Friday, January 28, 2011

Just Say No to Hollywood Horror Films

I have enjoyed movies all my life. I watch documentary, fantasy, rom-com, foreign, thriller, and action films. I no longer watch horror movies, however, and here are my reasons.

First, horror movies represent a simplistic moral universe. As Scream (the first) pointed out, teens engaged in behaviors deemed inappropriate for their age group die first and horribly. For example, the sweet high school girl, played by Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween, spends Halloween carving pumpkins and protecting two young charges while her self-absorbed peers smoke, drink, and have sex in an empty house nearby. The killer brutally executes those self-indulgent teens, then stalks the babysitter who has come to his attention by wandering into the house of death in search of her friends because she wants to be sure they are safe.

The babysitter’s spunky though. Fear cannot paralyze her. Life, including the lives of her two young charges, is precious, and she fights for it, proving that wit, resourcefulness, selflessness, strength, and perseverance win the day. She endures while Michael Myers returns to a maximum-security cell in an institution for the criminally insane.

The movie’s moral universe suggests that self-indulgence is a straight-line march to an agonizing death whereas the right stuff grants the protagonist another day. Still, even this simplistic moral universe has some reprehensible components. Racial minorities die early horror films. Women who dress provocatively will not only die, they will also be required to run for their lives before losing. We, the viewers, follow the woman’s desperate flight, hoping with her that she is faster, that she can outwit her predator, but alas, she never does. She stumbles or turns down the wrong alley or locks herself inside the one room in which the killer has already hidden.

Her flight and her almost certain death are two more reasons I do not see horror films anymore. First, I do not believe that a woman running for her life, only to lose it at the hands of a man, should be provocative or entertaining. One in every four real women will face an abuser, most often an intimate partner. One in six women will be a victim of rape or attempted rape.

Given all this real violence perpetrated against women, why would we want to add portrayals of violence to the messages we send to men, women, and children? Although there may be no proven quid pro quo effect between violent speech or films and violent crimes, why run the risk of encouraging those who are prone to commit abuse or violence? A society that endorses violence as entertainment is a society that tacitly refuses to protect victims by reducing their suffering to the price of admission, making us a nation of voyeurs. As Charlotte Bunch said, “Sexual, racial, gender violence and other forms of discrimination and violence in a culture cannot be eliminated without changing culture.” So stay home. Do not buy a ticket to, rent the DVD, or download a horror film.

The second reason that I refuse to watch horror films and avoid violent crime shows is the number of graphic, gratuitous death scenes. Mr. Monk, Shawn Spencer, Gus Guster, and Jessica Fletcher find bad guys and restore justice without spreading pools of sticky blood, mummified corpses, or maggots on display. They are forces for good, fighting evil without becoming tainted and twisted themselves. Some recent big budget films starring Gerard Butler or Mel Gibson feature protagonists that main, torture, slaughter, and stalk very bad men, the line separating the protagonist from the villain very thin indeed.

While I am not naïve and I have surely witnessed blood and mayhem on film without becoming violent myself, I still cannot condone the atavistic, voyeuristic appeal to the depravity that resides within. Let us rise above our hearts of darkness to prefer nobler pursuits. Let us have the courage to demand the truth about the human experience without the scales heavily weighted to our weaker moments. Let us show compassion to all those preyed upon and victimized.