Thursday, November 5, 2009

Self-Professed Scream Queen

I love all things horror and supernatural. It is something that is built into my psyche. Every October, I complain that there isn't enough horror on TV. Last week, I had to stay home one day with Maren and we watched Psycho, Halloween (the original, yo) and The Shining. Three, in my opinion, pivotal pieces of horror cinema. I explained why to her.

She seemed to like the movies and had a, perhaps disturbing, happy reaction every time the twins came on screen in The Shining. Those chicks are creepy on a visceral level and I can't quite understand why even an infant with limited ability to reckon with what's on screen shouldn't be royally nightmared by them.

But, I digress. I started watching horror movies when I was about three or four. I watched with my grandmother and when she thought I shouldn't watch, I would pretend to fall asleep in her lap. She didn't like to carry me up the stairs, so she'd just sit there and watch her movies thinking that I was asleep. When I was about six, I watched Helter Skelter this way. Helter Skelter produced nightmares, because, on some level I knew that it was REAL in a way that The Birds just wasn't.

I told my mom that the nightmares were from Scooby Doo, because I didn't want to get caught watching movies in Grandma's lap.

When I was five, I asked to see Poltergeist in the theatre. I'm pretty sure we waited until it was on HBO, but in any case, it rocked.

In middle school, I began my love affair with B movies. We had a movie store in town, Movie Warehouse, that had an entire wall of bad, bad horror movies. Mausoleum, with the woman with possessed breasts was my favorite, but I also watched all the Amityville movies and Supermarket Slasher and Grandma's House and Sleepaway Camp. Grandma usually went with me to rent movies, which meant that I couldn't have anything with naked girls on the cover. Otherwise, I watched every B horror movie in the place.

When I was in high school, Silence of the Lambs was released. In addition to wanting desperately to grow up and be Clarice Starling and solve murders by talking to really creepy serial killers, this movie upped the ante on horror. While I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Army of Darkness and really anything where the red corn syrup just looks like red corn syrup, I began to appreciate a really finely crafted psychological horror. These don't come along all that often.

As the years have passed, I have watched anything that looks even remotely scary. Until about six years ago.

After Ethan died and right after finding out I was pregnant with Brynna, I went to see Taking Lives. It's not even really horror. It's psychological and Angelina Jolie tries really hard to be Jodie Foster, but it's not exactly the movie of the year. However, (SPOILER ALERT) in the end, Ethan Hawke stabs Jolie in the belly with some really big, really mean looking sewing scissors. Oh, wait, did I mention that Jolie is 9 months pregnant with twins.

Oh wait, did I mention that the whole pregnancy is a hoax designed to lure Hawk out of hiding and it's a fake belly but you don't know that until you have already had a heart attack.

Normally, I would love this kind of thing. Ooooh, twisty. But, with the circumstances what they were and my mind whirring with madness and depression and apprehension and fear and love and excitement... Well, I spazzed out. I screamed like a three year old girl. I hid my face and wouldn't look up for the rest of the freakin' movie. I dumped popcorn all over the floor and waited until the lights came up to leave the theatre.

And since then, well, I just haven't had it in me to watch horror. I've tried. We rented one of the new Exorcist movies and a baby explodes very violently out of a woman's hooha and then it's not a baby but a demon and we had to turn it off. I still read all the horror I could, but for some reason, I just couldn't stand to watch it.

So, I slaked my thirst with the less horrific supernatural stuff. Buffy and Supernatural. Even Heroes, although that didn't last long. I read and watched Twilight. Yeah, I know. Sue me, I loved it. I've watched so many horror movies come out and thought "I wish I could watch that," but haven't.

And now, I'm discovering, I'm getting my groove back. I've watched a few genuinely scary things and I seem to be holding up okay. Not freaking out.

And I'd like to dive back in.

But there's nothing to dive into.

It seems, that while I was away, the entire horror genre has devolved into what's being called Torture Porn. Think Saw. It's about the visceral reaction of watching truly horrible things happen to someone else. And it's awful.

Okay, I'll admit that I watched the first Saw movie and I didn't hate it. In fact, it was so different from anything I'd ever seen, so twisty and turny and creepy with Jigsaw, the moralizing serial killer, that I kinda liked it. I mean, why not. It was original. It was also not all that bloody compared to what has followed in it's wake. Even some that I have really looked forward to, I'm looking at you Hostel, have disappointed me.

What makes these "torture porn" flicks different from the "slasher" films of my youth. Well, realism for one thing. While these movies make you writhe in pain and discomfort, Supermarket Slasher made you giggle. As our ability to make movies with realistic effects has increased and the cost of such movies has decreased, it's nearly unheard of to see red corn syrup spurting at an odd angle from a severed artery. (Thank you Robert Rodriguez for making that "nearly.")

But also at issue is the intent. The slasher films of yore were really just for fun. Killers like Michael Myers and Jason Voorhies were wooden killers intent on wreaking havoc. Their motives weren't known, but weren't really questioned either. Psychos like the ones in Prom Night and Supermarket Slasher had motives, but they were so paper thin as to seem laughable.

Now, okay, one could argue that real life killers like Manson and Bundy didn't exactly have great reasons to kill and that perhaps this world of reasonlessness and confusion is closer to reality, but I would argue that if you think Michael Myers' lumbering and weird head tilts or Jason's slow walk catching a motorcycle are realistic, then you need to review your material.

While slasher movies were for fun, getting as many laughs as screams, torture porn has a more insidious nature. Just like reality TV, the point of torture porn is to encourage the masses to enjoy the suffering of others. Building realistic characters, realistic effects and setting these horrors so close to our mental landscape is damaging to our psyches. Instead of being compassionate for those tortured in these movies, we are supposed to feel a kinship to them and still say, "Wow. Cool." when their heads explode or they fall into a vat of hypodermic needles.

It's a fine line, though. Wasn't Starling, our heroine of psychological horror, realistic? Wasn't Norman Bates believable? And wasn't that realism what made those movies soooo gooood?

Which leaves me with the same old same old. The same line between artful horror and torture porn is between art and porn. I can't define it but I know it when I see it.

And while I believe that freedom is what makes modern American cinema what it is, and I would never seek to stop the torture porn movement, I feel compelled to speak about it. To say my piece. To decry the destruction of our humanity as I see it from within. What makes us human is our ability to show compassion and empathy. Don't let anything take that away.

So, tomorrow we return to our regularly scheduled blog fodder. Today, I needed to talk about something that weighs on me. Forgive me, interwebz.


Strangeite said...

Oh how I loved the Movie Warehouse wall of bad horror movies. My personal vote for the worst movie on the wall has to be Redneck Zombies, but Basket Case would be a close second.

I don't watch horror movies with the frequency that I used to. No good reason, just got out of the habit, but I agree with your thoughts on the torture genre. Not my cup of tea.

I have heard wonderful things about the new movie "Supernatural Activity". Primarily that it can be actually scary as long as you don't read spoilers.

p.s. Just watched our first with Sophie. The 1963 version of The Haunting. Really is one of the best ghost stories ever put onto film.

Mrs. Allroro said...

Lovely post. Truly. I laughed, I cried. In my head.

Silence of the Lambs was dear to my heart because the guy was targeting plus size women. I still think about that sometimes when I'm walking by myself after dark.

Mrs. Allroro said...

I had nightmares the night I read this. That's why I don't watch horror movies anymore. :-)