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September 30, 2010

Support Unrated Horror This Weekend? No Thanks.

If you've been around the horror community lately, you've no doubt heard the loud voices proclaiming this to be one of the most important weekends in the history of horror cinema.  If you haven't been around, allow me to explain.
Hatchet II, the follow up to Adam Green's breakout slasher from 2006, is being released "nationally" this week by AMC cinemas.  Moreover, the film will be released UNRATED - free from the censorship of the MPAA and their rating system.  According to many, such as horror bigwig Dread Central, this is a chance for horror fans to stand up and tell the world what they want to see (by giving the film money, of course).

With all due respect to those involved with the movie (I like Hatchet, and we'll talk about it more later), those involved with sites pimping this release, and those who disagree - I'm going to take my own stand.  Here are some reasons why I - and probably I only - think this ad campaign and the path of Hatchet II doesn't speak for all horror fans, despite their sweeping generalizations.

This "nationwide" release is nowhere near nationwide - I've been an employee of one of the nation's largest theater chains, and the moment Hatchet II's unrated release was announced I knew that it would never - ever - play in my home state.  Quite simply, most theater chains WILL NOT carry unrated cinema of any kind.  A look at the opening weekend venues of Hatchet II, as posted online, shows that only 20 of the 50 United States will play Hatchet II.  To the studio that probably doesn't matter, because AMC cinemas covers the major moneymaking markets.  But there are huge portions of the country that will not see the film.  Basically, the choice to go unrated is costing millions of viewers a chance to see the film.  I'm sure the filmmakers' will say that the film selling in these markets is what will change the other chains' minds.  Considering the mediocre results of online campaigns on past horror "sensations", I highly doubt they'll meet that goal.  It's another case of the entertainment industry separating the haves and havenots.

(Some people have been so bold as to even suggest that those of us from the 90% of America that won't see Hatchet II in theaters should blindly buy tickets on-line and support unrated horror in that manner.  In other words - "If you're interested in the vague prospect of more unrated horror films, buy this product sight unseen!".  I mean, we all want it that way, right? Send your money, and in return...well, in return you can spend more money to pick up the DVD at Wal-Mart!  That way, the studio's pocketbooks win twice!)

After Green's latest films, a return to Hatchet seems like a step back - Since the release of Hatchet - a flawed slasher that cut corners to create scares and was devoid of any real characters - Green has been a part of directing two fantastic horror thrillers, Spiral and Frozen.  These films show that Green has a lot of talent as a serious horror filmmaker.  Hatchet, on the other hand, felt like a glorified piece of fan fiction that was entirely interested in producing gore and showing breasts.  We like to claim that that's all horror fans like, but I know that most of us are bigger than that.  Hatchet is a fun film, and I'm sure seeing the amped up sequel on the big screen with a howling audience would be fun - but I still feel like it could be a step back artisticly.  Yet people are lapping it up, because it promises violence and gore.  Which leads to my biggest issue with the film's pitch...

The UNRATED label is a crutch - I know, I haven't seen the movie yet, but I fail to see any good reason why unrated horror is inherently better than any other horror film.  To me, the assumption that the film will be better because it hasn't passed the rating tests is absolutely ridiculous.  I can not, for the life of me, think of one time in my life when I've been watching a truly fantastic horror movie and stopped to think "You know, this movie would be sooooo much better if it were unrated!"  Not once.

It personally offends me when I see all these people clamoring that they won't see a horror movie because it's PG-13 and that those few extra seconds of gore will make or break a film.  Sites like Dread Central imply that horror fans - in total - are mindless drones who are interested in the gore and sex first and any cinematic qualities second.  We're being painted as a singular force with only one interest - which Hatchet II will meet.

Despite what some sites would have you believe, there are a lot of people who - wisely - don't believe that the horror genre peaked during the 1980s.  They're the people who fondly remember the classic horror films from Universal Studios, who swoon over Hammer Films, and who recall the intelligent horrors of the '70s as something special, unlike the commercial, paint-by-numbers efforts that filled the glam decade.  Those behind Hatchet - who proclaim their film to be "Old School American Horror" - seem to share the slim view of horror that values Kane Hodder over Vincent Price and Boris Karloff.

Currently circulating trailers for Hatchet II focus entirely on the fact that the film is being released with more gore and deaths than anything you've seen on the big screen in the last 25 years.  Does it mention the plot? Nope.  Who the characters are? Except for bland returning killer Victor Crowley, nope.  Anything about the film besides the fact it's unrated and extreme?  Not that I can see.  Check out the following trailer to see for yourself. (In case you can't guess, this preview is most certainly NSFW.)
I am a proud fan of horror cinema, and am glad to support artists everywhere in their quest to see their films made without interference.  But I'm also a fan of making up my mind on my own - and this tactic for pimping Hatchet II reminds me of why I don't blindly follow the "cool kids" in the horror scene.  Some people want to believe a sequel to a DVD hit is going to change the landscape of horror forever, just because there's no limit on the amount of blood sprayed.  I fail to believe that horror fans - on the whole - are so obtuse.

If you want to see Hatchet II, see Hatchet II.  (All the details are in the Dread Central post I linked.)  I'll probably see it on DVD, but I'll see it because I love that it stars Danielle Harris and Tony Todd.  I'll see it because I think Green is a fine horror director who has a lot of fun loving the genre, and because it's probable that the gains he's made as a filmmaker since Hatchet will make this a superior sequel.  I'll see it because I have little doubt it'll be a fun ride.  I will not, however, see it simply because it's being labeled as UNRATED - because I can't believe that it's necessary for a film to be unrated to be sufficiently violent.  If a filmmaker really thinks they can't tell a violent story within a system that allows the likes of Taxi Driver, Kill Bill, and Machete, that filmmaker should probably reconsider whether their story is really worth telling.

Horror has survived - and succeeded - for more than 40 years despite the MPAA.  Under their rules, William Friedkin made The Exorcist, John Carpenter made The Thing, and Wes Craven made A Nightmare on Elm Street. Maybe Hatchet II knows some secret to success that tops those films - and all the other great horrors that have come before it - I'd like to see it.  But I'm not going to blindly jump through the film's hoops because it promises to subvert the system.  And I'm kind of pissed off that people are implying that I should.

If that makes me less of a horror fan, so be it.

10 comments:

The Groundskeeper said...

*applause*

Very well argued. I never understood the correlation "horror" fans make between the rating and the value of the film. The last movie that really scared me, The Ring, was rated PG-13.

I never thought about it in these terms before, but yes, it is rather "insulting" that the entirety of my interests in the horror genre are so often boiled down to gore and breasts. There's nothing wrong with a well done gore movie, a la Peter Jackson's Dead Alive, but I also occasionally like subtlety, nuance, and atmosphere.

I could go on, but I'd just be repeating what you already articulated. Great post.

Zach S. said...

Great post. I have never been a cinematic lemming though I'm constantly enjoying films many hated.

My opinion on the MPAA is that they've largley overstepped their bounds and have become to powerful in how a movie can be marketed, promoted, and exhibited. I think they should treat films like produce, if something is to be certified organic there's a process to go through otherwise it's inspected and labeled and shipped out. If filmmakers want a G rating then they should put it through the process, not cattleherd everything through.

Sometimes some films have to exist without an MPAA rating, otherwise there would never be any Tokyo Shock or reasons to go searching for the "most hardcore" or "banned" films. I still wonder what ever happened to NC-17 and X ratings. Those are still out there too...

The Mike said...

Good points Zach. One of the things I didn't want to do in this post is praise the MPAA, because I do agree there are problems with the system. And I agree there are films that simply can't fit their guidelines. My problem isn't with Hatchet II fighting the MPAA, it's with those who think this is why the film is a valid option.

Honestly, if I was in a place where it was playing, I might give it a go based on the film itself and the fun it promises. I just wish those arguing on behalf of the film would focus on that over the rating.

The Mike said...

And thanks, Mr. Groundskeeper. I'm a big fan of subtle horror, part of why I loved Green's work on Spiral. I shouldn't be so up in arms over this, I just hate when horror fans are painted as folks who need copious amounts of gore to survive.

Zach S. said...

I agree, I think that the rating issue is what's helping promote the film to its niche market. Sadly people in Hollywood and across the board fail to realize that the Horror genre is the one genre of film that consistently makes money regardless of a film's budget or when it is released in the year. The Oscars are further proof of this snub.

It's quite brillant in its simplicity that the film is relying on one aspect of generating such emotion from its release. This was seen before with Blair Witch and "is it real?" to the exploitation films before it. But nowadays it's all about the packaging rather than the content.

Great points all around. I think the bigger issue though is why you're not able to see this in your area or better yet, why you don't fieldtrip to NYC to see it with me... :)

Bryce Wilson said...

"After Green's latest films, a return to Hatchet seems like a step back - Since the release of Hatchet - a flawed slasher that cut corners to create scares and was devoid of any real characters - Green has been a part of directing two fantastic horror thrillers, Spiral and Frozen. These films show that Green has a lot of talent as a serious horror filmmaker. Hatchet, on the other hand, felt like a glorified piece of fan fiction that was entirely interested in producing gore and showing breasts. We like to claim that that's all horror fans like, but I know that most of us are bigger than that. Hatchet is a fun film, and I'm sure seeing the amped up sequel on the big screen with a howling audience would be fun - but I still feel like it could be a step back artisticly. Yet people are lapping it up, because it promises violence and gore. Which leads to my biggest issue with the film's pitch..."

Too. Fucking. Right.

Glad I'm not the only one who Hatchet bored the piss out of.

I actually am eager to see Hatchet II, but it's because of what Green's done since then. Not because of Hatchet.

stonerphonic said...

Being told to do anything usually results in me doing the opposite because I'm a cunt.

But I'm more of a cunt when people try to use force, threats, isolation or group leverage to achieve their personal agendas. Makes me want to avoid HATCHET 2 even more than avoiding, say, a Rob Zombie remake.

Blooming Psycho said...

I always feel like something of a pariah because I'm one of the few horror fans that really doesn't like a lot of gore and tends to get annoyed with the seeming necessity of having tits and ass everywhere. I find it obtrusive. If there is actual reason for it in a story, fine, but I find that more often than not the gore and boobs are there to cover up the fact that there IS no story. Which in my view makes a movie gore porn and not horror. I like something that scares me on a deeper level, not something that just makes me go "ew."

Jeff Allard said...

Excellent post! I'm sure Hatchet II is fine for what it is but I think directors like Green would better show their love of the horror genre by striving to make the next Exorcist or Alien or The Thing, not by trying to make the next Madman or The Prowler.

LJ said...

I agree 100%! Excellent! I'm not behind it either and Hatchet II didn't open in my state either. I would never blindly buy a ticket, no way. Just goes against everything I believe in to do that, even if I do eat, sleep and breathe horror.