Horror Movies Are Getting Deep (And That's A Good Thing)
As of writing this flock of words, Get Out has a perfect 100 percent critic score on Rotten Tomatoes. And while mostly everyone loved this film (including myself), the negative audience reviews tell a very different and specific story.
You can practically see the #MAGA hashtags.
No, I'm not talking about those sad sacks spamming one-stars and calling Get Out "racist against white people" (it's not), I'm talking about a completely different kind of specific negative review: Those who found the film legitimately boring.
While there's absolutely nothing wrong with disliking a film for being slow, this complaint reflects a common divide between critics and audiences when it comes to a handful of recent horror films.
For reference, compare these with other new horror films like Blair Witch, Don't Breathe, Lights Out, and The Conjuring -- all of which have critic ratings on par with the audiences'. But for these few films, receiving boisterous critical praise didn't equate to the same approval from moviegoers who found them to be "slow"or "not scary" or "not porno-y enough."
So what's happening? Are audiences such mule-fucking sociopaths they can't go a minute without a blood-covered spectacle? Or are elite critics so far up their own asses that their next whitewashing complaint will be about the backs of their own bleached teeth?
Sorry to say -- the answer might be neither. As I've noticed from purely anecdotal experience, none of these films are beloved or hated by the same group of people. Someone who loved It Follows might hate The Witch, and someone who loved The Witch might hate The Babadook, and et cetera. And some people (like me) might love all of these films, and have friends they respect and admire who don't like any of them.
So I have a theory -- one that doesn't force me to repeatedly suplex all my friends. The reason these movies stand out as being polarizing isn't just because they are slower and more atmospheric. It's because they're actually an entirely new genre of horror that works drastically differently on different types of people. Why? Because all of these films are extremely allegorical to some real-world problem or philosophy. And while critics and movie nerds are more likely to pick up on this, the casual horror-goer isn't going to care unless it's an analogy they are specifically attuned with. Nine times out of ten they just want a fear-induced rush to enjoy with their date.
This guy didn't pay $28 bucks to get a handjob while watching a METAPHOR, dammit.
I'm gonna call it "Parable Horror" and hope that it sticks. Or maybe "Alle-gore-y"? Wait. Let's call it "Scarable." That's way better. Are we all cool with "Scarable"? I feel like I shouldn't be the only person in charge of naming a new genre... but I also feel like I just hit it out of the park.
I'll give you some scarable examples. SPOILERS AHEAD.
The surface story of It Follows is that an invisible sex demon is sluggishly stalking teenagers like a barbiturated Zodiac killer. If you have sex with someone, you'll pass the burden onto them until they die (at which point you're back on the chopping block). And while there's a lot to love about the Carpenter/Raimi-esque way the movie is shot, the fear comes from the plodding inevitability of death. That one day we're all going to die. After one of our main characters has sex with the other to save her from the demon, the movie ends with the two walking hand in hand with the knowledge that, someday, it will come for them.
Just two young adults in matching outfits walking down an aisle together -- because the bond they share is literally the same as marriage. They are united for the rest of their lives, and when one of them dies the other will soon after. And when you realize this, the ending becomes strangely more positive. These two teens go from fearing the certainty of death to finding each other through it. And sex, which began as the hand-wringing villain, is now the hero of the movie. It's like The Grinch, but with a way different organ growing three sizes larger.
In The Babadook, the main character is a widowed mother tormented by an ever-looming monster threatening to drive her insane and make her kill her child. And in the end, she learns not only to defeat it, but actually live with it. Because the monster represents her grief. The Witch is about a young girl feeling the religious stigma of becoming a sexual being. She gets blamed by her religious family for "bewitching" her little brother, and in the end chooses to strip naked and embrace the demonization rather than feel ashamed of it. Which basically describes all of my hernia exams.
Granted, it might just be because her clothes are gore filthy.
And this is exactly the same deal with Get Out -- which (without spoiling anything) is not about demonizing white people, but rather attempts to make everyone watching either relate to or empathize with being young and black in America. By intertwining it with a horror plot, the film is designed to make you instinctively fear the upper-class suburban settings and police sirens as awaiting powder kegs for misunderstandings and violence... or as I like to define it: "some bullshit." Slowing cars and polite grins become just as frightening as any cursed object or bloody chainsaw. The villains aren't stereotypical rednecks, but actually friendly, often liberal people passively asserting their ownership over the main character -- who constantly has to second guess his own reactions.
And this is exactly what director Jordan Peele intended, having said that he was heavily inspired by the gaslighting elements of Rosemary's Baby -- a film that's also an allegory for the loss of control a woman feels during pregnancy. I'd ask if you're seeing a pattern yet, but I already told you what the pattern is. Soooo ... eh? Eh?!
Also: that you shouldn't trust old people.
See, these aren't spookhouse movies that define their quality by how many jump scares they can shove in your face like a stripper's balls at a bachelorette party. The fear is meant to be a little more lasting, more cerebral. More VIP-room lap dance-y.
That isn't to say there's anything wrong with jump scares, but for a lifelong horror fan like myself, the genre gets super old when dominated by just one tool. And it's the monotony of jump scares and gore that's caused a lot of older franchises to fall apart.
Although anyone bummed about that last headline won't be for very long...
I get that for a lot of people looking for a fun adrenaline escape, these films are like sitting down to watch Hog Farmer 5: Anal Hoedown and getting Eyes Wide Shut instead. But we need this.
We'll always have great slashers and jump-scare films (Green Room, Bone Tomahawk, and Oculus come to mind), but the horror genre needs a new sub-genre that will challenge it and help it grow. And this is that new great new sub-genre. Let's treat it right, because the 10,000 "Scarable" t-shirts in my trunk aren't going to sell themselves.
If you think of something better than "Scarable" let Dave know on Twitter.
It's Spring Break! You know what that means! Hot coeds getting loose on the beaches of Cancun and becoming imperiled in all classic beach slasher ways: Man-eating shark, school of piranhas, James Franco with dreadlocks. There are so many films about vacations gone wrong, it's a chore to wonder if there's even such a thing as a movie vacation gone right. Amity Island and Camp Crystal Lake are out. So what does that leave? The ship from Wall-E? Hawaii with the Brady Bunch? A road trip with famous curmudgeon Chevy Chase? On this month's live podcast Jack O'Brien and the Cracked staff are joined by some special guest comedians to figure out what would be the best vacation to take in a fictional universe.
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For more check out 5 Horror Subplots More Interesting Than The Movie They're In and 4 Underrated Horror Films for Never Leaving the House Again.
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