September 12, 2011
It’s that time again. This weekend was spent watching horror movies, and seeing as how we didn’t get to play the horror RPG I set up, I’m in a bit of a horror mood this week. Let’s add to the wonderful list of clichés that need to die, shall we?
Hillbillies in Texas
Let’s sit for another vocabulary lesson, shall we? The term “hillbilly” is a derogatory term to identify someone born in mountainous, rural areas of the country, specifically the Appalachians and the Ozarks.
This means that those murderous clans in Texas, or Utah, or wherever the hell else the movies are set, are not “hillbillies” in the strictest sense. Of course, this kind of mentality, that someone from a rural area is inbred or otherwise genetically deficient, is insulting for a number of reasons, but I’m personally taking offense to the old idea of giving these groups in all these movies the same no-names back-story.
They get cut off from “civilization” and a few decades later you have a nice clan of inbred cannibals, because if there’s one thing a group of people who survive out in the wilderness can’t do, it’s hunt, right? I mean, how many people raised in rural areas of the country do you know can hunt? It’s ridiculous, right?
Seriously. The guys from Wrong Turn and Texas Chainsaw Massacre probably have yearly family reunions.
With Friends Like This…
I’ve had friends from all walks of life. Some were Christians, some agnostic, others pagan. Some were conservative, others liberal. Some were straight. Some were gay. Some were bi. A few had a higher education. Some didn’t. And yet, when together with them, you could always tell we were all good friends.
If I have to watch another group of “friends” that look like they’re about to kill each other every five minutes, I might scream.
Most horror movies already have the cliché of “young friends go on the road, trouble finds them.” That would be bad enough, but the movie feels it needs to lump in a mix of personalities: the jock, the nerd, the slut, the innocent girl, etc. Instead of having a story draw everyone in, we get everyone in a car because they apparently know each other and they have nowhere else to go.
I’m serious. Watch the interactions in any movie that features more than three people traveling somewhere. They can’t stand each other.
And I know that friends can bicker and argue, but the groups of friends that go into these trips to an island, or a party, or the haunted mansion where a hundred people were killed by a lone sociopath so it should be a prime Spring Break vacation are so utterly incompatible as a “group” that I find it easier to believe the serial killer really can teleport.
Horror Goes With Soy Sauce
Lovecraft is one of my favorite writers. Just search for him on this site and you’ll see. If he didn’t invent the tentacle monstrosity or the abomination lurking beneath the water, he sure set the groundwork for it. Virtually everyone from Stephen King to Guillermo del Toro has, at some point, used Lovecraft’s monsters as a template for their own horror shows.
And now, can we please move beyond the need to have every inhuman alien or creature look like a Japanese entrée?
There’s a reason tentacles and slimy things unnerve us. They’re not something we see every day. We’re land-based animals that still fear the unknown, and tentacles and goopy aquatic adaptations are some of the strangest things our animal brains can see. That’s what makes this terrifying.
It also means everyone and their mother does it. I’ll admit something, though: this cliché would be very difficult to undo or break away from. You can only design something to make it look alien so much before it becomes either ridiculous or unrecognizable as a life form. The horror of the strange yet familiar is what tickles all of our brain.
Still, if someone found another way to make truly alien beings appear alien and terrifying, I’d appreciate it.
In a video game, it’s not uncommon for your ninja guy on a mission of vengeance to call out his attacks as he does them. Think Street Fighter or any other fighting game. It sounds and looks cheesy right?
So why have we accepted that vampires get weird eyes or otherwise turn animalistic when they’re about to attack?
There’s some justification for this one. At least in the case of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Joss Whedon thought it would be disturbing if high schoolers continually stabbed and killed human-looking villains all the time. Not having to have them dispose of the bodies is another reason for why vampires “dust” when they die.
However, pretty much any time a vampire is going to go for broke, the eyes turn a different color, sometimes the fangs grow out, something. If these are supposed to be stealthy killing machines, why the theatrics? It’s much scarier NOT knowing when the monster is going to attack.
Personally, if you’re shooting for straight horror, nothing’s scarier than a guy who could live next door just casually chewing on someone’s neck or severed arm. It would be hard to pull it off, though.
The scene, not the severed arm.
Michael Myers Syndrome
Any fan of horror should know this one without me even spelling it out. A killer is on the rampage. Dumb college kids are dying left and right. As the killer approaches the Final Girl, we can only wonder what combination of events and motivations led this killer on a murderous spree…
Oh wait. We can’t.
A lot of killers get something akin to a back-story. Freddy was a child murderer. Jason’s mother was killed in front of him. Michael Myers… uhm…
Even the ones that get something like a back-story quickly abandon it in favor of killing and slashing for the sake of murder. At the third sequel, does anyone really care whether or not Jason’s mother went on a killing spree that ended in her death and pushed her son to become a violent killer? There’s nothing wrong with having the antagonist be the star of your show. Having the bad guy be front and center, exploring his or her emotions, is a great way to tell a story from an unconventional point of view.
Let me put it another way. Either the bad guy’s interesting, or the heroes are interesting. One or the other or both.
Most horror films can’t do even one.
And you can be sure I’ll be avoiding as many of these as possible when I finally run my horror game this week. See you tomorrow!