[Bloggers Note: I did a post a few weeks back on Violence and Gore. This is similar, but different, exploring different angles of the subject.]
Do you know that crazy bunny from the Energizer battery commercials? The one that just keeps going and going and going? When he rolls off the screen and you go back to your TV show, do you think he really keeps going and going and going?
I guess since there have been many, many commercials featuring him, and he’s been going since 1988, you could argue that he DOES keep going and going. At least as long as Energizers advertising department sees a use for him. He’s sure lasted longer than the Verizon guy. Ok, so at least symbolically he’s still going.
But is he really? Is there some cage they keep him in and he keeps banging that drum 24/7/365? Of course not. He’s a TV prop. In fact, there have been several versions of him over the years. He’s going as long as the cameras are. Then he’s turned off, put in a box, and left to collect dust until the next shoot.
You already knew that, even if you didn’t actually think it through. It’s common sense. Knowing that, does it make the commercials less impactful for you? Perhaps you’re not one to get excited about commercials, but didn’t you instantly know who I was talking about? You didn’t need to hit the InterWebs to research the Energizer bunny. And if you instantly knew who he was and what he was selling, well then my friends he did his job. Even if he doesn’t keep going and going and going between commercials.
Would it help you to trust Energizer batteries if you knew somehow he did keep going? Well, it would raise some questions, like “What happened to physics that we’ve developed an infinite power source?” But I don’t know if it would make you trust the batteries; after all, the bunny obviously isn’t using Energizer batteries. Batteries simply don’t last forever.
You see, the bunny isn’t the product. Obvious, I know, but bear with me. Your brain is more than able to distinguish between an advertisement on TV and a pack of batteries in the local Target. You know that if you buy Energizer batteries, they aren’t going to last forever. They may last for a very long time, but not forever. So the bunny becomes a stand in, a placeholder for the actual batteries. The bunny isn’t the batteries.
And so it is with so-called horror movies. The events of the movie aren’t actually happening. The film is just a representation of the events, so you can better immerse yourself in the experience of being chased by aliens or haunted by a ghost or stalked by a psychotic murderer.
When you go to see a horror movie, you aren’t actually expecting to have the horror happen directly to you.
I want to make a sharp distinction between two very clear but rarely talked about sub-sections of the overarching horror genera. Psychological Horror and Gore.
Quentin Tarentino, this might be the time to tune me out. Of course, if you’re reading my blog, can you link me a few places? Thanks!
Ok, where was I? Right. Psychological Horror vs. Gore in a Caged Death Match.
I really like psychological horror. Really, and I’ll tell you why.
1) It makes me think.
2) It engages my senses in ways they don’t normally get engaged.
3) It actually scares me.
I really dislike gore. Really, and I’ll tell you why.
1) It’s boring.
2) It’s boring.
3) It’s offensive.
According to special effects man Christopher Allen Nelson, reported here, over 450 gallons of fake blood were used on the two Kill Bill movies directed by Mr. Tarantino. Am I the only one who thinks this is excessive? That’s approximately all the blood in 300 adult humans. The original Psycho, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, used a few cans of Bosco Chocolate Syrup for the blood, mostly in the shower scene. That’s it. And I was much more engaged with Psycho than I was with either Kill Bill movie, or any Tarantino film at all. That being said, I fully acknowledge that he’s a great director. But I’d feel compelled to call him a bloody great director, and not in the British meaning.
Also, he’s not alone. I just pick on him because he is often the most extreme of the high-profile directors working today.
And before you say anything, I am fully aware of Mr. Tarantino’s views on having his art messed with by others. I don’t mean to invalidate his artistic choices. I do mean to have an open conversation about the artistic merit of gore in movies and Television.
Take for example the zombie genera. I, by all accounts, should like that genera. I have all the qualifications of a good zombie-apocalypse fan-boy. But I don’t. One reason, which I will cover in more detail on my upcoming zombie post, is the nihilism of that genera. But my point for today is this; they are too gory for me to enjoy.
I’m not a prude, and I’m not squeamish. I was raised by a nurse and a paramedic after all. But perhaps because of my parents and their experiences, I am bothered by the pain such gore implies. Also, I’ve seen some horrible visuals in my day and when it comes to death and dying, I’m not excited by seeing it happen even if it is just make believe. I don’t even feel the need to go into – pardon the pun – the gory details because I know some folks are turned off by that. But my issue is even deeper that just gallons of fake blood, and it goes to why I think psychological horror is better. Not all experiences are good.
There’s a simple truth: If you imagine it, it’s more scary. Watching a horrible giant fish eating a man is gory; knowing there is a giant fish that wants to eat you, but you don’t know where it is – well then the fear is generated in my head using my particular twerks and quirks, and it can be terrifying. Thank you Jaws.
The same holds true for many of the best horror movies out of history. Psycho, Alien, Predator, Terminator and so forth. Many of those titles are action flicks, sure, but they are also horror flicks because you’re scared watching them. I’m sorry but, to me at least, that’s much more satisfying, and that’s why I watch movies after all. And of course we’re not talking about just movies. As I’ve indicated, this covers TV as well, but also novels and short stories, comics and animated shows. Engage my mind and scare me!
And just a final thought. Many people today, and young people in particular, are very jaded. In fact, it’s not just that they’re jaded, but there’s a cultural pressure to appear jaded even if they aren’t. I can’t say why this has happened; I really don’t know. But I do believe this has driven the “gore market” over the past couple of decades. Sure, there is psychological horror out there still, but much of it is drenched in so much blood that I can’t enjoy it, and perhaps that’s because here in America at least, we don’t want to face actual, real fear.
Just ask my 14 year old daughter how she feels knowing I’ll die some day. She doesn’t even want to talk about it. But she’ll watch My Little Pony fan videos that are drenched in the red stuff Mr. Tarantino so loves. That doesn’t seem quite healthy to me, and that makes me proud.