The (Not So) Hidden Secret Of Horror Movies

I know Halloween is over and has been over for two days now, but since I still have leftover candy and pumpkin ale so I’m going to assume that’s a good enough reason to still discuss Halloween-like topics. If anyone has an issue with that assumption, too bad. I’m not one to abandon the spirit of a holiday the second the clock strikes midnight on that day. That’s just too arbitrary.

As is often tradition, I watched a lot of horror movies over the past week. It was more pragmatic than tradition. There were horror movie marathons everywhere and some of those movies had gratuitous nudity. You think an erotic/romance writer is going to pass that up? Hell no!

Say what you will about Halloween compared to other holidays. I don’t recall too many Christmas specials giving us a lot of nudity. Any holiday that gives us nudity deserves bonus points in my book, but I digress.

In watching this glut of horror movies, I noticed something that I imagine everybody notices when they see horror movies, especially the “Friday The 13th” slasher type movies. Yes, it also has to do with gratuitous nudity, but not of the good kind if you can believe that.

It’s a poorly kept secret and probably the least subtle message in the history of cinema. Horror movies just love to send a message to any overly-promiscuous teenage girl or overly horny teenage guy. If you dare to be sexy, someone with a machete and/or chainsaw will show up and slaughter you.

It sounds like Sex Ed from the Catholic Church, hidden within the bloody violence of R-rated movies that impressionable youths aren’t supposed to see. It sends so many mixed messages that our brains and genitals can’t help but get confused. It doesn’t just lead to awkward boners. It leads to a misguided and surprisingly-puritanical undertone.

Let’s take a classic example. One of my favorite horror movies of all time, as well as one of my favorite movies of all time, is the original John Carpenter “Halloween.” I know Rob Zombie tried to remake this movie, but you just can’t add polish to a classic.

Classic or not, it basically sets up the formula that generations of slasher movies have repeated time and again. There’s a masked killer on the loose. There are cute teenage girls in his sights. A few of them are a bit too willing to take their clothes off. One of them is a sweet, innocent virgin. The ones who get naked get killed. The innocent virgin survives.

It’s a formula that “Friday the 13th” and “A Nightmare On Elm Street” would later follow closely, albeit with a few tweaks here and there. Those movies also had their moments. I certainly enjoyed “A Nightmare On Elm Street.” These horror elements make for fun, bloody, thrilling entertainment. They also have a few too many things in common with the policies of the Catholic Church.

It’s no coincidences that the characters who survive the masked-killer’s rampages are cute female virgins of child-bearing age. This is a trope going back to the days of King Arthur where knights slay dragons to get access to a pretty girl. It’s only slightly more subtle. It plays right into the idea that a virgin woman is more valuable because she probably doesn’t have a disease and you can be sure the kid she has is yours.

It’s been a long time since we had to slay dragons and we don’t need virginity to determine who the father of a kid is. Modern paternity tests are as close to 100-percent accurate as it’s statistically possible to be. So why do horror movies still make the virgin girls more valuable than any other character?

It’s a question that answers itself sadly. These movies, and the narratives they craft, are still somewhat tied to the King Arthur formula from centuries past. Our culture, and the products of that culture, still ascribe value to certain traits. These values are what we use to identify which characters are “good” and which characters are “naughty.”

Naturally, our innate sense of justice wants us to see the naughty characters punished. Let’s face it, we don’t like the Biff Tannens or the Regina Georges of the world. They’re the bullies, the assholes, the bitches, and the stuck up jerks who get lucky way more than they deserve. Horror movies go out of their way to punish these characters, often in very brutal ways.

It plays into our sense of fairness more than it does our sense of fear. We don’t think it’s fair that pretty, attractive people get more luck and more sex than we do so we want to see them suffer. Does that sound fair? Well, it shouldn’t and that’s part of the problem.

This is the darker side of horror movies that has nothing to do with violence, murder, or bloodshed. It preys upon the darker angles of our sense of fairness. Those making these movies know that most women in the world don’t look like a young Jodie Foster. They also know that most men don’t look like Biff Tannen. These characters represent the bullies and the sluts that we hate and want to see punished.

This is what horror movies give us. They make it a point to punish those we despise in horrifically violent ways. Now I admit, I still enjoy the thrills these movies have. I love that sudden scary moment that makes me jump out of my seat. That feeling of fear and arousal is very much a primal appeal, one that exploits the faulty wiring of our caveman brains. It can be fun, but the message is still somewhat sadistic when you think about it.

This gets me thinking and by thinking, I mean it may conjure new ideas for a novel. There are countless horror/slasher movies that follow this formula. There are even more stories that place a high value on the virgins/good girls. We’ve seen those stories so many times. Is there room for something different?

If I asked that question a few years ago, I may have hesitated. Then, the success of movies like Deadpool proved that it was possible to shake up a time-tested formula and do something different.

Can there be a horror/slasher story where sluts, jocks, and virgins aren’t all so painfully obvious? Can there be a horror/slasher story where we really don’t know who will survive in the end? Would you even want to read that story? It’s a relevant question to ask because if it’s a story that involves gratuitous nudity, then it’s a story that an aspiring erotica/romance writer is willing to tell.


Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights

9 responses to “The (Not So) Hidden Secret Of Horror Movies

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