I was scanning the horror DVDs at the video store the other day, and after awhile, all the covers began to look the same to me. I worry that the horror film industry is falling for the same packaging mistakes that horror novels made in the 1980s: back then, every book was black with a skeleton on the cover. And it virtually killed the industry. Apparently such book buyers don’t pay attention to author names, see all those skeletons on the covers and think they “already own that one.”
Nowadays almost every video case on the shelf has a fanged clown-like creature on it, wielding some sort of blade. Or otherwise there’s a cluster shot of spoiled teenagers, posing in I-deserve-to-die-but-I-dare-you-to-kill-me poses. If only they would stand so close together in one group during the films — they’d be much easier for the slasher to take out in one shot.
Maybe I’m getting old, but this trend for teenage victims is getting staler than syndicated reruns of Saved by the Bell (…who probably shouldn’t be. Saved that is.)
Once something’s successful, the marketplace tries to clone it, banking on a “sure thing” — but the only “sure thing” that will happen is that the marketplace will bleed the concept dry, wringing every last drop it can out of its carcass. But I think I’ve come up with a solution to this problem. It’s quite simple, really. Let’s stop killing pretty boys and snotty cheerleaders. Let’s start killing the old folks, instead.
That’s right. I’m proposing a new subgenre: geezer gore.
Now, I know that this sounds terribly crass and ageist, but if that’s true, then the filmmakers and screenwriters who perpetually cast seventeen-year-olds in the role of “decapitated bully” or “virgin warrior” are worse. They kill the same characters time after time. It’s getting old, but the characters aren’t. And I think they should be.
Why just kill the blondes? I want to see gray hairs in my gray matter. I’m tired of seeing kids chased around the college campus or the summer camp. I want to see blood spraying down the hallways of nursing homes and axes chopping up the card tables at bridge. I want to see flying nose hoses and hear lots of rattling bedpans. Instead of watching a supple rump trying to shimmy out of a bathroom window, I want to see the weak and ill, crawling across blood-soaked tile in open surgery gowns and sagging adult diapers.
And I want their murders to be just as ironically apt as they are in all the slasher movies. And I’m not just talking about the obvious forms of brutality, like caning. I want to see some old lady pinned down by her own walker and tortured with vicious intravenous bottles. I want to see a possessed pair of dentures taking huge bites out of old man Charley. I want to see longevity freaks in their warm-up suits and headbands choking on fistfuls of Geritol. And they’d make good villains, too. I want to see geriatric killers wielding amped-up heart attack paddles. Sexagenarian slashers with crazy coupon scissors. Viagra vampires.
Some movies kill off the parents or grandparents of the teenage cast, and while that seems like a step in the right direction, it’s actually tokenism. Far more kids die than their parents in the slasher genre, even though there are twice as many progenitors than offspring. This is obviously a way to appease the rebellious kids in the audience, who wish their parents would just die already. But of course, these are supposed to be R-rated movies were talking about — films which ostensibly are only for the adults in the first place. So let’s raise the bar a generation and kill the grandparents already, okay?
Sure, horror already has its fill of scary old people. Wicked witches are rarely under twenty-five. The crazy man down the block is usually a crazy OLD man. And what’s a vampire if nothing but a very, very old person? The fact is that most Hollywood movie characters over marriage age are more predictable and stereotypical than “ditzy blondes” — and I know they can be used more creatively in the genre. Yet — probably because they don’t look sexy enough — Hollywood runs screaming from actors over sixty. But I know damned well that the elderly can act. If memory serves, Kirk Douglas performed his final film by blinking Morse code from an Iron Lung or something. But seriously: I love films with older actors in them. The adaptation of Peter Straub’s Ghost Story has one of the best middle aged casts ever — in fact, it’s probably the best example of what I’d like to see more of: old timers, shaking frail in their boots, or battling to the death. But I have to turn to other genres to find more stories like them. Cocoon is one of my all time favorite SF films, and I’m not just saying that because I like to see John Wayne Gacy play the role of Alien Leader. I mean, I even loved the Jack Nicholson/Diane Keaton vehicle, Something’s Gotta Give — a romantic comedy about two people in their seventies who see each other naked and then fall in love. Believe me, such full frontal (and rear) nudity would horrify any sixteen year old, any day. So why aren’t we seeing this in the horror films? Where’s all the geezer gore?
Now I beg of you — don’t send me hate mail. I’m no spring chicken and I’m probably older than 75% of the people reading this. I might not be middle aged, but I count myself among the, well, aged. Aged enough to have seen decade after decade of horror films. And very little has changed since John Carpenter’s Halloween set the slasher genre in motion: these flicks keep killing off the same dumb kids who think they’re immortal. That’s the whole plot of Final Destination, for example. And though the actors keep changing, this little lesson just gets really stale after awhile and the genre loses its audiences as they grow up. I mean, sure, those kids really do deserve it when they’re force fed a skateboard or bashed over the head with a stereo — and I must admit that I do get a vicarious thrill out of watching the evisceration of pubescent children. It warms the cockles of my dark heart to witness the skewering of kids with hunting weapons and drill presses. But the problem is the perpetual Hollywood assumption that the only true audience for a good horror movie is an eighteen year old nerd who wants to see the people he or she hates in high school vicariously get creamed. Where do horror fans go when they grow out of this market segment? To television, to watch Elderly Fear Factor? Please.
If they’re smart, they turn to the video shelf. To the classics, when kiddies in films meant something. Back in the 70s, when ratings sort of meant something, all the great adult horror films were really good. Think about how kids were represented back then: as demonic (Exorcist) or the embodiment of the devil himself (The Omen); as mutants (It’s Alive), psychotic vampires (Martin), and murderous hormonal freaks (Carrie). The video vaults hold some of the greatest horror films ever produced, but I worry that all this direct-to-video crap is going to dilute the choices. Nowadays Rosemary’s Baby sits right next to I Know Who You Did Last Summer Camp. Kids used to be creepy freakazoids in the horror movies, but now they’re the whole damned cast and the slasher is usually some divorcee mother who’s had too much Starbucks. I know our society can produce better garbage than this garbage. But the problem is that the rise of the DVD market means that these teen flicks are crowding the market, representing the whole genre to the next generation. And while it’s true that horror has always reveled in teen exploitation, there’s a kitsch value in those black and white schlockers, like I Was a Teenaged Dismembered Hand or The Thing from Outta My Toy Box. There’s no kitsch whatsoever in the films on the DVD shelves today, like Spearing Brittany or American Die. Just bad jokes and way too many pretty people.
Sure, it’s sad when a stunt BMX biker gets his head chopped off by a ceiling fan, because he never got to live past twenty and pay taxes. But it’s freaking tragic when an eighty year old survives three wars, living a long life of honor and dignity, only to have her lungs yanked inside out through her tracheotomy hole by a maniac ex-smoker. Tragic, I tell you. And messy.
I have a dream. I see new titles high up in the marquee. Grammassacre. Satanic Sexagenarians from Mars. Whippersnappers. Haunted House of Infirmary. Attack of the Elderleeches. Werewolves in Wheelchairs. Retiree Resurrection. The Exlaxorcist. Leatherface II: The True Story.
Let’s quit clowning around with the youth in some perverse playland. (That goes for you, too, Mr. Jackson). Let’s inject more originality into our stories. Let’s allow the genre to age with grace. Horror cinema is far too young to die such a silly death. The actual audience members who sat in the theaters of the original horror blockbusters from the 1930s — Dracula and Frankenstein — are a population that’s rapidly dwindling. Let’s do it for them, before it’s too late.