An interesting thing happened to horror films over the past 10 years when no one was looking.
They became more horrific.
Now, I don’t mean in they’re necessarily scarier than films prior to the new century. Horror films have always terrified audiences. What I mean is that they’ve become more focused on being scary and less on being sexy. Sexy was always the naughty kid sister to Scary in the horror film, and lately, she’s been noticably absent. And I have a theory on that, but I’ll get to that in a second.
Horror films have, up until recent years, always been lumped in with exploitation and sexual depravity, and with good reason. Somewhere in the late 1950’s, the genre was co-opted by exploitation masters because they knew that if they failed at scaring their audiences, (which they often did)then they could always fall back on a little T&A to make up for it. A fellow filmmaker once told me that tits were the cheapest special effect he could ever hope for. And he was right. Everyone always gathered around for the extraneous boob shot, especially in the shower... in slo-mo.
And so it went for the next 50 years that most horror went hand in hand with T&A. I firmly believe in the theory that some horror historians take that nudity equals the greatest vulnerability and that an audience witnessing a victim on screen in the nude is more subject to empathize and relate to the victim because they can easily imagine themselves in that vulnerable position. I agree. They’re 100% right.
Probably the best use of that is in the shower scene in Psycho. Much later, horror director David Cronenberg played the nudity-as-vulnerability card in his 2007 film Eastern Promises, (which, incidentally isn’t even a horror film). I’m sure a lot of you know exactly what scene I’m talking about, but if you don’t, just try and watch the sauna scene where a completely naked Viggo Mortenson is attacked by knife wielding thugs.
But let’s be honest. Most filmmakers churning out cheap horror from 1950 through 2000 had no intent on using nudity as an artistic metaphor for vulnerability. They used it because it put asses in seats. And considering what a black sheep the horror film already was, nudity went with scares like peanut butter with jelly.
Additionally, for years before the internet, the only place to see nudity and sex was in porno films, and if you couldn’t get your hands on one, or that wasn’t your thing, you could still get your titillation with a peak of sex here and there in a horror flick.
But around 2000, horror films started emerging that didn’t have a smack of nudity in them. Suddenly the damsel with the torn dress or the shower scene became scarce things indeed. But why? What happened? Did we become more prudish? Hardly. Some people think that the PG-13 rating and the ripe pre teen audiences that were willing to smack down their cash for tickets were the reason for the toning down of sex and sexuality in horror. But that’s bullshit. There are still plenty of horror films with R ratings, and even those don’t have the sex that they used to.
And here’s why.
Yeah, the internet happened, and along with it, came porn, and if you look closely, you’ll see that with the emergence of broadband and the ability to watch porn in the comfort and privacy of your own home, came the demise of the titty horror movie.
And while it’s always fun to see a little naughtyness in films, gone are the days (at least for now) of the hack directors throwing in tits and ass just to cover their lack of talent. They’ll have to find a new crutch because audiences that can watch any extreme hardcore fetish at home are hardly going to shell out $14 to see a hint of nipple and a brush of bush.
What does this mean for horror movie fans?
Well I for one think it’s a good thing. It will cause filmmakers to work harder (which they’ve been doing), and the dinosaurs who still think T&A matters in horror films will go extinct just like they should, and the net benefit is that scary films will be scarier to fill in the gap created by the missing sexuality.
And best of all, with nudity not being a cheap way to sell tickets, when we DO see nudity in a film, it’ll have meaning, propel the story, show vulnerability, and most importantly, have something to say, other than “here’s some tits”.
It’s a funny thing, how nudity left the building and no one noticed until it was gone. But that’s the way of evolution. There’s a sudden silence where there was a sound, and we all stop to listen.
Gaudium per atrox.