During my freshman year of high school, I snuck into “Scream” when it hit theatres in late 1996. Between the bouts of graphic violence, I remember a frank discussion between Neve Campbell and Skeet Ulrich’s characters about a late-night showing of “The Exorcist” that had “all the good parts cut out.” In the end, Campbell’s character offers to raise the status of her virginal relationship with her boyfriend to PG-13 and flashes her breasts to him as he climbs out her window.
Nearly 10 years later, the blood has drained out of the genre. Many horror films still make money and some even provide legitimate scares, but an unfortunate trend is skewing these films towards a younger set. Horror films aren’t having “all the good parts cut out” just for the made-for-TV version; it’s happening on the silver screen, too.
Nobody expected “The Ring,” the Gore Verbinski directed chiller starring Naomi Watts, to perform as well as it did in the box office. Watts had not yet established herself as a bankable star and its PG-13 rating portended a kiddie flick with mediocre scares. Though critics divided on whether “The Ring” resounded or clanked, the film grossed $128 million in the U.S. alone. Verbinski went on to direct “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” Watts joined Hollywood’s elite and a new horror icon was created in Samara, the film’s villain and the meanest little girl ever to get stuck in a well.
Movie studios took note and subsequently released more horror films that shied away from the Karo Syrup blood of the new wave of slashers – “Scream” and “I Know What You Did Last Summer” – in favor of subtler scares and more effective marketing to a younger demographic. In the last sixth months, the under-18 group has had the option to put down their crayons and legally wander into five different PG-13 horror films: “The Village,” “Anacondas: The Search for the Blood Orchid,” “The Grudge,” “Darkness” and “White Noise,” none of which garnered much critical praise, but each of which offered an opportunity to sell kids on a movie that appealed to their taste for cheap scares.
It’s genius, really. Kids love horror. Even if they close their eyes during the scary parts, they’ve still shelled out the money for admission. By watering down the violence, movie studios can market to a demographic for whom most horror had been off limits. The PG-13 horror trend poses two problems, however. First, stealing into an R-rated film provides underage moviegoers with the adult situations they crave: It’s a rite of passage and can be as big a thrill as anything in the horror movie itself.
The rumors surrounding the release of the upcoming horror film “Cursed” exemplify the other nasty result of this trend. “Cursed” pairs director Wes Craven with writer Kevin Williamson. The two first collaborated for “Scream,” the combination of their talents reinvigorated the slasher genre. But as the release date for “Cursed” draws near, rumors hint that the film’s more violent scenes, which include several werewolf maulings, will be trimmed in order to snag the film a PG-13 rating. It’s too bad, because this bad puppy could have had some real balls. With a lower rating, it will likely be neutered of its violence. Its accessibility to teens and its photogenic cast – more hotties than a week’s worth of the WB – will probably make millions, but horror genre as a whole will be missing out.