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03.13.09

Who Killed the Horror Film?

Babysitters are no longer easy prey. Now, in films like Last House on the Left, it’s the serial killers that are being massacred. Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees lament the brutal death of the scary movie.

These are dark days for the horror-movie psycho. They’re in demand as never before—in big-budget reboots of their original franchises—but they’re also facing an unprecedented pushback from the civilian population. Things have changed since they last ran amok. In the recent Friday the 13th, Jason was fed into a wood chipper by the brother of one of his victims. In Last House on the Left, released this week, a gang of spree killers have the misfortune to roll up at the house of the parents of a girl they raped and left for dead. By the end of the movie the body count is: Innocent bystanders, 1, marauding psychopaths, 4. The slasher-killer community is in shock.

"It’s Oprah. They’re all in therapy these days. It’s all about facing up to your fears. Owning your emotions. Empowerment. Not playing the victim."

EXT. Night. A campfire burns in the middle of the forest. Around it are Michael Myers, darning his mask in preparation for the forthcoming Halloween 2. Next to him, lying down, is Jason Voorhees—wearing a neck brace, his arm in a splint, injuries he sustained from the last Friday the 13th. Tending to the fire, Freddy Krueger, now an old man, his blades rusty and broken. He is using them to open a can of beans.

The camera draws near.

MICHAEL ( comforting): Don’t take it too personally.

JASON: It's hard not to. I mean I can’t believe I fell for that. A wood chipper. Jesus. That is worse than anything I ever did.

MICHAEL: Way worse.

JASON: It’s these new kids. They’re not playing the game the way it should be played. It’s all cellphones and pagers one minute and then they’re coming at you with baseball bats and knives and God knows what else. Whatever happened to taking a shower? Running in high heels? Losing the car keys?

MICHAEL ( wistfully): Taking a walk in the forest.

JASON: Yeah right. ”Is anybody there?”

MICHAEL ( girlishly): “I won’t be long.....”

Jason mimes bringing a machete down through the air, but cricks his neck and winces. Carefully, he massages his shoulder.

MICHAEL: It’s Scream. That film screwed everything up for us. Now everyone knows our shit.”

JASON: Bunch of artsy-fartsys Scooby-Doo crap is what it was. Putting ideas in their heads. They would never have thought of a wood chipper before. No way.

MICHAEL: If anyone’s feeding someone into a wood chipper it's you, Jay.

JASON: It’s fucked up.

MICHAEL: It's disrespectful is what it is.

They both shake their heads. Freddy, who has not said anything so far, sits cross-legged, now stirring the beans on the fire. Finally, he breaks his silence.

FREDDY: Don’t be ragging on Wes Craven. He upped everybody’s game. Put you two back to work, anyway. And not just low-budget straight-to-video stuff either. Proper studio movies with big budgets and decent special effects and proper actresses and plots....

Jason and Michael exchange glances.

MICHAEL ( disgustedly): Plots.

FREDDY: What’s the matter with plots?

JASON: What’s the matter with plots? Plots are worst thing to happen to us since pagers. We never needed them before so why do we have to start now? You were the plot.Now it’s all ‘I hate you for what you did to my brother’ and ‘Tell me about your mother.’ It’s all upside down. You get plots and then you get characters. You get characters and then you get character arcs and once you’ve got character arcs, someone is going down and—guess what—it’s not little Miss Buffy standing in the doorway with a chainsaw on her hip.

MICHAEL: It’s Oprah. They’re all in therapy these days. It’s all about facing up to your fears. Owning your emotions. Empowerment. 'Not playing the victim. [ He sneers.] Not playing the victim.’ Well if they’re not playing the victim, who is?

JASON: We are.

MICHAEL: Did you see what they did to him?

JASON: ( pointing to his head): Wood chipper.

MICHAEL: That’s just wrong.

JASON ( frowning): I never went down like that before.

FREDDY: Oh c’mon. We all go down eventually.

JASON: Speak for yourself. I simply stopped when I got bored. I’d be doing my thing, going at it like a steam train and then, you know—stop. Just stop, and disappear. Like smoke. Fuck with their heads.

He taps the side of his head.

MICHAEL: Like a passing storm.

JASON: Exactly, Michael, thank you. Like a passing storm. Now it’s more like the last scene in Fatal Attraction. They’re coming at you with the knives and the audience is on their feet, “Kill that motherfucker!” I mean they’re just cheering and whooping and hollering. It’s ugly. That’s not an ending. That’s a lynching. The audience is on their side.

FREDDY ( stirring the beans): Weren’t they always?

JASON: No. The filmmakers made them so annoying the audience couldn’t wait for them to get it in the neck. Now they’re sympathetic. They’ve lost relatives. They’re grieving. They want vengeance.”

MICHAEL: It’s 9/11.

JASON: “You said that right, bro’.”

FREDDY: Oh come on. 9/11 wasgreat for us. The War on Terror? Those little color-coded threat charts on CNN from Department of Homeland Security? They did our job for us. It loosened them up. Got them nice and ready. Horror movies went through the roof.

JASON: For a while, maybe, yeah, they were good and scared. But you know what they say about fear these days? It’s the flipside of anger.

MICHAEL: That right?

JASON: Yeah. All it takes is that—[ he snaps his fingers]—and they’re coming right back at you. Now they’re pissed. They want payback. And they’re taking it out on us.

MICHAEL: It's this new guy. He’s given them hope.

JASON ( swatting an imaginary gnat): Hope over fear... What a crock.

They fall silent. For a while the only sound is the crackle of the fire, whose embers float up into the night air. In the distance, the lights of a distant township can be seen. Suddenly, we hear the sound of a twig cracking; all three men look around anxiously, particularly JASON.

MICHAEL: It’s OK. It's just a deer.

JASON: I though I heard a wood chipper start up.

MICHAEL: It’s okay, buddy, they can’t get to you here.

JASON: You sure?

MICHAEL: Yes, I’m sure. C’mon let’s get some food inside of you.... How are those beans coming along, Fred?

FREDDY: Coming right up....

As the two men huddle closer to the fire, the camera draws back into the woods, revealing the silhouettes of a group of teenagers, bristling with axes, chainsaws and machetes.

Tom Shone was film critic of the London Sunday Times from 1994-1999.He is the author of two books, Blockbuster: How Hollywood Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Summer (Free Press) and In The Rooms (Hutchinson), his first novel, to be published on July 7th 2009. He lives in New York.