Preamble: Today is the release of “Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon,” for the love of god, buy and or rent it. It’s a true horror film classic waiting to be discovered. Take my horror brother Jeremy Knox’s word for it, and for good measure, view my riff on the film on the blogs…
Spoilers abound below, kiddies!
Why is it that every single horror film, hell every single film with a villain, in the midst of grabbing for the almighty dollar, seems intent on demystifying previously imposing villains these days?
In a world of Tabloids, Blogs, MySpace, websites, and reality shows, we’ve come to the apex of the end of privacy as we know it, and have become a people that seek to expose everything about ourselves for our friends and random public to watch, if for not other reason to seek fame, or infamy.
And it seems to reflect poorly on horror films, as these days every single villain has to be explained, or deemed just a sad little puppy under a psychotic exterior, that really isn’t that bad once you get to know them. The height of this ludicrous attempts were with Darth Vader in the “Star Wars” prequels, where we discovered the dark lord who destroyed a planet and choked folks to death like it was a bowel movement, really was just a hurting petulant teenager who did it all for the nookie.
It seems studios, in their search to milk every franchise within their grasps, want to stretch the line thin as far as possible, thus the next move beyond the stories, are to over explain our villains. Their motives, their origins, their emotions, their family, their favorite soft drink, everything has to be explained for us.
And we don’t seem to mind it too much. Horror, as a reflection of society, seems to have headed in a direction where even the most harrowing of monsters have to be explained and somehow redeemed as a tragic figure to gain viewers sympathies rather than scare them. It’s happening all the time these days.
King Kong went from an angry ape taken out of his land, to a clunky love struck buffoon who really just wanted some Ann Darrow tail, and was quite sweet underneath his rough exterior. To many this was deemed as a high point of Peter Jackson’s remake, but it very much took away the mystique and horror that was Kong’s destruction of this concrete jungle.
And I can’t imagine how they could have botched the prequel to “Hannibal Rising” anymore, but they pulled off what was such a great film, and turned it into a waning franchise, that then dissolved into a really boring prequel that was “Batman Begins” without the costume. It was bad enough I could not buy Gaspard Ulliel as a younger Hannibal Lecter, but here we learned that he was really just a sad little boy underneath his cannibalism.
S**t, he ate his sister not because he liked it, but because he was hungry and sad. He eats humans not because he’s a madman, but because it’s his own form of revenge. Oh, and he’s also a samurai. But in reality, Hannibal Lecter is just an abused orphan who lost his way, like Darth.
“Hannibal Rising” is a film I just refuse to accept as his official origin. To me, Hannibal will always be a man who remains a mystery and the tale told in the film, is really just speculation and hearsay based on myths and urban legends.
There’s also the de-mystification of Michael Myers coming soon, which will be a film that depicts Michael as a bulking maniac with long hair, and is, as actress Taylor Scout Compton declared, just a big puppy dog under a mask. So, the embodiment of pure merciless evil is now just a big old softy who is just misguided and tortured.
Then there’s Leatherface who went from a deranged lunatic to a man with a disfigurement who is just misunderstood exemplified in the horrible remake where he unmasks to reveal a deformed kisser anxiously attempting to invoke a sense of sympathy from us.
This was further display “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning,” a movie about a studio who wrote themselves into a corner by cutting Leather face’s arm off, and built a prequel instead, which gave them an excuse to show Leatherface with both arms, and show an “”origin” that was comprised of him without a mask, and in a meat house.
I recall bursting with laughter when R. Lee Ermy’s character screams “Kill him! He’s just like the boys who used torment you!” A p***y getting back at bullies, wow, that’s horrifying. I recall many a chuckle that day.
Then there’s Billy from Black Christmas who became a transvestite abused and raped by his mom, and Robert Carlyle’s character in “28 Weeks Later” who, though the infected are declared as being void of any state of logic, sound mind, or mercy, suddenly found it in himself to topple the infection to follow his kids halfway around England, and recognize them in a state of sadness right before biting it. You have to love that ability to undermine the story.
There’s just an unspoken unanimous decision these days to show that every monster is really just a sad being inside, and while that’s good for something like “Frankenstein,” often times monsters are just monsters. Creatures that come from the dark, and try to destroy us sometimes just are. There’s really no rhyme or reason.
One of the primary examples of this random destruction of the genre and the mystery would be in “Hostel Part II.” The problem with the film, aside from being just as bad as the former was that Roth just over explained his villains. By revealing everything about this organization, he dropped the curtain on a menacing entity that would have served as a versatile threat to everyone and anyone who stepped into its clutches.
Instead, we’re told everything about them, and any intimidating presence they brought to the story was relinquished, and Roth ended up exploring them more than he did our victims, who should have been the actual centers.
This is also shown in the “Spider-Man” films, in where every single person that comes across “Spider-Man” is not evil, or megalomaniacal, or even psychotic, but just a misguided human. Sandman was really just a man trying to see his daughter, Venom was just a broken reporter, Doctor Octopus was really just a man grieving his wife, and did I mention Norman Osborne was a whiny man whose power was grabbed from him?
Sometimes a psycho is just a psycho, and I really don’t care to know why Lecter eats people, why Michael has to destroy, why the walking dead have to eat, and why Leatherface is plain nuts. Sometimes the scarier aspect of horror is in not knowing. That’s why there’s so much hatred toward what’s different, because sometimes the new and unusual just frighten us. Should we sympathize for the freaks in “The Hills Have Eyes” because they’re suffering from radiation, or should we be scared that they’re planning to eat a baby?
Why do people who command these stories feel we have to know about the monster and feel for them before watching them? How does that increase their personality or gravitas? The answers are many times just: Money. Studios go where the money is, and they’ll explain the origins of their beasts for as long as humanly possible, but sometimes, just sometimes, there’s a director out there who wants to explain their beast, and then pull the rug out from us.
Did we have to know about the monsters in the cave before “The Descent” scared the crap out of us? Wasn’t Michael a horrifying monster before the sequels, and this remake? Did we have to know the aliens were just lost puppies in order to fear them popping from the dark and impregnating us?
I say no.
Stop ruining the illusion for us by explaining the magic trick, and just let us decide for ourselves why that masked man is hacking up teens, or why that scientist wants to ruin Spider-Man’s day, because not knowing is sometimes scarier than explanation. I mean, do I have to explain why the ladies love me? I think not.