Saw The Hills Have Eyes today. ALERT: If you have plans of seeing this movie, I would just go ahead and skip to the next post because, well, I might spoil some things for you. Of course, I had to go with someone other than my lovely wife because, well, she doesn't tolerate stupid horror movies (yet I come home to see her on the couch watching Footloose--I've stopped asking questions). So I take my brother-in-law, Jacko, who is almost always free game for stupid movies. He sees enough good movies to offset it. Decent movie, but as always, it got me to thinking about the genre as a whole and all the beef that I have with it. Maybe because I love it so much and I can't stand movie makers making the same stupid mistakes that just end up killing the final product.
Now, I'm no movie maker and never really aspired to be, but I'm a kid with a few bucks in my back pocket that, if I'm not spending it on prime heroin (joke, bro) I'm droppin it at the local theater on, usually, entertaining movies. I don't pay for crap and, if I accidently do, I try and find some sort of redeeming value to the movie--moral, social, spiritual or otherwise--so that I feel like it was a good investment. Leaving The Hills Have Eyes, I didn't find myself stretching it to find the lesson or value--it was evident. I liked it, liked the premise (yes, I know it's a remake), liked the setup, liked the actors and characters--overall pretty dope. But the ride home was even more enlightening. Jacko's seen a buttload of movies so he always has a input about a movie. He kept using the word "formulaic" (good word, but I'm led to believe that he got it from reading too many movie reviews) which seemed to lead to a completely different conversation about the genre as a whole and what's completely wrong with it. Which leads to this post. If I could write horror movies, I'd use the following guidelines, in fact, I'd make them law. So with no further delay or setup, here they are the rules. Know the rules.
1 SCREW THE SEQUEL: EVERYONE DIES THE FIRST TIME
Look, to put it as simply as I can, when you speak of the horror formula, it's custom to have an ending that could possibly lead to another miserable sequel that suckas like myself will shell out our hard-earned dough for. To hell with that. It's perfectly fine to just off everyone and leave no bodies for the second or third installment. Kill 'em all. I'll be the witness, the movie-goer. I don't need someone to live at the end so that we'll have a bridge to a sequel. Make sure they die and the body is disposed of. It's even better when the villain dies. I don't need the satisfaction knowing that, in what is essentially a fantasy, that either the good guys live or the bad guy lives. Just end the freakin movie the way that all horror movies end--in death.
2 IF I WANTED A FORREST GUMP ENDING, I'D RENT FORREST GUMP
Happy endings are weak in horror movies. This goes back to my first guideline: because horror movies are not real, we don't need the sugar coating. You subscribe to the fact that everything you're seeing is fake so don't feel forced to give us the happy lil' shoulder rub at the end. Scare the crap out of us, fade to black and roll credits. It's my personal feeling that focus groups have shaped the genre into what it is today. Because a bunch of monkeys in a focus group said things like, "I didn't like the ending" and "everyone dying at the end is just so depressing," they yank the original ending, replace it with a nicer, more box office-friendly ending and it, in turn, completely turns the movie into something completely different. As in Hills, at the end, when the survivors are embracing in tears, I just couldn't stop myself from thinking, "Get 'em! Kill 'em! There's only a few seconds left before the credits!" But, in instead, credits rolled and the filmmakers attempt at one last scare was the lamest excuse-me of an ending that I've ever seen. The power is in the ending. As in Dawn of the Dead when the presumed survivors are all eaten alive by zombies on an island, you're left with the very feeling of unease and desperation that horror movies are supposed to leave you with. End it brutally with no sunset and happy music. It's the one genre you can get away with it so it should be embraced. Hollywood has diluted the horror genre so badly that people laugh at the end because, well, it's laughable. Leave us with fear, not giggles and snickers.
3 HUMANS KILLING HUMANS IS CALLED MURDER
The enemy, the killer, the villain has to be either superhuman or supernatural. It's not the guy next door--that's not scary. You'll hear people say, "the kind of stuff that scares me is the stuff that could really happen." Well, these are the people that are scared by Unsolved Mysteries and the nightly news. If the killer is your next door neighbor, brotha betta grow wings, gnarly claws and fangs and hunt you from the air. If the killer uses a gun, it's murder. If the killer uses an old chainsaw, that's terror or horror. Sure, it's a fine balance, but let me help straighten it out. Silence of the Lambs is mysery/suspense. The Exorcist is horror. When a Stranger Calls is mystery/suspense. Texas Chainsaw is horror. Sure, Leatherface had mental issues like a healthy handful of people in the US of A, but dude was a cold killer and did so with a chainsaw and wore other people's flesh as a mask. If duke used a handgun, he'd be just another nutbag with a nasty obsession. The element of superhumans (Leatherface) or supernatural (Boogeyman) takes the audience into the unknown--where things can't be explained or understood. The butler doing it in the kitchen with a candlestick is just another mystery whodunnit. The butler getting it in the kitchen by a faceless, mutated, half-scorched giant with a four-foot long blade is horror.
4 THE GUIDE TO GROUNDBREAKIN'
Cut out the creepy music. Instead of doing it in a dark room in an abandoned house at night, do it in the parking lot of a Wendy's in broad daylight. Take out the hero. Kill him/her in the second scene. Make it a silent film. Kill creatively. End the movie during a killing. Show more blood than has ever been captured on film in the history of the cinema. Show no blood at all. Don't tease us with the ending. In fact, don't tease us at all. Just give it to 'em straight. Mercilessly kill the animal. The genre's very existence depends solely on its ability to change, morph, shapeshift.
5 HORROR MOVIES ARE STUPID, NOT SMART
Stay away from unnecessary sub-plots. There's no need for a love interest. Stop tryin' to make horror movies smart, saavy or witty. They don't need to be. The horror movie is a silly notion all in itself. It doesn't need brains. It survives off of sharp objects, fake blood and moronic characters who walk right into danger. If you give those characters brains, it just means you're prolonging what should be the inevitable. The plot should be hunt and kill. There is no failure in that setup. It's only when writers get involved that it all gets screwed up. If it can be done in an hour, then for crying out loud, do it in a freakin hour. Stop tryin' to make horror smart. Put your own pursuit of an Academy Award aside and give the people what they want--carnage.
6 CARNAGE! CARNAGE! CARNAGE!
Speaking of carnage, make sure there's plenty. Everything's fake so use plenty of it. It's the perfect platform for absolute and total gore. The blood's fake. The brains are fake. The ear that ol' boy cut off with a rusty blade--it's all fake. Live it up. Go big. Sure, it might be "formulaic," but in the end, it's what the audience really wants. Don't worry about the people who can't stomach it because, realistically, they're not going to pay seven bucks to see your lousy movie anyway so cater to who is in those seats instead of trying to be something your not. Bring on the gore!
7 PREDICTABILITY: BOX OFFICE SUICIDE
As a rule of thumb, if the story comes easy, it'll come off as equally predictable to the audience. The problem gets more complicated when the more you try to make it unpredictable, the more it easy it becomes to predict. How come? Because horror fans have become so accustomed to seeing the same crap that, even when you try to avoid it, they pick up on that just as easily. Again, avoid the same pitfalls that always kill a good horror movie. In order to make it genuinely unpredictable, take the original screenplay, multiply it by 14, divide it by 3, flip it upside down, turn it backwards, feed it through a shredder, burn it, take what's left and paste it back together, punch 50 holes in it and then see what you got. If that didn't work, then do the same thing in reverse. Otherwise, they'll figure you out before the opening credits are even done.