Yesterday I was thinking about writing a piece regarding PG-13 vs R-rated horror movies, but my buds over at Rope of Silicon wrote such a nice piece that I felt that mine would be redundant since it echoes my thoughts on the matter. Then again, I guess I can add my two cents (however do click over to their site for their take on this).
What inspired the idea for an article for me was this quote from an article at Cinematical:
"The biggest loser of the weekend might have been R-rated horror films. 1408, which is PG-13, had one of the biggest horror openings in a while, and was noticeably more successful than Eli Roth's torture-fest, Hostel: Part II."
to which Brad over at "Silicon" had the same reaction that I did:
What's killing R-rated horror at the box office isn't the proliferation of PG-13 horror movies... it's the fact that the R-rated movies being made:
A. Generally speaking, stink.
B. Target a very narrow audience.
With the odd exception, horror movies attract a much narrower audience than say, action-adventure or even superhero movies. Sure, sometimes a scary movie will capture the imagination of the press/public and make a ton of money (remember The Blair Witch Project?), but for the most part it's a relatively small niche.
So when you make a movie that's going to attract even a smaller subset of THAT group, how can you complain when it doesn't make a lot of money? Hello... Grindhouse, anyone?
Now I do realize that a "horror" film is supposed to "horrify." But there are ways to do that psychologically and by instilling dread in the audience (see the original Japanese version of The Ring, called Ringu, which scared the crap out of me!). I mean seriously, if the goal is to continue to push the envelope, here's what will happen:
1. People are going to get desensitized to it.
2. That will lead to the need to make the violence more realistic and extreme.
3. Which will in turn appeal to an ever-narrowing audience (which you will probably want to track in some sort of database - I kid, mostly).
At some point people just don't want to see that stuff. I mean heck, why not just bring back the Faces of Death series and go around collecting video of real people dying horrific deaths, put all those clips together and release it as a feature film? That sounds to me like the logical conclusion.
In my review of 1408 I commented that:
"...it's still possible to make a very scary and creepy movie that is not populated by teenage characters or victims being mutilated."
People like to be scared, as evidenced by the opening weekend box office for this movie, but most folks don't want to feel guilty, dirty or disgusted with themselves after having sat through something.
My advice is to stop with the gratuitous torture (and this fad will stop soon enough due to lack of box office mojo) and make R-rated horror movies that have that rating because they're just so damned scary instead of just gross.