Friday, October 29, 2010

What's Wrong With Slasher Flicks?

As you know, I’m a big fan of horror movies (see the Top 25 Horror Film list for proof). But I don’t like slasher flicks. In fact, slasher films have really begun to offend me on many levels. Not only have these films become utterly pointless and uncreative in the extreme, but they’ve sunken to incredible depths of depravity. It’s time this tired genre got the chop.

The reason I like horror films is the strong emotions they can evoke. A great horror movie can provide both a physical and a mental experience. These films stick with you; their themes and ideas play themselves out over and over in your mind until they achieve a level of paranoia or terror normally reserved for life threatening situations. That can be exciting. And with that terror comes a series of physical reactions. For example, it can make your heart race. It can also heighten your senses, letting you hear every little noise, see things you normally don’t notice, and even turn your skin into a sensor for the world around you as it reacts to even the slight breezes. There is something satisfyingly primitive in this.

But slasher flicks are a different beast entirely; they don’t seek to generate terror, they seek to shock you. Thus, whereas horror movies try to find the one thing that terrifies you deeply and bring it to life on screen, slasher films simply toss disgusting and shocking images at you until you can no longer bear to look. At best, they cause a nervous reaction that passes the moment the stimulus is removed.

Moreover, slasher films are some of the least creative films ever made. Every one of them follows this pattern: young female hottie is going about her business. Meanwhile, the psycho killer appears, be he an older male psychopath, alien or supernatural being. The psycho killer stalks the young hottie, usually killing her friends in the process, often in sexually suggestive ways. In the end, the hottie escapes, the killer appears to die, and we wait for the hint of the sequel. There is no variation. Sure, you can add a subplot about a conspiracy or an evil-being hunter, but that’s just window dressing. The story always remains the same.

There’s no writing skill required either. You set the story somewhere isolated, though anywhere will do. You introduce the characters, and have one of them tell the rest about the legend of old ____. After that, it’s just screams and blood. In fact, a typical script probably looks a little like this: “Hey, let’s go skinny dipping. You mean at haunted killer lake? Yeah. Ok. . . ahhhhhhhhhhh ahhhhhhhhhh ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Roll credits.”

Let’s face it, there’s no there there. And I find that objectionable. These movies are little more than a series of gross out scenes connected by a plot so thin it could be written on the head of a pin. What’s the point in watching that? Why not just watch actual autopsy videos? Heck, rent Autopsies Gone Wild, it’s a scream.

But my real objection to slasher films is the level of depravity. The modern slasher film’s primary purpose is to find new ways to destroy a human body. Yet, that’s not actually what I consider to be the depraved part. Indeed, while I find no artistic merit in what they are doing, it is difficult to say that showing someone hacked to death is somehow morally worse than seeing them shot on screen. One is certainly more disgusting and arguably more gratuitous to the plot, but substantively, the morality is the same -- both involve the killing of a human being.

So what is the depravity? Well, it’s a combination of two things. The first derives from a complaint made by feminists that I think is somewhat correct. They have long objected to slasher films on the basis that they glorify violence against women. That part I think is bunk. Slasher films are about violence and it doesn’t really matter who the victims are. Moreover, people who have studied the matter have found that males faired much worse in slasher films than females. But there is a related aspect to this that is a valid criticism: slasher films combine sex and violence. Indeed, large parts of the violence in slasher films is of a sexual nature: almost every one of these films involves people killed while they are engaged in sex, people who are killed through some attack on their genitalia, or people who are killed in other sexually suggested ways.

The combination of sex and violence, particularly the suggestion that the two are connected, makes these films little more than simulated snuff films (where real murders were supposedly caught on film -- though there is little evidence this genre actually existed). This is the kind of stuff that motivates serial killers and true psychopaths, and we should not be too quick to dismiss this merely because the depravity is only simulated by the actors. Indeed, ask yourself if you would draw such a distinction if we were talking about kiddy porn versus simulated kiddy porn? The answer is “no” because it is the attraction to the depraved activity that we consider the problem, and it does not matter whether that activity is simulated or real. The same is true with snuff films. It is the attraction to seeing others killed that is problematic, and it does not matter if the killing is merely simulated. And before you say, “wait, there’s nothing wrong with films about murder,” let me point out a key difference. When people see films about murders (or other acts of violence), they are drawn in by the story; indeed, they don’t even need to see the murder to get full satisfaction out of the film. But with snuff films, it is the murder itself that attracts the viewer, just as it is the images of sexually exploited children that attract the pedophile to child porn. Thus, the closer slasher films get to snuff films, the more depraved they become.

Further, let us look at the second reason modern slasher films are depraved: a high level of sadism. Sadism is the desire to inflict pain or injury on another without cause. It is a mental condition that is common in sociopaths, and slasher films now thrive almost exclusively on sadism, with each director trying to outdo those before him.

By sadism, I don’t mean that the killings are more graphic. That’s the issue addressed above about shooting someone versus cutting them up. What I am talking about is the replacement of simple killing (no matter how graphic) with torture killing. In older films, the slasher villain was motivated to kill and they did so, often brutally, but with little doubt that their sole goal was to achieve the death of their target. But that’s no longer the case. These days, it’s not enough that the villain simply kills for revenge or kills because they are mentally ill or kills because they are evil. Instead, today’s slasher villain must kill because they derive a thrill from it, and to express that thrill, they need to prolong the death and find ways to make the victim suffer as much as humanly possible.

This trend really took off with the Saw series, which involved a sadistic killer who arranged ways for his victims to maim themselves before they died. This has since become the norm in the slasher genre. For example, there was a film on television the other night (The Final) where a group of high schoolers captured another group of students and forced them to cut off each other’s body parts or paralyze each other. No doubt the director would claim this was a film about ironic punishments and that the slashers had a motive for their actions -- seeking revenge for mistreatment by bullies -- but that’s not true, their actions were pure sadism. How do we know? Because nothing these characters did could be considered a valid form of punishment or even vengeance under any moral scheme known to man because their behavior was not intended to remedy a problem or to prevent a harm or protect a person, and because the punishment was in no way proportional to the crime, instead, its sole purpose was for these characters to derive a thrill from torturing and killing others. And the justification offered for the characters’ behavior was nothing more than a pretense, a smokescreen meant to hide the fact that this film was the director’s sadism fantasy.

This is the problem with modern slasher flicks. The originals walked a fine line between stories of unusually brutal killers and plotless, quasi-snuff films. The modern version jumped that line and ran miles down the wrong side of the road. They now glorify snuff films and revel in sadism. And that makes these films depraved and without merit. Add in the lack of creativity, and these things need to go.


USArtguy said...

Well said. I have always referred to these kind of movies as "slash trash". For some reason, my 13 year old daughter likes Horror movies and I keep refusing to let her see most of them (usually they're rated 'R' anyway). She has seen a few newer ones while a sleep-overs and such. She'll name a movie and I'll ask "when did you see that?". I'll ask her if it was good. Interestingly, she'll Invariably say it was just OK. Her favorite horror movie so far? Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds.

T_Rav said...

While the blood and gore doesn't bother me too much, I don't care for slasher films either. It just gets gratuitous after a while.

This may be why I've never cared about seeing the Friday the 13th films. The first movie or two--yeah, I'd say those are scary. But the rest? Not so much. I happened to catch a bit of one of the sequels on AMC last night--I have no idea which one, something like Friday the 13th, Part XXXVIII: Jason vs. Godzilla--where some guy bit into the guy's heart and absorbed his soul. Or something. I don't know, except that it was disgusting, and more idiotic than horrifying. Obviously, a lot of slasher films have the potential to be scary, but it's really not worth it.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks USArtguy! I do love horror movies, I just can't stand the slasher flicks -- for the reasons in the article. They've reached a left that is both boring and depraved all at once.

I think that true horror movies let you explore your fears and think about the world in ways we normally don't think about. But slasher flicks are just about your visual tolerance. Huge difference. Sadly, slasher flicks are much, much, much easier to write and direct and they tend to make a good enough amount of money that people keep turning them out.

I love The Birds, by the way, but then I'm a huge Hitchcock fan. He truly understood his audiences and how to manipulate them. I liked Psycho a lot as well, but while it may be considered the first "slasher" it really was a lot more than that.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, I've seen most of them and I think the words "idiotic," "disgusting," and "gratuitous" are the right words. There is very little commend slasher flicks, they have almost no replayability, and few of them are at all scary. They are good the first time through at shocking you -- either at the gross images they produce or in the standard "jumps out at your suddenly" sort of way, but that's about it.

In fact, I can't think of a slasher that actually scared me off the top of my head. Nor can I think of one that I like to re-watch and which doesn't seem ridiculous in hindsight.

Notawonk said...

i'm planning on having a netflix weekend of horror films in honor of halloween. at this point, nothing scares me as much as washington. bring it!

AndrewPrice said...

Patti, Washington is the ultimate slasher -- attacking the public mercilessly.

I've been on a horror movie bender all month and I'm looking to finish strong this weekend as well. :-)

Ed said...

I have to say I like slashers, but I see your point about the sadism. There have been some that I turned off because they were just too sick. I do totally agree with your description of horror movies though!

Ed said...

Also, I love the idea of "Autopies Gone Wild"! LoL!

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, I've turned off a couple for the same reason, or just because they were utterly pointless.

Autopsies Gone Wild would probably sell a million copies!

Unknown said...

Andrew: I've mentioned before that there's a reason I went to law school instead of medical school. I'm having trouble watching shows like CSI and its progeny, and even NCIS because of the graphic portrayals of blood and guts. Needless to say, slasher films go way beyond that. So, I agree with you, in spades. Some of the very old ones had at least a semblance of a plot (early dead teen movies like Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the Thirteenth), but in short order the eviscerations and violations became the point rather than the vehicle. Yuck!

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I couldn't agree more. The early slasher films were about killers hiding in dark corners and getting you when you weren't looking. There was gore, but it was minimal and they had some plot.

But these days, it's like "let's see how much blood and sadism we can toss at the screen." It's getting to the point that it's very disturbing, and not just the material on screen, but that someone thought this was something that should be put on the screen!

Janet said...

I would go farther. I say there is depravity in wanting to see a human being killed no matter how they are killed. Making it graphic just shows greater depravity. I do not understand why people want to see "slasher movies". What is so atractive about seeing one of the most precious things on Earth destroyed? I do not understand this and I wish someone could explain to me why they enjoy watching this? Does this not show a sickness of the soul? If stories are to teach lessons, what lesson is there in a "slasher movie"? If stories are to live through others and experience that we will not do ourselves, why would anyone want to see through the eyes of such a creature as a horrific mass murderer? I do agree with what you have written, but I think there is also a more fundamental depravity that we must aknowledge. Ask your audience what do they get out of watching these movies? Thank you for your time.

AndrewPrice said...

Janet, Thanks for the comment! I see your point, but I'm not sure I fully agree. As I note, I don't think the morality changes based on the gruesomeness of the image, but I also don't think the mere fact of seeing a murder on screen is depraved. For example, Shakespeare has a great many murders in his plays, yet they aren't considered depraved by anyone. I think the real question is how they handle it: (1) what's the purpose of the killing, (2) do they glorify it, (3) is the intent to attract viewers to "enjoy" the killing or is it just part of a larger story. To me the problem with slasher films is the last one of these, that the intent is to let people enjoy the violence -- I don't think there is any other purpose to modern slasher films. They have essentially gone from trying to scare you with the danger to trying to attract you with the sadism. That's why they've become contests to see how sadistic the killings can get and how "cool" the images can be. There is no story to these films -- in other words, they are basically simulated killings with hints of a plot to hide behind.

Individualist said...

I generally don't like the Blood and Gore films. Have not seen Saw andonly say the first Friday the 13th movie, none of the sequels. I did see the Final and to me that real thing wrong was that it tried way to hard to say hey "this is what the Colombine Kids" were thinking but it was so unreal that one could not even accept it. So it was just dumb!

The only Slasher movies that I really loved were the Nightmare on Elmstreet films, somehow Freddie never seemed pointless or stupid and there was a good story behind it. Until after then 5th sequel of course when the story became lame because it had jumped the shark.

DUQ said...

I just watched a film called "The Collector" and everything you say here was true in that piece of filth. It was sadistic, needlessly brutal and it lacked any redeeming qualities. It was hypersexual too, but it wasn't just sex it was sexualized violence. Anyone involved in that film should be ashamed.

Janet said...

I usually agree with you Andrew, but I can't agree showing a human being killed is anything other than depraved. Life is precious and celebrating the destruction of life is depraved and I feel most movies today celebrate killing. They never show the true consequences, the hurt families, the loss, or the tragedy. They sympathize with the killers and only show them being upset at being caught, never remorseful and understanding of what they have taken. I believe "slasher movies" are merely the most extreme form of what goes on in so many other movies.

AndrewPrice said...

Individualist, I agree about The Final, it was dumb and I don't doubt that the director would say "this is just like Columbine." But of course, it was nothing of the sort, not even close. All it really turned out to be was the director's sadism fantasy. In fact, if I was the director's shrink, I would consider upping his dosage and slapping a warning label on his forehead. That film has ZERO artistic merit, ZERO creativity, and ZERO credibility. I honestly thought about writing to Chiller and telling them that they should be ashamed for showing that film.

I think the reason you see the Nightmare On Elm Street films as different is that (1) they were made before slasher films became sadistic and before it became all about gore, and (2) because it had a really neat concept with interesting twists and turns throughout the movie. It was much more like a horror film with gore in it, than a slasher film that is only about the gore.

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, I saw that the other night and, interestingly, the person I saw it with (who had not read my article) declared halfway through: "whoever made this film is a sadist." I kid you not. This one was really sick. Not a moment of the film made sense (e.g. how did he put so many complex traps in the house in such a short period of time), and nothing he did in torturing the people was necessary. Also, as you saw, almost every aspect of the film seemed to combine something sexual with the violence. This was the director's sex-torture fantasy.

AndrewPrice said...

Janet, I see your point, but I don't share it. I think that very few glorify murder. Some glorify crime, like the heist films, but the only ones that glorify killing are the slasher films, and they revel in it.

I do agree that few films show real world consequences. That's an issue I've thought about from time to time. On the one hand, it would not help the plots of most films, but on the other hand, you could argue that it makes violence seem more attractive. But I've seen no evidence that this ever spills over into the real world.

Anonymous said...

I agree.

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