more righteous than they?


  1. I don't believe that the movies that are produced have any correlation to what we as consumers dictate. Instead, movies generally reflect the mood of our culture. We take pride in the environment, Al Gore makes "An inconvenient truth" and others produce "The day after tomorrow." We decide our government and military are corrupt, film makers make "Stealth" and "Eagle Eye." When we need a "hero" to fix our seemingly insurmountable problems we receive "Iron Man" and "Batman." Movies reflect the societal and cultural issues of our time. Horror and "Texas chainsaw massacre"-esque films are based on escapism and vengeance. Society ultimately dictates what is produced, not preferences. If your premise were true M Night Shyamalan would have stopped making movie along time ago.

    People are not flocking to see "Friday the 13th." Give Americans more credit than that. Or at least admit the current recession has curbed movie attendances. Regardless, Friday the 13th has received terrible reviews. Wikipedia says "Based on 66 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, Friday the 13th (2009) has an overall approval rating from critics of 25%" If it was even remotely popular, there would have been more than 66 reviews. Your descriptions of its popularity approach gladiatorial proportions.

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  3. Cameron, I appreciate your candor and eloquence. Great point in the first paragraph, though your Shyamalan reference is dangerous as "The Happening" though deplorable and poorly reviewed still made 100 million worldwide. Shyamalan and his producers can continue to make movies as they continue to make money on them. Still, I have to admit "Lady in the Water" does support your claim well.

    In reference to your second point, the premise suggests that the "typical" viewer of "Friday the 13th" is going to go to Rotten Tomatoes to write a review like many others who are interested in quality cinema (they probably won't read this blog either.) However, I checked this morning and there were 105 reviews of "Friday the 13th" which was only released last night. I think this suggests (by your own statistics) that people are seeing it and writing about it. In comparison, "Slumdog Millionaire," one of the year’s best, has only 195 and it has been out for months.

    Yes the reviews for "Friday the 13th" are poor (25% liked it). Still, I don't think reviews correlate with box office success. Finally, as I suggested in my original blog entry, I don't think viewers walk away from these horror movies satisfied, though they still pay for them and watch them. The curiosity of the macabre and prurient draw them in. I think viewers need to think about that before they hand over their money.

  4. I laughed at your remark at "The Happening." I was one of those 100 million who went and saw it merely because Shyamalan produced it. I was vastly disappointed.

    Regardless, I believe you are comparing apples to oranges. Yes Slumdog Millionaire is an award winning film, but ultimately, it is a foreign film. Americans are much less likely to watch a foreign film over a Hollywood production. You would do better to compare it to a successful American made film. Let's use Iron Man instead, as you and I both enjoyed it greatly. After doing a bit of research, I believe that you and I both were using inaccurate numbers. There were (at the time) 66 reviews on Rotten Tomato for Friday the 13th. But those reviews were from high level members or paid critics. To actually see the real number we must look at the community ranking. The total community reviews are 156, with 6.8/10 average. In comparison, Iron man has 5516 reviews to date. Now, my next point may require a small leap of faith, but I'm sure you will agree with me. Let's, for math's sake, assume that all of the community reviews were written in the first 30 days of Iron Man's showing. (Probably were.) Dividing, I get an average of 184 reviews written a DAY. Comparing it to Friday the 13th, in just 1.5 days it only has 156 reviews. This would imply (if we assume that the same number of people that watch to people that write reviews ratio is equal. It probably is not. People are much more likely to complain then to praise something. That would inflate Friday the 13th's reviews because of a strong negative reaction.) that less people go to watch Friday the 13th than they did to go see Iron Man.

    My $0.02.

  5. And you have to keep in mind that teenagers are probably the main cash cow Hollywood is trying to lure in.

    Kids need something to do, and chances are have some extra money lying around. These kids most likely aren't mature enough to appreciate good cinema, and will see something just for the gore/sex factor.

    I know why *I* go to a shitty movie - I go to make fun of it. It's like going to my own personal MST3K event.