How Cynicism is Killing Entertainment


I have seen some stuff in my life that I truly believe science can't explain as of yet. I watched someone die before me as I held their hand, watched them breathe their last breath and experienced something that I can't explain. I've heard things in supposedly empty rooms and homes and had situations that could be chalked up to more than coincidence. I suspect a lot of people reading this have as well and with it now being 2012, the economy in the toilet, the US slipping further into political and economic turmoil; we want hope that there is something on the other side after we die. A glimmer of hope that maybe there's something and that it's better than this place.


A result of genius marketing right down to the fake "Demand It!" which did nothing but collect data on filmgoers for studio marketing departments. The film would have come to your town regardless of demanding it.


The explosion of reality TV in the past decade has been compared to the end days of ancient Rome and the need for the populace to up the ante in their entertainment. Roman circuses and Colosseum events featured death as the highlight of the show. Because, let's face it, death is the ultimate rush and show stopper. You really can't top it. The Romans became so desensitized over the decades that watching real death for entertainment became the only thing that truly entertained. They perfected it to an art that has been mimicked many times by Hollywood.


Has the same happened to horror?


Have decades of "Dead Teenager" movies, slashing homicidal maniacs and scores of flesh-eating zombies dulled our senses to the point where the only thing that scares us is the belief that is "just might be real?"


The film that started the viral marketing movement...and it's not real, not based on true events and didn't happen. Period.


The Blair Witch Project gets the official credit with starting the trend. Picked from an obscure lineup at the Miami Film Festival, the film was shot for less than 60 grand (accounts vary) and slicked up by Artisan Pictures and given a groundbreaking website that inferred the events were true. The Internet was exploding at the time and the line between reality and entertainment was blurred even further. The main push behind the Blair Witch phenomenon was the belief that  it was real. Even when The Blair Witch Project hit big and its stars showed up on Jay Leno, the amount of people thinking they were watching real people die on camera in "found footage" was staggering.



Simon Cowell is hated because most of the time...he's right.


Reality TV was about to hit big with CBS's Survivor and FOX's American Idol were about to become a pop culture phenomena. The driving force behind both was not to see winners, but to enjoy the suffering of individuals either through alliances that screwed over others or watching those who believed they had talent get humiliated before Simon Cowell (and some deservedly so). The amateur tryout footage by contestant hopefuls on American Idol remains the most popular part of the show and most highly rated next to the grand finale.


But this is about horror. So how did this affect the genre? As I write this, the staff for the Six Degrees of Hell social media hub emailed me a comment from a Facebook Fan of our horror film, Chantelle Marie Ericson. She posted in response to this quote:


"Real horror isn't this shaky cam 'Paranormal Activity' crap. It's not torture porn, hillbillies run amok and it isn't f-ing zombies or Abercrombie vampires that sparkle for God's sake. Real horror is that story that reminds us of being 5 years old and hearing something moving in the dark...just out of sight and it's moving just for us." -- Film Critic Michael George


Chantelle wrote this back: "... horror these days [is] glamored and glorified. It is a disgrace to horror and the horror industry."


She uses "glamored and glorified" and those words fit directly into the point of this blog. In Hollywood's effort to "grunge up" horror through the shaky camera effect in films like the Paranormal Activity series or The Last Exorcism or the upcoming The Devil Inside...has it actually made horror too slick for its own good? Expensive marketing campaigns push the "real" factor. It is amazing how many people ignorantly believe the Paranormal Activity series is based on real events or even the overused "inspired by" true events. There are still those who believe The Blair Witch Project was real despite the fact that the actors have appeared on numerous talk shows and in print detailing the making of the low budget hit.


                                                                     No comment needed.


The Twilight series hijacked the horror genre and manipulated audiences into thinking it was horror. Many Twilight fans claim to be horror fans, but yet can't bear to watch "real" vampire movies where they don't sparkle or pout, get married or look like they (and their werewolf counterparts) walked off an underwear model page. Twilight is a romance series dressed up as horror to sell tickets--it is an ABC Family movie of the week except with more sex and blood. Period.


So-called real "night vision footage" to accompany so-called "found footage."


However we are talking about the "shaky cam" style films. They use gimmicks to attract their audiences, which mostly consist of middle school aged "Tweens" who want their scares in controlled, slick jolts but nothing too bloody or with too much thought. These types of films are the cinematic equivalent to Internet scare videos where someone watches something calm, quiet and peaceful and then BOO! A scary face with a loud scream comes up and makes the viewer jump. Add a bunch of these moments throughout 90 minutes and you got yourself a "horror" movie.


Actually, you don't.


These films also use the pretext that what the viewer is watching is somehow "real." Using "security camera and handheld camcorder footage" the feeling is that we are there with the recorder. We are experiencing some kind of supernatural "snuff" film as we know the main characters most likely end up dead and we paid to watch that happen. Again, it is the ultimate high to watch people die.




We want to believe in ghosts, The Loch Ness Monster, aliens, etc. Shows like Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures score big ratings but really, in the end, don't offer much scientific proof of anything week after week. There has yet to be an episode on any of these shows that proves to even the thinnest scientific criteria that the supernatural is 100% real. We are watching manipulated television with fancy editing, sound effects and perhaps even visual alterations. They are created to entertain and while none of these shows claim to be showing certified supernatural events, they don't really say they aren't real either. This avoids any legal entrapment.


There is no such thing as "reality TV". It is all scripted and shot with the editing in mind. Any reality "star" will tell you that. Additionally, once a human being knows it has cameras on it, it will always react to the camera and not how it would in real life. You may get flashes of real, but the first thought on any subject's mind is the camera and the audience that will be watching. The Paranormal Activity films do the same thing. They don't say "based on true events" but the studio certainly does not go out of its way to say "it's only a movie." By tacitly allowing the movie going audiences to believe that what they're watching just might be real sells tickets. Lots of them as Paramount announced yesterday that a 4th film is going into production. Even with announcements like these, many still believe these things are real.



Why? Because maybe we grew immune to Jason Vorhees and his crew and the endless choppings, stabbings and slayings. Maybe the makeup effects grew "dated" and we just weren't being scared like we used to be. Today a film like the original 1978 Halloween would get a "PG-13" rating for sure, but when it was released was considered terrifying and a hard "R". The shaky cam films give us two things: hope that what we are watching is real and more scares than the supernatural shows that also give "proof" that these things are "real." Look at the ending of the original Paranormal Activity. Could there be any denying that what happened wasn't supernatural? It is pretty clear. A lot more than the whispers or EVP's TV hosts listen to week after week.


Yet what we are seeing is a slick manipulation that has also created a wave of copycats with every wannbe filmmaker with a camcorder and Final Cut Pro thinking they are gonna make the next definitive horror movie for 5 grand and make hundreds of millions. "Everyone's a filmmaker these days," director and writer John Milius once said. How right he was.


The "shaky cam" movies use the technique as a gimmick no differently than the way 3D and "Smell-O-Rama" were used to attract people into theaters. It is designed to make you think what you're seeing is "real" to elevate the experience and make you invest yourself more into the film. If you think real people are dying, it will heighten the terror factor. We want as close to real without being hurt ourselves. As long as we can watch others being hurt from a safe vantage point, it's all good. This is no different than ancient Rome. This also applies to our sports as well.



Real horror is not trying to convince you it is real. Real horror reminds you of real things. We all know what it is like to be in the shower...naked...vulnerable and hear that noise on the other side of the curtain or door. Did someone come in? That's why Hitchcock's Psycho still has an impact today and the shower scene is one of the most iconic in horror. And yet there is hardly any blood, no shaky camera effect or nudity. And if you have not seen this film, let alone the scene, but have seen Paranormal Activity or Twilight,  you are not a true horror fan. You pay lip service but you are no fan. You're a poser.



Real horror reminds us of being a kid and the monster under the bed. In the closet. In the dark. Clowns scare us not because they are inherently scary, but they are a reminder that person we are seeing is not who they seem to be. The makeup and greasepaint hide someone very different underneath. And while they are laughing and trying to make us laugh, darker thoughts may be going on inside them.



Real horror is the loss of a loved one and not knowing what happened to them or...not wanting to know and knowing they may have suffered in their last moments and we were powerless to stop it.




Real horror is not a gimmick.


However the examples we just listed are actually in Six Degrees of Hell (the stills are from the film) and we certainly hope that translates as real horror to our viewers. Hell breaks loose in 2012.


We hope you'll join us.


















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