Since I was a preteen, when I discovered the works of Stephen King and spent the better part of my time reading and re-reading It and Needful Things and The Stand, I have thought of myself as a person who likes the whole horror/thriller genre. I spent a lot of slumber parties shrieking through The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Carrie, and Children of the Corn (even though I should have known I was kind of faking it, since I was—and continue to be—the person who shuts my eyes through all of the gory parts, tapping the person next to me and whispering "Whats happening? What's happening???"). But although I do have a sort of morbid fascination with horror (especially true crime), I think I'm coming to terms with the fact that my horror-watching days are over. And I think I know why: Horror movies are getting increasingly fucked up.
Let me explain: On a tip from my friend Anna, I Netflixed The Strangers this week. All I knew about it was that it was a creepy home-invasion story about a couple getting tormented by masked assailants in their remote country home. When it arrived in the mail yesterday, I immediately felt a sense of dread—now I would actually have to watch it, when the plot was enough to give me the willies. I waited until Jeff got home and then popped it in my computer for a safe, well-lit viewing. But as the credits rolled, I found myself inching further and further away from the screen and turning the volume down. My brain said yes, but my body said a loud and aggressive NO.
This is where you can tell that I am not a real horror fan: To calm myself, I decided to read the plot on Wikipedia so that I would know what was coming. (If you don't want to ruin it for yourselves, stop reading now). A couple (Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman) returns to their family home somewhere very dark and far from neighbors (naturally) after attending a wedding, during which the Liv character turned down Scott character's marriage proposal. They fight and cry and then start to work it out, when immediately there is a knock at the door. A strange girl asks for someone who doesn't live there, they turn her away, and then, after a few more negligible plot points, three masked strangers descend on the couple and torture them for absolutely no reason. By this point, somehow the couple has reconciled and loves each other and are good people who have done nothing wrong, but they get killed anyway, and the movie ends with the scary strangers getting away scot free. (I also read up on Funny Games, a horror film with a similar storyline, and it ends the SAME WAY, except that in that one, the couple is married and has a ten year-old son who is ALSO killed. Good times.)
Forgive me, but aren't the good guys supposed to live through a horror movie? I mean, the whole payoff is that at least one hero or heroine makes it out alive, with psycho killer(s) either getting their comeuppance or at the very least disappearing mysteriously to return in the sequel. A movie in which the good guys all die and evil triumphs seems to me to be—at the least—a real downer, and at a higher level, a kind of fear tactic. I mean, in both The Strangers and Funny Games, strangers break into the home of good people, torture and kill them, and then leave to go do it again. There's no Halloween-like backstory; we never find out why the killers kill. They just do—no big whoop—and, hey, it could happen to you! Sleep tight!
I realize that this attitude may make me seem like a prude, or at least like someone who doesn't 'get' horror, both of which may be true. But the horror movies of my youth were not like these movies. They were more fun, less sinister, and a lot less bleak (even with all of the carnage, Jamie Lee lived to see the end of all of the Halloween franchise movies, and even though Leatherface was a random psycho killer, a few of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre kids made it through). The thing that made horror movies feel safe was the idea that if you were strong enough and smart enough and were basically a good person, you could live. If there's no hope even for the good guys, it stops feeling like horror to me. It just feels like torture.