The Rotten Truth

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Has horror lost its libido?

A few years back I took myself to see Freddy vs. Jason on opening night. Packed theater. The usual types were there – and just a few seats down sat a father and his son, who must not have been a day over ten. Ronny Yu’s long-awaited “versus” film (disguised as a Nightmare on Elm Street sequel, really) begins and we’re introduced to some camping hottie…who proceeds to take her shirt off. I hear the dad down the aisle chuckle. “This is the way they always start,” he says to his kid who has lapsed into a state of religious epiphany by the blatant 40-foot breasts bouncing on the screen. What ol’ pop said got me thinking. He wasn’t wrong, first of all. Copious amounts of nudity were supposed to be part and parcel with flicks of the slasher variety. And I wasn’t thinking so much about the bad parenting occurring less than ten feet from me as I was about horror’s waning frivolous sexploitation. This reflection sat with me for some time and I was conscious of this in the subsequent years…through the Darkness Falls‘ and the Grudge‘s and the Descent‘s.

Then, one night watching an arousing episode of “Nip/Tuck,” a pair of debutants were caught in a compromising position with Julian McMahon’s Dr. Troy and it dawned on me: big screen horror had gone flaccid, as if an unseen contraceptive tightened itself around the genre to the point where all libido was lost. I was seeing more sex on late-night television than I was in the theaters. Now, before you pipe up and start spouting recent cinematic scenarios of unexciting dry-humping and make-out sessions that pull the peep door shutter closed before the heat turns up, really think about all we’ve seen in the past and what’s severely lacking in current theatrical horror.

For me, ’80s fright fare was my guide to the birds ‘n the bees. That’s not to say the ’70s didn’t have their share of primal depravity. It was the subsequent decade, my formative years, that truly embraced, for me, the female form and the magical thang that occurred when a man and woman got down to business. Violence usually followed shortly thereafter, but let’s not get nit-picky.

Of course, the high priestess of perversion, for me at least, during this time was Mathilda May. An actress who played an otherworldly bi-sexual Hoover vacuum of mortal essence – one of three space vampires (don’t ask) who come to Earth to wreak havoc in Tobe Hooper’s monumentally underrated Lifeforce. Here’s a woman with fire in her eyes and dedication to her role proudly displayed on her sleeve…if she had any sleeves to wear. She’s utterly naked the whole time she’s on screen. To best sum up my reaction let me gaze to a moment in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter where a young Corey Feldman spies, from his bedroom window, a teenage hot body undressing in a cabin bedroom nearby. The moment is priceless; his reaction is probably the most genuine thing you get from the “Friday” franchise. This was the sort of effect horror films had on me, especially those that had some raunchy qualities about it.

Hollywood horror knew how to bank on “the sex” then and it did so to the point where every audience expected a heavy dose of T & A with their gore-tastic thrills. Books on film criticism dissected the correlation between big screen body count entertainment and the dirty deed – see: “Men, Women and Chainsaws.” For some time it seemed like one couldn’t exist without the other. If you’ve got a masked maniac then you’ve got to have some gal baring her frisky fritters. Together they skipped hand-in-hand through a steamy orgy of allegorical analysis. These days…not so much.

There are plenty of places to point an accusatory stank finger as to why. We’ll start with Scream because, for all of the shit it takes now, it was a place in history when mainstream horror began to sober up, climb out of the gutter and stumble to its feet with a renewed sense of purpose. But for some strange reason, when it came to the “bare” essentials, our genre began to act like it found Jesus. Who would have thought that Skeet Ulrich’s blue-balls response to ingénue Neve Cambell popping her top (away from camera’s view) would accurately reflect those of the male movie-going populace for nearly a decade? Scream welcomed us to a prudish generation of nubile actresses. Those who practically had their “no nudity clause” folded into a cute little sailor’s cap that they paraded around in.

Since then, filmmakers have been involuntarily required to hold back – deliver PG-13 product or, worse still, push the envelope by delivering on everything but the soft-core stuff that often gave some of the violence its meaning. So instead of Linnea Quigley’s pool table acrobatics in Silent Night, Deadly Night (or, her cemetery striptease in Return of the Living Dead), we get Jennifer Love Hewitt narrowly avoiding exposure in a tooth-floss bikini in I Still Know What You Did Last Summer while director Danny Cannon practically caresses her every curve with the camera lens. (On a side note: I think DJ Caruso took notes from Cannon when shooting Disturbia‘ Sarah Roemer as she herself from the pool in dripping wet close-up that made you feel sorta dirty.)

On an unrelated note, but not, Alexandre Aja had to contend with Emilie de Ravin’s contract on The Hills Have Eyes which forbade her from participating in any scene imitating the act of sex. So, the film’s powerful “trailer invasion” sequence, furthermore, it’s shocking rape, lost a little bite. Later, in what can be seen as an act of rebellion, Wes Craven and son wrote in a exceptionally mean-spirited rape scene of their own for the “Hills” follow-up that was more explicit. Not that I care to see that.

While some directors are adjusting to these limitations, others are enjoying the freedoms of the aforementioned small screen format in programs like “Masters of Horror” or today’s direct-to-DVD output. It’s almost as if we’re seeing a trickle-down effect. Sensational sauciness once on the big screen is now writhing on the boob tube for all to witness. Mick Garris’ “Masters,” and the directors involved, seem to be relishing the breasts ‘n blood attitude, Dario Argento especially. Kudos to them. In fact, the second season of “Masters” nearly mirrored the time when “Tales from the Crypt” ramped up the naked flesh and pliable prosthetic FX for good cheap kicks…and ratings.

All of this isn’t to say horror completely covered itself up. Shortly after Scream we did have American Psycho‘s pre-torture three-way. Much later, Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever tipped its hat to the ’80s with plenty of skin. It ultimately reveled in putrescent flesh, but it was exposed nonetheless. Roth amplified his approach in Hostel and “Thanksgiving,” his trailer contribution in Grindhouse. Rob Zombie and Adam Green – of The Devil’s Rejects and Hatchet, respectively – have also shown there’s always room for a fair ratio of sex and violence. And if there was anything good to say about James Wong’s Final Destination 3 it all has to do with the bare-breasted tanning bed “bake-off.” If you’ve noticed, these directors fill their films with relative unknowns, or in Zombie’s case, porn stars (like Ginger Lynn). Of course, he’s not the first to do this. David Cronenberg made Marilyn Chambers his leading lady in Rabid and fellow Canuck Christian Viel brought in not one but three adult entertainers – Allen (again), Chasey Lain and Jenna Jameson – for Evil Breed.

Dark Castle also knows where its at. Sure, they don’t make the best films but they gave us a nekkid, long-haired, double-D surgical nightmare-with-a-knife in Thirteen Ghosts and an Italian super-vixen in Ghost Ship. Of course, she later turned into a nasty hag.

Let me, again, reinforce that this lament for lust is something hashed out in broad strokes (heh, pun intended). I haven’t even touched on the MPAA’s influence. But the bottom line is this: Horror has steadily been getting better in the gore department. The red stuff – I love it. But let’s not completely neuter the genre when it comes to showing a little skin from time to time. I say revel in some sleaze and be proud of it.

Source: Ryan Rotten