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Thursday, April 14, 2005

Here we go again, with the horror. 

Did you read Sean and Bill's thoughts? Yes? Good. Let's continue.

First, it's a bit strange, but I've gotten some apologies from people... apologizing for not agreeing with me fully. Guys, I don't want you to agree with me 100%. That would be scary and useless to discourse. Nothing's better than smart people disagreeing respectfully, let me tell you.

Here's my problem with Scream: that movie wants things both ways. Its bravura opening sequence promises a smart, genuinely unsettling slasher film with enough wits about it to have actually literate dialogue. Unfortunately the rest of the movie doesn't live up to those first, oh, 15 minutes or so. What we get afterwards is the kind of movie that wants it both ways: tweaking of the slasher genre on one hand, honest example of the genre on the other.

The result is mishmash, the kind of movie that wants to give you jump-scares and gory deaths, and then pat you on the back and make a snarky little joke to reassure you it was okay to be scared, because we're above all this claptrap, right? After all, it's just a silly little movie, and we know all the rules of it, so we're above it! Having our cake and eating it too.

Dishonesty. An inability to express an honest emotion (fear) without immediately ripcording back into being above it all.

I've seen it done before, and I've seen it done better.

(There was another movie that was made in the mid-80's, a pure satire take on the Dead Teenager films where the prom, Homecoming, and the Big Game all took place on the same day, so a cast member could die at each one. I can't for the life of me remember the name. I do remember there was a shop teacher obsessed with making horsehead bookends. Anyone know the movie I'm talking about?

I'VE FOUND IT! The movie in question is Student Bodies, a highly recommended viewing for fans o' the genre. Thanks, Joe.)

Here's the thing about teenagers and horror movies: yeah, I appreciate the rite of passage that is watching R-rated slasher flicks when you're 12 or 13. I do not think teenagers, or audiences in general for that matter, are by default dumb or otherwise ignorant. But the movie studios think we are, at least judging by their output. What we're getting now is apparently aimed at 15 year olds, and these people must think pretty fucking poorly of them. No one not named M. Night Shyamalan or Guillermo del Toro is even trying anymore, okay?

Instead we get our WB Stars in Peril movies that invest zero time in characters, precious little more in plot, and instead waste all their creative energy on gimmicks (that are usually quite lame, except for perhaps Final Destination) and "inventive" deaths. These modern slasher movies all rely on the basic idea that its audience is familiar with how a slasher film is supposed to work, so that the pesky business of building a story and characters people give a shit about can be discarded right away. It's Paint-By-Numbers, where every color is red.

Whatever happened to smart horror? Whatever happened to something that got inside your head and started digging into places that made you squirm? Where's our Jacob's Ladder? Where's our Silence of the Lambs? Why aren't we being treated like fucking adults anymore? You cannot cultivate a smart audience if you DO NOT GIVE THEM SMART FICTION.

It's all splatter, now. It's true, as Sean says, that there are many scenes in Silence that are graphic or otherwise unsettling. I consider very few of them to be "gratification" horror of the kind I described before.

The autopsy? The jizz-lobbing? The cock-tuck? The lurid descriptions of cannibalism? This isn't gratification. This is rising dread. This is building atmosphere. Unsettling moments, unsettling incidents, scenes, and dialogue, that set the tone for the movie and inform Clarice (and the audience) that you are in out of your fucking depth, and the only way out is to keep digging. Silence is certainly not devoid of gore, but the gore is all the more effective (and utterly shocking) because of the atmosphere built by the other 110 minutes of the movie.

As for Bruce Willis's essential performance in The Sixth Sense: I would argue that Willis is America's Everyman actor, and as a result audiences blend him into his role with little "bump" much moreso than with other marquee actors.

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