I Don’t Want To Be Shocked Anymore
For me, Halloween has always meant one thing: scary movies. And not just Halloween proper, but the entire month of October. Back when I lived in America my friends and I would make it a point to watch non-stop horror and gore during the month of October, sometimes going through as many as four horror flicks a week.
Of course, this wasn’t all that different to our regular movie watching schedule. Between our Netflix accounts, the remaining local video stores, and a healthy supply of illegally downloaded rarities, we would routinely awash ourselves in depravity, spending hours on end watching some of the sickest, most violent and deplorable acts of horror ever put on film.
And I mean violent and sick. Like most horror fanatics, I grew tired of flicks like Nightmare On Elm Street and Friday The 13th when I was in college. By then I was watching the slightly more obscure (and more disturbing) slasher fare, such as Sleepaway Camp and The Burning. After graduation, my horror tastes graduated as well, and my friends and I started to explore the real B-movies and international oddities. This is when I fell headfirst into Italian horror like The Beyond and New York Ripper, as well as grindhouse sleaze like The Last House On The Left, Night Train Murders, and I Spit On Your Grave. Usually we would focus on vintage horror, but we would occasionally devote time to newer releases. This was how I got into some “New French Extremity” like Martyrs and High Tension.
I realize I’m only name-dropping some relatively well-known titles here, but that’s only because I’m having a hard time recalling a lot of the more obscure flicks. Trust me though, with rare exception, if it had a reputation for being gruesome, bloody, disturbing and morally bankrupt, I probably watched it.
This October marked the first Halloween season in which I had a boyfriend. Not only that, but a boyfriend who is woefully ignorant when it comes to horror films. This was great, I thought, now I’d be able to share with him my favorite fucked up flicks, and maybe we’d even discover some new (or newly discovered) horror together.
We got through the introductory stuff just fine. I loved watching Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Nightmare on Elm Street again and he seemed to enjoy being scared by them. He really seemed into Nightmare, so I thought we might go back earlier in Craven’s filmography and watch Last House On the Left.
When I was very young, that movie had an aura about it. It was so fucked up. So disgusting. So sick. You couldn’t even imagine it. Joe Bob Briggs would talk about it on TNT, but he couldn’t dare show it. When my dad owned his video store it was one of a few movies I was never allowed to rent (and he let me see A Clockwork Orange when I was in high school). And when I finally got, boy did it ever live up to its reputation. Brutal murder, castration by blowjob, forced suicide. It was a dark ride, and I enjoyed subjecting myself to it at the time. It was fun to test my limits, to gauge how far I could go into the dark side of cinema and still make it out.
But, when faced with the opportunity of watching it again, and subjecting its moral void to my boyfriend, I didn’t feel any excitement or anticipation. All I felt was dread. While 2004 me was more than happy to sit down and watch a movie where a woman is forced to urinate on herself before she’s murdered and dismembered by a gang of violent psychopaths, 2015 me would rather, oh I dunno, not do that.
I don’t know what happened to me. I feel like a switch in my brain turned. I remember listening to a podcast on Giant Bomb where the late Ryan Davis explained how he used to thrive on the fucked up shit you’d find on sites like 4chan, until one day it got too extreme and too fucked up and from that point on, even the slightest fucked up thing would make him feel sick. That may have been what happened to me, but I think the trigger wasn’t wasn’t a movie that took it too far, it was real life.
Again, maybe it’s that pesky midlife crisis rearing its head. Or maybe it was the severe anxiety episode from last year. Whichever it was, I’m still finding new ways in which it has effected me. First my tastes in music, and now my tastes in film. I don’t want to be shocked anymore. I don’t want to be disgusted. I don’t want my media to make me recoil in fear, dread or despair.
I get enough of that in real life now.
I want more joy in my media. The world is a fucked up place where fucked up things happen all the time. Why would I want to constantly surround myself with it in my entertainment also? But I feel like I’m alone in this desire. TV shows (and streaming programs) like Orange Is The New Black, The Walking Dead and Empire all dominate the entertainment landscape. Shows that bathe themselves in depression and sadness and/or enjoy espousing the vile activities of disgusting people. Furthermore, I don’t think they’re authentic. The movies I mentioned, they were sleaze, but they knew they were sleaze. These new shows and such that explore “dark themes” want to be art, but they’re the same sleaze. A high budget and slightly better acting can’t hide that.
But misery, disgust and despair are a surefire way to critical acclaim these days, even in games. The Last of Us controls horribly and the story is trite nonsense about zombies. But they killed a little kid in the first act so everyone thinks its serious art. People see something like that and they think it’s Sophie’s Choice. I just think it’s The Toxic Avenger. Ditto for The Walking Dead (the movie and game). The series’ propensity for brutal death scenes of beloved characters seems to be a drawing point for a large portion of its audience. But all I see is Dawn of The Dead minus the funny parts and actual social commentary (“We’re the real walking dead!” Oh shut the fuck up already).
Now in light of what happened in Paris, I’m not even much in the mood for action films at the moment. The way they casually toss aside death with one-liners, I’m just not comfortable with it. I know I said I want escapism in my media, but right now something like Die Hard isn’t an escape for me, it’s a brutal reminder of our harsh world punctuated with bad jokes.
Strangely enough, I have fallen recently into a rabbit hole of giallo. For those of you who don’t know, giallos are Italian horror films, typically from the 1970s, which feature incredibly graphic death scenes that almost gleefully focus on the brutal details of each victim’s demise. My continuing enjoyment of the genre surprised even me, until I actually thought about what makes giallos stand out from similarly gruesome forms of entertainment.
First of all, and I guess this is most important, they’re entirely silly. And I don’t mean silly in the “ha ha I just killed a guy” action movie way, I mean silly in the “wow that blood looks like orange juice” way. The gore effects of most vintage giallo films were bad for their time, and they certainly haven’t gotten any better with age. That, coupled with the insanely out-of-date and funky fashion and music that most feature, help to disconnect me from the more harsh aspects of what may be unfolding on camera.
Secondly, despite their gore, most giallos are detective films. Meaning that the bad guy gets caught, the good guy wins and everyone who’s not dead lives happily ever after. It’s not so much the morality of it that I enjoy, it’s the sense of justice. Even if there’s no happy ending, the bad guys almost always what they deserve (sometimes drastically so) and in today’s age of damn near everyone getting away with everything, that’s certainly refreshing.
So next week, when my boyfriend and I cuddle up for movie night, I think we’re going to watch The Bird With Crystal Plumage, an obscure Dario Argento filck from the early 70s. It may feature a few gruesome deaths, but from what I can remember about it, the killer gets his in the end and the good guys triumph. That’s exactly the kind of message I need in my media right now.
Or maybe we’ll just watch This Is Spinal Tap again. Because that shit’s funny.