Friday, March 1, 2013

Death is Death

I'm foregoing the usual Friday Flash Fiction for a greater cause, folks... and because I don't really have a solid idea today. Brain is running but no one's driving.

Instead, I'd like to discuss death in films. Horror in particular because, well, that's where I live. There's a problem with death in films and I think it boils down to this: Stop trying to outdo everything.
Originality is one thing, but realism is the key. I'll give you two examples and you decide which is more realistic and more terrifying to experience as a filmgoer.

1. Masked killer jumps out with chainsaw/machete/ka-bar/katana/hacksaw/skilsaw/bandsaw/seesaw and guts a young scream queen.


2. Not a horror film, but I'll use 'Saving Private Ryan' as an example. At the end, when the German Soldier kills Adam Goldberg's character with his knife. He's lying on top of Goldberg at the end of a brutal fight, and he pushes the knife in slowly while telling his victim, "Shhhh."

Scenario #1 has happened in 5,000 movies 25,000 times. How many new and different ways do you think you can carve someone up? Rookies will think it's cool, but until they've seen their 40th or 50th or 372nd slasher film--they'd just be rookies. Once they've lived through 4 decades of movie watching, I'd like t hear their opinion. Just because a movie is aimed at a younger audience, does NOT mean it has to be dumbed down, or that the story doesnt matter... that it can't be a good film. And as much as I hate PG-13, it isn't a death sentence: The Ring, Gremlins and Poltergeist are proof.

Okay, you're saying: you can't compare Spielberg to Slasher X, Y or Z... but that's bullshit. That scene and many others like it are hard to watch because we care about the character. We've gotten to know them. We have something invested in them. It's a simple kill, but well played, and it's chilling.
Now, imagine if you will, that Private Mellish was instead a young scream queen, and the German Soldier was your serial killer... and he's finally got her where he wants her, and she's crying and the same thing plays out. Creepy, huh?

So let's do away with the jump scares as the norm. Let's spend an extra minute or two on writing the screenplays and make our characters more than stereotypical checks in boxes. Let's stop using the same Adobe After Effects demon face. They can still have sex, get drunk, and die horribly, but none of that matters, none of it will be memorable if we don't invest ourselves in the victims.

Why was Walking Dead season one so good? Characters. We cared about them, and when they died, or worse yet, had to kill someone they cared about--dramatic gold. Now we're in season three, and the zombies aren't really a factor anymore. They could be giant snakes, bad weather, global warming... anything. Sure, the Walking Dead are actually the people, but it's lost that essential thing that made it great. Now it's slipped into that realm of B-horror entertainment. Decisions aren't moving the story forward, they're dragging the story out to hold the big cliffhanger for the end of the season. That's unfair.

Books, same way. Romantic vampires? Zombie Apocalypse? Done to death. Work on the characters, not the current trend. Then when it comes time for them to die or to turn into a monster, it will be horrible--and they will be missed.


  1. Seeing that SPR scene in a horror movie would be terrifying.
    (You got a check in 'funny' for "seesaw")

  2. Seesaw!

    I just feel like death for most is a lonely and wholly non-exciting thing. It's creepy in and of itself... The thought of a life slipping away. Where does that spark go? Splashing blood on it doesn't make it scary. If you are invested in that life, even for a little while--it doesn't take much to become invested in someone--than losing them is where the fear sets in, either because you don't want to lose them, or you identify with them and put yourself in their doomed shoes. No one really cares about the roid-rage college date rapist, the token slut, the drunk/drugged dude...those are just checks in boxes and in the end, it's all forgettable. Ahhhh! I could rant on this for months.

  3. I rarely watch horror movies. I read horror occasionally, but watching it is so...meh. However, you know what was creepy and different? Cabin in the Woods. All through that movie I was going, 'WTF is going on here?!' And my kids would just say, 'Keep watching.' Little shits. lol

  4. That movie was like an homage to all horror movies. Smarter than most, but probably not as smart as it thought it was :)

  5. I liked the Psych episode (Heeeeere's Lassie, Season 6: Ep 11) that referenced a bunch of horror movies, but since I'm not a big fan I'm sure I missed a lot. The big ones were there, like The Shining, Poltergeist, Rosemary's Baby and even Ghostbusters. lol