Saturday, January 15, 2011

The PG-13 Problem

stephen martin trends in horror

 I can’t tell you how many times I see a movie trailer for a horror flick, or even a suspense thriller that immediately absorbs my undivided attention. I lean back in my chair as I watch in anticipation for the horrific story to unfold. My eyes are blasted with terrifying visions of the macabre. Such mature and lurid subject matter. Wow, I think to myself. This movie is going to be awesome. The preview comes to an end with its last array of dark and blood chilling images. Usually it will reveal the title of the movie, and then have one more creepy image jump out at the screen with a loud shriek. Me and my friends discuss how hardcore that movies looks. “We are definitely seeing that,” we all say.

Once back at the crib, I look the title up on Yahoo! Movies and look at the movie description. Then, I notice something that leaves me looking at the computer screen in confusion. This movie has been rated “PG-13” by the Motion Picture Association of America. PG-13? That must be a mistake. There is no way the movie from that trailer, from that director could be rated PG-13. You’re telling me that there is nothing in this movie that a 13 year old can’t handle. I hope it was a typo, but my hope dwindles into nothingness as the movie approaches its release date.

Now, my friends and I aren’t really interesting in see it anymore, because we have had several bad experiences with PG-13 rated supernatural horror films. Don’t even get me started on the PG-13 “Slasher” sub-genre. I go see the movie anyway. I am anxious, but certainly have my reservations. As expected, I leave the theater disappointed, thinking there was such potential for excellence, but it fell short.

The PG-13 rated horror masterpiece “The Ring” is mostly to blame for this trend. The Ring was made by a brilliant director, that was able to tap into this newly discovered part of the human brain that sends us into a crippled panic when we see a dead, young girl with a distorted face, slowly walk toward the camera in jerky, unnatural motions. The Ring truly is groundbreaking, and if you haven’t seen it, I recommend you stop what you’re doing, wait till midnight, and watch it alone with all the lights off.

Anywho, now every filmmaker and their filmmaking mothers are all about making a PG-13 rated spook fest that involves dead, usually young and Asian (but not necessarily), people whose face and body is distorted as they make their way slowly towards the terrified victim. When this is done correctly it is not necessary to have blood or to show a violent death. The problem is that most of the time this is not done correctly, and the movie ends up a lame fest instead.

Some movies just plain and simply need to be rated “R” in order to live up to their full potential. The Restricted rating gives much more freedom to the director and writer to create a movie that delivers a true and total experience of escapism. People see Horror movies for a momentary escape from their reality, and people enjoy being scared to death, thus explaining the attractiveness of roller coasters.

I understand that traditionally PG-13 movies make more money than the same type of movie which with an “R” rating, and in this current economy filmmakers and studios want a sure thing. This is why so many remakes are coming out, because they know if you saw the original, you will see the remake; but that’s a different subject for another day. However, horror movies are the exception to this rule. Look at how well Hostel did. It was the number one movie in America for several weeks. The Saw franchise is making truckloads of cake. I can appreciate that the movie business is a business, and has to make money. That is, essentially, the goal of filmmakers and it is absolutely essential for its survival. But, why not make a movie that will make money, and go down in history as an entertaining, and groundbreaking piece of art.

Think of all the great horror films that would have been total bollix had the makers not had the bearings to make it for a mature audience. This Pop-Horror trend is relatively new. Granted the PG-13 rating didn’t come around until the 80’s, but in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s the market wasn’t flooded with these pop-horror flicks that are aimed at middleschoolers. And, speaking of movies from the 70’s and 80’s, it is inexcusable for studios to make a PG-13 rated remake of an old “R” rated horror classic. It is NEVER close to being as good.

I have nothing against movies that are PG-13. A lot of my favorite movies have this rating. And, I am in no way advocating that movies need to be filthy and violent. However, I would like to encourage filmmakers that if they are to make a horror film, they should not sacrifice artistic integrity as well as quality and frightfulness, among other things, because they are afraid of not making as much money. You just make the best, most original film you can make. Make a film that takes your audience to a place of total chaos. Make it so that your audience is too afraid to watch but too engulfed to look away.

If you can make this happen with a rating suitable for 13 year olds, then more power to you. But, you run the risk of making a film that will get laughs instead of screams. Let’s get the Horror genre back where it belongs, in an audience intended for 17 and up. Hell, parents are going to take their kids to see it anyway.

Stephen Martin
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