Dave's Progress. Chapter 56: I Know What You Did Last Friday the 13th

As some of you will know I am a great fan of the movies. And of all the types, or genre, of movies there are, it seems that, of late, I have developed a penchant for the horror variety. The only trouble is, when it comes to the American horror film, one can't help but think sometimes that one is watching the same film, but with a different title, over and over again.
For example, I have just watched "Sorority Row", and I can't help thinking that it was just produced to a formula that has been known to work in the past and so is rehashed time and time again. This will be an obvious statement to make to those familiar with the teenage "slasher" film sub-genre, but perhaps it is worth just reiterating how boringly familiar these films have become and to ask, then, just why they are made and appear to be so popular?
Billed as "the best horror movie since 'Scream'", "Sorority Row" has obviously had money thrown at it. Although it has no "stars", hence making it harder to deduce just exactly who will survive, it's production values are, for this type of movie, pretty good. However, whoever has seen "Scream" will know from watching "Sorority Row" that whoever wrote the blurb above has entirely missed the point of the earlier film. Directed by Wes Craven, "Scream" was something of a post-modern masterpiece, in that it took all the conventions of the teenage slasher film and cleverly deconstructed them. One might have concluded that post "Scream", this type of horror film would be effectively dead, as there would appear to be nowhere, creatively, to go after such a genre-busting film. However, it has not stopped the proliferation of the slasher flick, and "Sorority Row" is no exception in playing it, even after the post-modern shenanigans of "Scream", completely straight.
So, just what is the fascination with these types of movie? Well, for one thing, there is the inevitable baring of female teenage flesh, which would appear to go down well with male teenage audiences. Many of the films, also, seem to be trying to express some form of morality, particularly when it comes to sex. Going all the way, if you'll excuse the pun, back to John Carpenter's seminal slasher flick, "Halloween", which is perhaps the Daddy of them all, the teenagers all seem to get killed after they have engaged in some sort of sexual activity. Is there, then, a bizarre sort of moral preaching going on in these movies. Have sex early in your life and you never know, there may be a Michael, a Jason or a Freddy just waiting around the corner, ready to pounce.
This alone, however, does not explain why these films seem to be constantly remade and rehashed, "Sorority Row" itself seeming to be a crude reworking of "I Know What You Did Last Summer" and, erm, "I Know What You Did Last Summer". The answer perhaps lies in the fact that such films are relatively cheap to make and accrue a relatively good box office return. Again, going back to "Halloween", it took only, I believe, around $3oo,ooo to make and in return took millions and millions at the box office. So, in inevitable Hollywood fashion, once one has a winning formula like that, one can't but help churn out endless sequels and reworkings, hoping to reproduce the money that was made initially.
Indeed, such films seem to be a long way from some of the horror movies produced during the '70's, my favourite period in Hollywood. Then, genuinely scary, artful and profound horror movies, such as Nicolas Roeg's "Don't Look Now!" and William Friedkin's "The Exorcist" were made. "Don't Look Now!", behind its sinister and scary facade, was actually a quite deep examination of a couple's grief after losing their child. Similarly, "The Exorcist" seemed to examine profound theological issues, such as the mystery of faith, the massive problem of iniquity in God's world and the fathomlessness of acts of true goodness.
Indeed, it would appear that in more recent years one has to look to Europe to find any sort of originality in horror movies, and to get away from what has been called the "MTV" inspired American teenage slasher flick. For example, France has given us "Switchblade Romance", "Frontiers", "Them" and "Martyrs", all of which may have been influenced by American movies, but at least, although they may not be to every one's taste, strive for some form of originality. Spain, meanwhile, produced "Rec", which was, like most good foreign movies, rehashed and remade in Hollywood as "Quarantine". And in Sweden, there was the haunting, poetic adolescent vampire movie "Let the Right One In", which, to my mind, knocks spots off anything the "Twilight" saga can offer. Also, from England there was the brilliant "The Descent" and the truly original horror/comedy "Shaun of the Dead".
Perhaps, again though, as I have done in previous chapters, I look at the '70's through rose-tinted spectacles and, now being an old fart, look back on it with over sentimental eyes. And Europe, no doubt, makes its own fair share of stinkers. Indeed, there are exceptions to the rule that all American horror movies are just rehashed rubbish. Take, for instance, "Cabin Fever", Eli Roth's (who now seems to work with Quentin Tarantino) clever and scary tale of a flesh-eating illness (sounds gross, I know- and now I even sound like an American teenager- ewww, gross!). Also, there was "Mandy Lane", the denouement of which had all sorts of resonances for me of Columbine and similar tragedies.
What is not in doubt, then, is that, as long as there is money to be made, Hollywood will continue to churn out these movies, and so, as a little homage to them, I have written a short poem. It is called "The Teenage Sex and Death Club" and goes as follows:

The film keeps coming back,
It's always the same,
A winning block-busting formula,
The teenage sex and death club.

When you're the last big breasted teenager on the block,
The first thing you want to do is...
The closeness of death creates a primal urge,
One that you simply have to purge.

But if you go down in the woods tonight,
Make sure it's just heavy petting,
If it's full-on sex you're having,
You never know what you might be getting.

So sex and death,
Death and sex,
Are the two inter-related? Le petite mort?
I think they are, mortality and the score.

So there you have it, folks. And, I think, in my next brief foray in to Hollywood territory I will attempt to make my own teenage slasher movie. It's called, "I Know What You Did Last Friday the 13th". It's sort of a cross between.... well, isn't it obvious?
That's all for now from your normal, average paranoid and delusional man.


Anonymous said…
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klahanie said…
Dear David,
And now for a comment in English.
From reading this posting; you have left no doubt in my mind that you have a most enthusiastic passion for movies. In particular, the horror genre.
The American horror films you allude too; do seem to have the same tired old formula repeated but slightly reshuffled.
So speaking of repetition. How about a horror version of 'Groundhog Day'? A crazed Groundhog strikes terror into the hearts of the good people of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, over and over again....
Hey David, good luck with your own 'teenage slasher' movie. Any plans for this summer?
With great kindness, Gary.
dcrelief said…
Dear David,
They could drop the bomb on Hollywood and I could care less (just joking, blog police). In fact that piece of footage would make them more money than they could ever imagine. That's it!! Call Ron Howard; he owns Imagine Productions, right?!
Sorry; I'm not myself today. I'm the 'other one'.
By far, the 1970's version of "Last House on the Left" drove me away from horror forever. Oh, I don't mind a little "Jurassic Park', but please don't hack up people.
You definitely know your stuff. Great article.
Most sincerely,
David said…
Dear Gary,
Thanks for your comment (in English) which, fortunately, I can undersatnd.
As you say, these films do seem to repeat themselves, so a "Groundhog Day" version might prove fitting. I had you in mind for the Bill Murray role, whose droll, sardonic wit you could surely emulate. You also have that sort of hang dog face, which I mean in a flattering way!
With Very Best Wishes,
P.S. Was hoping to see you this week, but it appears the weather may thwart us yet again. Roll on Summer. Wich, incidentally, "I know what you did" in! :)
David said…
Dear Dixie,
Thanks for the comment. I, too, sometimes, could happily see them drop a bomb on Hollywood. Perhaps, as you say, it would make a good movie.
Also, I totally agree with you about the '70's version of "Last House on the Left". It was banned until very recently in this country, after which it was released on DVD. If you want to see an eloquent, haunting version of the same story, perhaps you should watch Ingmar Bergman's "The Virgin Spring", a Swedish film form the '50's which relates the same fable that "Last House on the Left" was based on, but without all the gratuitousness and gore.
Wishing you All the Best,

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