Horror films are both daily bread and a dirty little secret. A successful horror franchise can help build a studio. Ask New Line, “the house that Freddy built” or Lions Gate, feathering their nest with the SAW franchise. Currently a quarter of the Top 20 films of the year are horror pics.

Horror films are fairly inexpensive, don’t require big names and often launch fresh directorial visions. Plus, there’s the extra money to be had releasing Unrated DVD’s which offer more terror (yet often deliver more tedium.)

Nearly every horror film comes to DVD in an Unrated package because the fans know that there’s always something cut in order to secure a rating. With most R films like the recent HOSTEL or LAND OF THE DEAD this is true. With PG-13 titles like THE RING TWO, it’s usually just marketing hype.
The PG-13 horror film is a recent trend. The concept of a scary movie without all that gore and grue and high tension was nearly unthinkable, but with THE RING, THE GRUDGE and even WHEN A STRANGER CALLS, PG-13 has provided some serious coin.

True horror fans, raised on THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and DAWN OF THE DEAD are outraged at the idea of horror films that pull their punches for a more family-friendly audience. This has given rise to a recent spate of what I call “Can You Take It?” films. These films revel in carnage, sadism and plain bad taste just to see if they can get under your skin.
The most successful of these films are by far, HOSTEL and SAW II. Both were helped by some slick marketing, that promised to show creative ways for people to die. THE DEVIL’S REJECTS was the most critically acclaimed (although I hated it, more for the bad filmmaking than the subject matter). France even got on the reactionary tip with HIGH TENSION (over-rated) and the director’s follow up, the recent THE HILLS HAVE EYES.
What’s vital to the Hard-R horror film is the filmmakers’ intention must be perfectly clear. TEXAS CHAINSAW is a classic because it feels true, yet is somehow darkly funny. I feel the same about HOSTEL, which takes great joy in going over the top (much like SIN CITY).
All of my knowledge and feelings towards “Can You Take It?” horror came into sharp focus when I watched the recent DVD release, WOLF CREEK. The film (like TEXAS CHAINSAW) bases its story on true events. It tells of three college kids on vacation in the Australian outback. Their stalled car is towed deep into nowhere by a driver who proceeds to brutally torture them for the back half of the film.

The film is very well acted (especially by John Jarratt as the tow truck driver) and shot in a gritty “you are there” style that lends everything a heap of authenticity. I admire the skill of the artists. However, the final product feels emotionally empty and pointless. The story never sold me as a document of real events. It’s only reason for existing seemed to be the drawn out and sadistic torture scenes.
Roger Ebert made a great comment in his review. He said, “There is a line and this movie crosses it. I don’t know where the line is, but it’s way north of WOLF CREEK. There is a role for violence in film, but what the hell is the purpose of this sadistic celebration of pain and cruelty?”

He gave the film 0 stars, and I understand why. It’s not that bad a film (although quite slow), but I wish there was some level on which to enjoy or at least think about the material being presented. I don’t like HIGH TENSION, but I get it. I love IRREVERSIBLE, which many people don’t get and couldn’t bear to watch. I’m not a prude by any stretch, but WOLF CREEK left me cold, and besides some good acting, I just can’t think of a reason to see it.


Blogger Humby said...

I hated it a couple years back when films would hold back to get the PG-13. You could tell and at times it took away from the overall experience. It seems that now we are going just as far in the other direction. Most of these movies use violence and gore as an “anything you can do I can do better” approach. This use of disturbing images is just distracting. I wish that studios and filmmakers would for once forget about the rating and just make the best movie that they can. I love that you used IRREVERSIBLE as an example. That is a movie that is difficult to watch because of its violence, but everything in the film is there for a purpose and is extremely effective. It is a really good move and I hate to see it lumped in with HOSTEL and WOLF CREEK. It should stand as an example for these others to aspire to.

That’s just my “strong opinion” anyway…

10:53 AM  

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