Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Monday, December 8, 2008

The Horrors of Mall Horror

(So here's a random article. I wrote this for www.horroryearbook.com, which kicks the crap out of and then teabags all the other horror news website, a while back. You can find it there if you feel like slogging through their back issues. That was suppose to become a reoccurring gig but I couldn't think of a good follow-up so it never happened. Anyway, here I analyze and bitch about a really shitty current horror sub-genre, which, sadly, doesn't seem like it'll go away anytime soon.)

Mall horror is a thorn in the side of many an experienced horror fan. The label applies to films that span any number of fright sub-genres. However, there’s one thing these movies all have in common: They suck.

To clarify, mall horror is characterized by films that are light-weight in scares, relying mostly on a worn cavalcade of clich├ęs; short scenes of silence being shattered by a burst of loud music, usually accompanied by something jumping out at the on-screen character being the most common and damnable, and derivative in story, to the point that the majority are remakes. Asinine twist endings aren’t required but are common anyway. “Unrated” DVD releases that claim to be “the version too intense for theaters” but actually add nothing more offensive then what’s all ready there have quickly become a requirement as well. The one main aspect that categorizes a picture as mall horror is its need to appeal to easily startled teenage girls. In other worlds, if a fourteen year old girl dressed like the latest Bratz doll comes up to you and tells you that “The Foreboding Closet” is the scariest movie she’s ever seen, you can probably rest assure that said motion picture is mall horror.

Mall horror really first came into existence around 2002 with the release of the American remake of “The Ring.” Its roots can be traced back further to the likes “The Sixth Sense,” “The Others,” or even “Poltergeist” but two-naught-naught-two was the year the floodgates opened. Though relatively well-liked even among the world of grouchy horror fans, “The Ring” featured many of the trademarks of this reviled genre. It’s family-friendly rating, focuses on “atmosphere” over blood and tits (not to say that us horror fans need blood and tits to enjoy a movie. But, you know, they never hurt), and, most clearly, its Asian roots. The only thing missing was a CW-friendly cast and more obvious writing and direction.

Of course, the knock-offs, hanger-ons, sequels, and copy-cats that followed were all more then happy to fill in those ingredients. Before you knew it, January, February, and occasionally even spring and fall months, were flooded with the likes of “The Grudge,” “Dark Water,” “Boogeyman,” “The Return,” “The Messengers,” “Pulse,” “The Eye,” “One Missed Call” and on and on. Those among us with “Rue Morgue” subscriptions and “Return of the Living Dead” t-shirts were annoyed by the trend, of course, but mostly ignored it until the heartless Hollywood producers started coming after our beloved seventies and eighties classics and repackaging them into shinier, tidier, and completely harmless new boxes for the junior high crowd. Wretched accomplishments like “The Fog” and the recent “Prom Night” reduxes got many a horror website writer’s blood a-boiling. And the filming of tone-downed version of everything from “It’s Alive” to “He Knows Your Alone” will surely continue to piss us off in the future. (The remake trend isn’t limited to the PG-13 rating, of course. But the harsher rated studio produced recreations of horror standards commit many of the same sins as their TV-appropriate brethren and should be equally scoffed at.)

You may be asking, “Yeah, all that’s true, but what’s really so bad about mall horror?” Well, there are a couple of things. First off, it degrades the artistic spirit of our youth. That’s a melodramatic thing to say but it’s true. Fewer and fewer young people truly appreciate movies these days. Even fewer know what a good scary movie looks like. Many a suburban mallrat views the picture show as a way only to pass the time. (They also view people who go to the view movies impulsively and use words like “picture show” as weird, self-hating geeks. Of which they’d be partially correct.) Some don’t even care if they’re entertained, only that they were distracted for ninety minutes. The soul-sucking allure of TV and video games and the lack of good rental stores or, gasp!, art-houses and revival theaters around small towns is partially responsible for this attitude. Ultimately, I lack the sociologically degree necessary to figure out why such an attitude would become prevalent among the youth. If you’ll allow me to start speaking in doomsday theories, I can envision a unnerving future: a generation of horror fans suckled on the likes of “The Forgotten” or “The Invasion” might go on to produce similarly superficial fare. The continued popularity of mall horror can only mean one thing: More mall horror. A day when that comes to dominate our cinemas would be far scarier then anything overpaid Hollywood screenwriting teams can come up with.

Further more, the remakes commonly overshadow the originals in the eyes of those born after 1990. Countless times I’ve heard tales of friends working at rental stores and being pestered by young types looking for “When a Stranger Calls” only for the costumer to be confused and flabbergasted when presented with the original. If the multiple reports of the same I’ve read on message boards all over the internet mean anything, this is far from an isolated incident.

Ultimately though what really sucks about mall horror is that it’s soulless. These are hollow films made not by struggling artist with something to say, or even talented fanboys trying to spread the love of the genre, but by bottom dollar counting producers. Even in the cases were the director or writer are talented individuals, any artistry they might bring to the table is squashed by an insistence on formula or, as in the case of the recent “The Eye” remake, have their movie jerked away from them and reedited, presumably to have any of the genuinely interesting bits cut out. It’s shallow, disposable entertainment made for a shallow, disposable generation that have little to no understanding of anything, much less filmmaking, much less a niche genre like horror.

And, lastly, get off my lawn, you goddamn kids!

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