Objection! – Are Genre-Savvy Characters Good In Horror Films?

Starshine: Hello everyone and welcome to another Objection! As ever-present as a zombie horde, I’m Starshine!

Guyinthe3rdrow: And like an erratically timed straight-to-video sequel, I’m the Guy in the Third Row.

Starshine: Today, in honor of the best holiday of the year (Halloween) we’re going to be talk about whether genre-savvy horror movie characters work. Care to start us off, Guy?

I would totally put money on the Sugarplum Fairy.

Pictured: The guy who makes his living making sure the population in any given horror film dies horrifically. For the record, yes, he DOES love his work.

Guyinthe3rdrow: I’ll do my best. Let’s face it, on some level we’ve all had those moments watching a horror film where we snicker at the seeming obliviousness of the characters therein. Yes, we know the basement’s a death trap. Yeah, we know this REALLY isn’t the time for sex. And yes, we’re well aware of what that demonic looking tome that they’re about to read from is capable of summoning demons.

But then is it really that unreasonable that, within the setting, the characters wouldn’t figure this out?

Now, I’m not completely against genre-savvy per se. Used right, it can make for some amusing little meta jokes. The problem is, when you expect characters to act in a way that suggests they know of the rules of a horror film, most of the time, it’s pushing at the fourth wall and doesn’t really work.

Starshine: I disagree. I think we don’t have enough genre-savvy characters. The problem with the tropes you mentioned is that they are all tired and worn out. Formulas aren’t scary. Having a genre-savvy character, even if they are not horror film experts adds a little spice to the mix. In Cabin in the Woods, Marty is the only one to notice the weird things going on, how his friends are acting bizarre and how they shouldn’t mess with the obviously creepy shit and it added a new dimension to the story itself, so we weren’t all just rolling our eyes. I would take a horror nerd roaming around surviving on pure nerdiness (or failing miserably) than watching the same half-naked girl running screaming through yet another dark and damp forest.

"and the audiences said no one would ever go into the basement and unleash the monsters in real life. It took millions in technology and chemical manipulation, but we showed them!"

“And the audiences said no one would ever go into the basement and unleash the monsters in real life. It took millions in technology and chemical manipulation, but we showed them!”

Guyinthe3rdrow: I always found Cabin in the Woods to be kind of an odd case here. It’s definitely a meta example, but strangely, no one within the movie really acknowledges the meta. To them, these aren’t the tropes of a horror film, they’re the steps of an ancient ritual. If they actually acknowledged it as the genre clichés, the joke wouldn’t hold nearly as well.

Honestly, I think the big problem with trying to put the horror nerd into a horror film is, ultimately, you have to acknowledge the fact that, unless you have an entire cast of horror films, most people are going to look at them and think “…you’ve watched too many movies.”

I dunno, I always felt the better horror example of how the genre savvy horror nerd would fare to be more in the movie Fright Night (more so the original, I still have not checked out the remake). In that case, it was acknowledged, the kid lived and breathed Hammer Horror, and while it let him figure out his neighbor was a bloodsucker, it also meant everyone else around him thought he was making it up. Plus, that did also offer something I kind of want to see done more with the genre-savvy: the idea that trusting to those familiar clichés can also mislead.

Case in point - there's a kind of dark humor moment when Charlie learns the hard way crosses don't actually work worth a damn.

Case in point – there’s a kind of dark humor moment when Charlie learns the hard way crosses don’t actually work worth a damn.

Starshine: Yes, and that misdirection comes only out of the genre-savviness. The problem with horror is that it depreciates very quickly, since once you see it multiple times, it stops being scary. I genuinely believe that these characters are able to play with the audience’s expectations enough to really make it work, and without it feeling too forced or contrived. Unless someone out there would actually like to create brand new horror tropes, which I have seen very few of thus far.

Guyinthe3rdrow: This is a fair point. I mean, you get some new material from hybridizing of old tropes, but creating new scares is particularly tough nowadays. As far as the audience expectation, I think that’s one of the things that also needs to get tempered to a degree with some of this – not all, but some.

If a character’s in a position to be a big time horror fan, okay. Then I can accept them being wise to the genre. But really, having seen audiences argue scientists characters should jump to the conclusion of ‘monster’ when it flies in the face of everything reasonable they have to work with just cause that’s what they see done in the movies. Those are the kinds of cases that get under my skin here the most.

I mean, again, I won’t say genre-savvy has no place whatsoever, but I do feel like a lot of people asking for it don’t stop to ask if it’s being used correctly.

Starshine: First off, I don’t know about you but when something goes off in the night, my almost immediate reaction is murderer, followed by ghost, so a jump to supernatural conclusions is not such a far leap. We live in a world where people discuss these tropes all the time. It’s not such a bizarre thing. Second, you are also assuming there’s a correct and incorrect way to do this when it’s not true. These characters work or don’t work to various degrees, and they don’t need to necessary be a horror nerd, just someone who understands creepy shit being creepy.

Guyinthe3rdrow: Okay, horror nerd may not be the best way to put it, I’ll concede that one. At the same time, I do still feel like there’s a degree of plausibility that needs to be maintained in any case. If you’ve created a character from the ground up who can look at a situation and be open-minded enough to go “…okay, maybe that’s actually a ghost/demon/werewolf/other than I’ll let it ride. It’s when I see people expect a character to jump to that conclusion on either insufficient evidence or a leap of logic that doesn’t fit what we know of the characters that I grumble about it being misused.

There’s no one right way to use it, but that also doesn’t mean there’s no wrong way to use it. It’s those people who tend to use it as, to use another genre example, a version of the LotR eagles question that I will admit have particularly poisoned the well for me.

"We've been over this, IT'S GLANDULAR!"

“We’ve been over this, IT’S GLANDULAR!”

Starshine: The eagles question is honestly just a snarky “look how clever I am” comment that was old even when the books were only a decade old. I still say that giving an audience some new twists and turns is not inherently a bad thing, even if that comes in the form of jumping to bizarre conclusions in those films people who normally ignore. Horror films are so stagnant nowadays, a good shake up in the traditional path is needed and if it’s misused it’ll just snap back to how it was before.

Guyinthe3rdrow: This much I’ll agree on. There’s some decent leeway being made on the indie scene to try and shake some things up, but even that only goes just so far, and too often the wrong lessons get taken from the ones that do get recognized for shaking things up. Granted, that then segues into a discussion that could turn into a whole other Objection! for another time.

At this point, I’m willing to concede some degree on this matter, but at the same time I will still hold on to some reservation with it, thanks the potential for it to be abused by both writer and audience.

Starshine: Well it seems like this debate is winding down. Any last thoughts?

Guyinthe3rdrow: Not really coming to mind that we haven’t already covered. Personally have found this to be a pretty interesting discussion point. You?

Starshine: Nothing other than the fact that the Fright Night remake is not worth it, not even for the David Tennant cameo.

That’s it for this week’s rendition of Objection! Tune in next week when we all silently agree that Twilight is the worst thing to happen to the vampire genre ever.

Guyinthe3rdrow: Unless there’s…or…

…yeah, I got nothing. Usually I can claim to find worse, but that one puts the bar under ground.

There ARE, however, still vampires that can pull off the sparkling...

There ARE, however, still vampires that can pull off the sparkling…

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Starshine5050

As just a regular, hard-working work, often-stressing, procrastination-mastering history and journalism student, I often turn to the silver and small screens for relief, even though I'm only an average cinema-and-television loving viewer, commenting on what, and does not, makes good entertainment. I love horror everything - book, TV shows, games, movies - even though they frighten me terribly. I'm a long time believer of the old saying "When life gives you lemons, don't take life's lemons! Give the lemons back!" So, onward I go, returning lemons and logging an unhealthy amount of screen time for your enjoyment. So please be sure to read my stuff and let me know what you think, I'm alway looking to improve and be the best, most cynical critic I can be!

Latest posts by Starshine5050 (see all)

Starshine5050

As just a regular, hard-working work, often-stressing, procrastination-mastering history and journalism student, I often turn to the silver and small screens for relief, even though I'm only an average cinema-and-television loving viewer, commenting on what, and does not, makes good entertainment. I love horror everything - book, TV shows, games, movies - even though they frighten me terribly. I'm a long time believer of the old saying "When life gives you lemons, don't take life's lemons! Give the lemons back!" So, onward I go, returning lemons and logging an unhealthy amount of screen time for your enjoyment. So please be sure to read my stuff and let me know what you think, I'm alway looking to improve and be the best, most cynical critic I can be!

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