Saturday, October 12, 2013

It's October and October means watching a lot of horror films.

One of the big debates in cinema horror revolves around the idea that horror is increasingly meaningless because it's just entertainment. The idea here is that, back in the day, there were all sorts of social taboos that horror could plahy off. Sex was a big no-no, so a lot of vampire stories used biting the neck as a metaphor for sexual intercourse. Drugs were a taboo, so the tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde essentially was a warning not only about the degradation that drugs brought on but also a license to show these horrors (drinking, promiscuous sex, bohemianism, licentiousness, etc.). For the Victorian, especially, who was just encountering and becoming aware of cultures in Africa, India, Asia, South America, and the Middle East, civilization seemed threatened. So a common theme in horror literature and subsequently horror cinema became the fragility of civilization. "Civilization is just a veneer," and so any number of things -- vampirism, lycanthrophy, chemical potions, hypnotism, what have you -- became stand-ins for these threats. Tarzan was a sexual being -- muscular, handsome, well-endowed, and lacking the religious inhibitions that kept him from seeking animalistic sex wit Jane. But for every heroic Tarzan (saving the day where wek, pallid, civilized Englishmen could not), there was a Creature from the Black Lagoon -- seeking to kidnap and rape our women, turning them from virtuous Victorians into sluts who loved sex as procreation.

The problem became that, as the 20th century wore on, these taboos melted awah. Suddenly, it was OK to show sex on film. The vampire was no longer threatening, and b the end of the 20th century had become a neutered love object for teenage girls. In order to keep the werewolf scary, he was degraded and turned into norhting more than a slavering animal instead of a threat to moonlit maidens. Indeed, even that wasn't very scary to urban kids (who'd never seen a wolf in their life), and so a false "vampire-werewolf war" had to be invented to keep things going. Mummies were no longer a caution against seeking eternal life that only Jesus Christ could offer. Now they had to be superhuman magicians who could destroy the world.

The growing influence of psychiatry in the mid 20th century made the psychotic killer a much more faddish horror movie icon than ever before. But the virile serial killer was out, unsupported by psychiatry. Instead, the effete homosexual killer (Rope) or emasculated mama's boy serial killer (Psycho or Ten to Midnight) was in. But it wasn't even a full decade before the stylish, implied horror of Psycho gave way to the explicit rape, genital mutilation, beheadings, shotguns to the foreheads, cannibalism, and intestinal knifings of films like The Hills Have Eyes, Last House on the Left, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

It's only gotten more extreme. Once, The Last House on the Left showed a woman being gangraped by simply showing her tortured face or two entwined bodies in the grass as the woman screamed. Now, however, rape on film is as explicit as soft-core pornography, showing everything except the exposed vagina, exposed erect penis, and penetration. Where once a single spurt of blood was shot in real-time coming from the eye of a Frankenstein's monster that got a rifle bullet (The Curse of Frankenstein in 1957, now spurting blood and screaming vitims gurgling to their death is a common feature of films like Saw and Hostel.

The problem is that horror has become entertainment. Everyone knows it's not real. And without taboos to keep things in check, explicit gore, dismemberment, death, disemboweling, and shattered skulls are the norm.

Indeed, to keep horror an economically viable proposition, recent horror films like Saw and Hostel and The Human Centipede have devolved into nothing more than torture-porn. Handsome young people are forced to see the spikes coming right into their eyeballs. A young woman must saw off her own arm in order to save herself. A young man must use his own teeth to tear out the throat of an innocent victim in order to get to the key that will unlock his chains. Blah blah blah.

But have you noticed something?

Gay rape is never shown.

Isn't that odd?????

Women are raped. Men never are.

Isn't that odd??????

Irréversible, In a Glass Cage, A Serbian Film, The Hills Have Eyes, and Hostel are full to the eyeballs of young women being sexually molested, necrophilia, even (in one case) the rape of a minutes-old female newborn.

But in none of these films is a man ever raped. Not even heterosexually! Isn't that odd?

It's like homosexuality is the one taboo that horror film dare not violate. (heh heh)

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