Sunday, March 15, 2009

Slasher Films--Who is the Victim?

It’s been a busy week for mass murderers.

On Tuesday, March 10, a 28-year-old man named Michael McLendon in Alabama killed 10 people. He started out by killing his mother and setting her body on fire on the living room couch, then he went to where he used to work and killed nine more people and when he was cornered, he killed himself.

The next day a 17-year-old youth named Tim Ketschmer went to his former school near Stuttgart, Germany and started shooting, and before he killed himself, 15 people died.

Then, on Friday, I read reviews in all the newspapers, of the latest slasher movie to open nationwide. The movie is call “The Last House on the Left” and it’s impossible not to know about it because of the relentless ads on TV. I’ve been trying to ignore them but they make the plot very clear—crazy bad guys terrorize, rape and torture some young girls and then go to a house which happens to belong to one of the girls’ nice parents (dad is a doctor) and when the parents figure out what their drop-in guests did (“Shall I tell you what I did to your daughter” is one line from the TV ads) the parents exact revenge on their daughter’s tormentors using many household kitchen aids like the microwave oven and the garbage disposal.

I stopped watching horror films a long time ago. Isn’t there enough pain in the world without paying money to see more?

Many eons ago when I was young I saw some of the first and best horror movies—including Psycho and a French film that scared us silly called Diabolique. I remember well the end of Diabolique when the presumably dead body floating in the bathtub suddenly leaped up to attack. That was really scary because it was the first “dead body that suddenly comes to life” in a film. Since then, nearly every scary movie has at least one dead body that suddenly leaps back to life and attacks.

And Psycho—the greatest scary movie ever. When Janet Leigh gets knifed to death in the shower—as you probably already know—none of the gore and slashing is actually seen on film. All you see is some blood circling the drain. That’s enough. We were all scared out of our minds. Some of my friends vowed they’d never take a shower again.

Now we have competing exploitation and slasher-porn films in which teenagers inevitably go somewhere they shouldn’t and then are slowly killed by one by one in a variety of ways. Every film keeps trying to push the envelope and increase the violence. Here are some of the lines from yesterday’s reviews of “The Last House on the Left”:

From the New York Post: “Multiplies the horror to an almost unbearable level… One scene in the middle is almost outrageously cruel and graphic. ..This is the most depraved and dreadful piece of screen horror since last year’s “Funny Games.”

The New York Times in a brief review: called the film “a toned-down, tarted-up remake of (Wes Craven’s) infamously brutal 1972 debut film…Mr. Iliadis alternates visceral violence—a knife slowly entering a girl’s quivering stomach, a garbage disposal chewing relentlessly on a man’s hand—with interludes of dreamy anxiety.”

And the Worcester Telegram and Gazette ends its review: “The Last House on the Left” is a dispiriting exercise in ultra-violence that even the gorehounds will find disappointing, and that everyone else will be glad they don’t have to see.”

I’ve known for a long time that these slasher/porn films were out there—every “Friday the 13th” or “Chainsaw Massacre” tries to push the envelope a little farther.

And I think it’s numbing people and acclimatizing people to violence. Not people… men. Not many women rush to these films. Women are usually the victims and women moviegoers are likely to identify with the victims—the girl whose abdomen is being sliced open.

The only filmgoers who will not identify with the victims, who will actually get off on the gore, are men who can convince themselves that the victims are not human beings and deserve to be punished.

This is the same mind-set that made possible things like the Holocaust. If you’re going to spend your life torturing and killing people, you have to convince yourself they’re not really human beings.

The young men who go to these films are being brutalized and dehumanized by the increasingly explicit gore.

I don’t believe in censorship at all. I’m a journalist and I know that censorship is unacceptable. But I think it’s time for the entertainment industry—that means both film and television—to start self-censoring and to think what they’re creating in those movie theaters packed with unhappy, often mentally unbalanced men who ultimately decide it makes sense to go out and kill a lot of random people.

Why would anyone sit through a couple of hours of graphic torture and gore? Women don’t do this, but some men do. They feel powerless—maybe they’re unpopular or preyed on by bullies or fired from their job or yelled at by their parents. And they feel helpless and small. And then they can go to a movie and identify with villains who are torturing and killing just for the power trip and the surge of power it gives them

And I’ll bet that by the end of this weekend, the film “The Last House on the Left” will be the number-one film in the country and will have earned its makers multi-millions of dollars in its opening weekend. And I’ll bet the filmmakers—the director and producers and actors and scriptwriters—will not spend a moment wondering what they have created.

“What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?”


Robin Paulson said...

Did you know that in Psycho, the blood circling the drain is actually chocolate syrup? I'm actually fascinated with how they create the special effects in slasher movies, although, I never watch the movies themselves. A friend of mine was in one of the Friday the 13th flicks, and had to go to a place to have a prosthetic made of part of her neck with blood and a knife in it. In another life I'd like to be a props person for sicko movies.

lactmama said...

Good post.
What to me is also of interest is the lack of quality in these films. Psycho and Diabolique made your mind work. This stuff is gratuitous violence and somehow very much a part of Western culture. Seems to me that inappropriate alcohol use (and of course drugs) is closing tied into all of this.

The entertainment industry can not examine itself bk the people who created it were in it not only for the money. Today the corporations rule, the bottom line is how many bucks, young people have lost a lot of their values, etc., etc. etc.

Keep the wimmin down on their backs where they belong. Treat others as inferiors. And now look around and see what a deep pit most of the world is in. Maybe the Big Recovery will help society in unexpected ways and restore a little more respect for others. And put men on their backs where they belong. Arriba mujeres.

Miss Evi on her soapbox