When you watch as many horror films as I do you start to pick up trends in themes or writing. I’m not alone with this, its why Wes Craven’s “Scream” Franchise did so well. Craven’s (and writer Kevin Williamson) intelligent use of certain “rules” in how to survive a horror movie are drawn from decades of genre lore. For example, partaking in underaged or pre maritial sex is an almost certain way to a grizzily death, as is use of drugs or being a geek. Also exploring a basement when the lights dont work and exiting a room uttering the words “I’ll be right back” no, actually, you wont and you will be discovered by your equally stupid friends with your insides on the outside.
For me, the cleverest of horror films are ones which mess with “the way its always been”. You know the films I mean, the ones where the Apocalypse isn’t prevented and hell storm and demons are unleashed onto our poor planet (Cabin in the Woods) or where the bloody monster just wont stay dead (Michael Myers, Freddie Kruger) and always find a way to steal the final scene. There is, however, one taboo which is rarely broken, its one that is to do with children and more specifically babies.
We at Haddonfield are celebrating World Chidren’s Day in the only way we can. By celebrating the many classic horror films that deal with children. So many films leap to mind. Demonic children (The Exorcist and The Omen) ghostly children (The Others) or children that are just killers (Children of the Corn, The Children) When you are watching a horror film where the child is the protagonist you immediately feel unsettled. This messes with the way of things! Yes we all know or have seen children that have issues with behaviour. Certainly speak to any parent and they will chew your ears off with stories of how their offspring has irked them. But to refer to them as actually evil, no no, that is a step too far. I think the most horrifying aspect of the tragedy surrounding the death of Jamie Bulger was that the horrendous crime was committed by minors. We like to think that children are pure, beings of undefiled whiteness that have not been twisted by the world. In most cases this is true as parents it is our duty to protect our progeny from the real life terrors until they are prepared for them. Witness the possessed Reagan in the horror classic The Exorcist. What is shocking is the foul mouthed obscenities that issue forth from such a young girl and the scene in which she uses a crucifix as a sex toy is just loaded with shock value. So, a horror film that twists children into the focus of the evil (however that is manifesting) is to move it into dangerous yet exhilarating territory. In the 2008 film “The Children” we see a families children infected by a virus which turns them into psychotic killers. Witnessing the many violent death scenes is disturbing as it stands at odds with the films opening scenes of a family travelling to enjoy Christmas together. The films images linger long in your mind as it plays on our own ideas and beliefs that children are pure or at least sinless. Its in our DNA!
So what you may ask is the unbreakable rule. It’s the taboo of killing children in horror films. Now to be specific Im talking about teenagers. They have long been the fodder of the likes of Myers. Vorhees and any wannabe college sorority slasher. No, I mean young children or babies. Even the thought of it is horrific. Horror writers want their work to be viewed and they need it to be viewed widely so they can continue working. To show or even allude to violent child death is to potentially alienate your audience to the point where they may never return. Its a taboo and surely horror is about smashing through taboos, horror needs to transcend the boundaries in order to progress. However, this is one that stubbornly refuses to budge.
There are a few examples, Stephen King is a writer who regularly shows his disregard for children in his writing. Pet Cemetery (Gage is a toddler who is killed in a traffic accident and then brought back to life) When I read Pet Cemetery what upset me most is Gage’s actual death rather than the murderous acts he commits when he returns. Halloween 3:Season of the Witch deals with a mass slaughter of children through Halloween masks. The kid that dies in the experiment at the factory cant be much older than 10. Stephen King, again, with “IT” the demonic titular clown is a killer of children and again Mr King with Salems Lot. Yet what really upsets audiences is the death of babies. The opening sequences of a very young toddlers death (fatally falling out of an open window whilst his parents make love in the shower) in Lars von Trier’s bizarre film, Antichrist, still haunt me.
Yet one film stands head and shoulders above all these examples. It is the John Gulager directed 2008 film “Feast 2: Sloppy Seconds”, the sequel to Feast. We had already witnessed a film which shows frank disregard for taboo and horror lore with the first film. A band of unlucky patrons of a bar are attacked by vicious, hungry and horny monsters who eat, kill and hump there way through the film. The murder of a young boy at the start of the film should have given the viewer some indication of the writers total disregard for taboo. Here we have a film whose monsters spray its victims with sperm, and every other body fluid before devouring them. However, the second part features a scene of such cruelty that it illustrates the whole point of this article.
The survivors of the monsters attack on a small town are trapped on the roof of a building whilst the monsters run around eating the rest of the populace. Greg (an employee of a used car dealer, also on the roof) hears the sound of a baby crying in one of the abandoned cars. Heroicly he swings down from the roof to rescue the baby and, babe in arms, starts to run from the pursuing monsters. It soon becomes clear that he isn’t going to make it as he is unable to swing back up to the roof whilst holding the baby. So, he throws the baby up into the air where it lands on the floor to be eaten by the monsters. The scene in which the baby is thrown into the air is rendered in slow motion with the focus very much on the baby’s angelic,smiling face. When I watched this for the first time it shocked me to the point of the image haunting me for days. It was clearly supposed to. This is not how things go, Greg should have sacrificed himself so that that the,unamed, baby could live. Small problem though, Greg is a bastard, he is a self serving sputum of a human being and no way is he giving his life for anyone. Despite all this being true though its still a shocking scene. I think the writers (Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton) were challenging taboos, they werent playing it safe. I’d like to see more of this with horror films.
In a world where we are very much desentivised to violence (“theyre selling hippy wigs in Woolworths the age of peace is dead”) sorry random Withnail and I quote, we need to have writers who are willing to go further. This is why films like “Saw” and “Hostel” have become so popular they are not simply “by the numbers” horror films, or at least thats now how they started. Breaking taboos is risky as Ive mentioned before but edgy horror films have always been this way. Alternatively perhaps child killing is a little to near the knuckle, too horrific. We know this happens in real life and perhaps even horror fans want a break from realism. Perhaps the unbreakable rule of horror should stay just as that, unbreakable.
Follow @VentSpleen2014 on twitter