Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The case for PG-13 Horror films

Sorry for not posting too often over the past few weeks. Work has kept me busy (for which I am grateful, as things will slow down soon). And my room mate, who really dislikes horror movies, is traveling for the next few months, allowing me to catch up on my film backlog. So, as it's time to get back to writing, why not start out with a controversial topic.

It's no understatement to say most fans look down at PG-13 horror films. Not enough violence and gore, not scary enough; anyone online has heard all the arguments against them. But I think the horror community might be a bit too harsh and, perhaps, a little misguided.

To start, studios are cranking out PG-13 horror because it can fill the theaters. The films are more accessible to the teen audience and it seems that current cinema goers are shying away from R rated movies of any type. Look at last weekend's box office battle. The highly anticipated, R-rated Kick-Ass was edged out by the family friendly How to Train Your Dragon (according to Monday's New York Times; Box Office Mojo shows Kick-Ass pulling about $200K more). Sure, you could mention that the event pricing of the animated 3D movie gave it the edge. But Kick-Ass took in less than expected (only $19.8 million), given all the fan buzz surrounding it.

Of course, these are the same people New Line banked on to come out in droves for Snakes on a Plane. The studio even added several scenes to earn an R rating, though Samuel L. Jackson's major tag line would been enough. One has to wonder if, had the studio kept the PG-13 rating, SoaP might have been box office success. We could get into a discussion as to why this is happening, but let's face it. R-rated movies are not drawing a large audience right now.

But let's get back to talking about PG-13 horror and let's start with a true stinker, 2008's remake of Prom Night. It is an awful movie by any standards and is used as ammo by many of the anti-PG-13 ranters. But no amount of gore and nudity, the elements fans say they want in a horror film, would make this cinematic turd any better. Nope, all you'd have is maybe one or two nasty kills to talk about with your friends, which you'll remember long after the movie fades from your memory.

Another argument used before the remake even hit the theaters was that the original was R-rated, so the remake should be as well. To that, I say dig out your copy of the Jamie Lee Curtis "classic." It would only take a few seconds of editing for the original to earning a PG-13 rating. And the movie isn't really that good, with an overly long build up, major plot holes and tedious chase scenes. And let's not get started on the disco dance bit.

Even the classics of the time didn't always rely on blood and gore. The original Halloween could get a PG-13 today, with a little trimming of P. J. Sole's topless scene. And the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (TCM) didn't need much on screen gore to chill viewers. Now, I'm not saying that film would ever get a PG-13 rating, but compared to horror films of the 80's, the violence is rather tame. You never see the chainsaw hacking into a human body, as you never see the knife pierce Janet Leigh in Psycho. But those three films didn't need a large effects budget. The scenes were crafted in such a way that your mind fills in the blanks. You are tricked into seeing more than was shown on the screen. A film doesn't need to show too much to be scary, and that is where a PG-13 movie can shine.

If you're still in doubt, check out the American version of The Ring. Director Gore Verbinski crafts a very effective movie, relying more on atmosphere and tension than gore and effects. The film works because a talented director was at the helm with a specific vision, not a hack looking to score a quick buck on title recognition. Drag Me to Hell is another example, with the PG-13 version better than the overdone "unrated" scene.

Now, I'm not saying we should give up on R-rated horror. I love a good gorefest as well as the next fan (as proven by my repeated appearance whenever Pieces is screened here in Portland). But I think the horror community can not openly dismiss any film as not good enough because of it's rating. Lots of recent R-rated fare has been pretty bad. And I'd rather be scared by any movie, even if it was rated G, then sit through another godawful gore fest.