Veronika LaRocque, Colin Greten, Francesca York
Two of the earliest and most long-lasting attractions in cinema have been violence and sex. Over time, these types of attractions have evolved into the modern day genres of horror and pornography, respectively, but they have not remained separate entities. The cliché attention and preoccupation paid in pornography to the infamous culminating “moneyshot” is in many ways analogous to the conventions of the horror film such as the anticipated moment of the monster’s reveal or the long-awaited death of a character. The moments of extreme violence, gore, or terror in horror films often serve not only as attractions, but small moments of relief where an amount of the tension and suspense built up by the narrative is released—finally, the audience sees the monster, the maiming, or whatever horrible thing they had until that point only dreaded. Just as no porn video can end without its analogous ultimate attractions.
Beginning with some of the earliest horror films like Nasferatu and Frankenstein, the idea of the horror film monster intertwined with stealing or deviating a young girl’s sexual innocence. This was particularly true in 1980s teen slashers, where the horror “moneyshot” is equal parts sexual and violent reveal. This explicit interconnection between violence and sexual gratification can be read anti-feminist, which parallels some and contrast other pornographies, in that female sexual empowerment is read as dangerous and should be destroyed.
In John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), teenagers Lynda and Bob are fooling around when crazed maniac Michael Myers is on the loose. In this clip, he kills Bob first, before going for Lynda, who mistakes the killer for her boyfriend, only realizing her mistake before it’s too late. Halloween is the quintessential teen slasher flick (even though it predates the 1980s when most of these films were made) in which the promiscuous teens are brutalized for their sexual openness. These two deaths can be compared to porn where a man is the subject and where a woman is the subject. Bob’s death is 40 seconds long and begins immediately as Michael steps out of the closet. In comparison to male subject porn ( NSFW: http://fantasti.cc/videos/permalink/xhamster/Muscle-guy-jack-off/1090008/ ), there is no foreplay, and the death is immediate, where the “moneyshot” is immediately presented and focused on. Conversely, Lynda’s death is 2 minutes long, with the first minute and a half focused on a form of foreplay (NSFW: http://fantasti.cc/videos/permalink/xvideos/Just-us-girls—tiffany-thompson-and-little-caprice-/2645751/ ) where the audience’s anticipation and longing for / fear of Lynda’s death is increasingly growing. When she is finally killed, the focus is on her face, and the camera mimics that of many porns where the viewer feels as though they’re in the room with the scene through the use of a handheld camera.
In Paranormal Activity (2007), a couple, Katie and Micah, have just moved into a new house where strange things begin happening, and Micah, determined to learn what is going on, begins taping his bedroom, the hotbed of the activity, while he and Katie sleep, to learn the cause of the strange events. In this scene, from the end of the movie, Katie is dragged from her bed by the invisible creature, and out of the room. The surveillance type footage of this film very much mirrors the amateur aesthetic of porn, and is even referenced earlier in the film in a joking way. This film has built up tension by only revealing evidence of the invisible monster, and this is the first big proof of his existence. Like the teen horror, Katie is attacked when she is most vulnerable, and when she could be seen as in a pseudo-sexual position. Her writhing around on the floor is reminiscent of one of the death scenes which is very sexual in Nightmare on Elm Street ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7UP1vv0wWp4 ) and evokes that same type of anticipation in the audience.
While horror movies provide many different attractions it the death scenes become the main attraction as they become more vital to grasping viewer interest than the plot itself.
About the first 4 minutes of this clip from Scream (1996):
The “killing” of the character of Billy (Skeet Ulrich) is the excitement in the beginning of the scene. Sydney (Neve Campbell) is almost smiling with the entrance of the killer behind Billy, as she herself seems to be excited to witness a brutal murder first hand. The audiences seeks this pleasure that Sydney feels, yet are underwhelmed by the cameras choice to not show the knife piercing skin but rather just the sound and aftermath of the stabbing. The gore that the audience seeks is teased but not shown. Then as the scene progresses the character, Randy (Jaime Kennedy) is sitting on the coach watching Halloween drunk rambling for Jaime Lee Curtis’ character to “Turn Around! He’s right behind you.” Meanwhile the Ghostface killer sneaks up behind him preparing to strike. The audience’s interest spikes again as they are about to witness the gory death scene that was not shown to them in the death of Billy. However, this is interrupted by Sydney’s scream as the killer goes to find her. Once again the audience is teased into thinking they will get the death scene that they want, and once again they are let down. As Sydney frantically runs around looking for help she finds Eddie a cameraman who is watching a live video feed inside the house. The tape delay allows the characters to watch the same almost death scene. However, once Eddie remembers the delay a look of sheer terror comes across his face as killer rushes him and cuts his throat allowing copious amounts of blood to flow out. After the teasing and almost death the audience is finally rewarded with the graphic death they want. The death itself is the most important part of this scene as the viewer feels rewarded for al the teasing then endured and continues to remain interested as to who will die next and how it will be shown.
This clip from Saw:
While Saw has many memorable gory parts this is the most memorable. The audience has had to watch these two men interact throughout the course of the film waiting patiently for the inevitable torture that awaits them. As they are both chained to the wall with nothing but a rusty saw to cut with their only option is to cut their own foot off in order to get free. The audience realizes this but at the same time falls into the same trap as the characters in thinking they can escape without amputating their own foot. However, at the same time the audience along with the character Dr Gordon (Cary Elwes) slowly comes to the realization that taking a foot is the only way out. The buildup is intense and just when the camera seems to be ready to cut away the saw digs into Gordon’s flesh releasing blood everywhere as the sound of saw on bone can be heard. The buildup of the entire movie is for this moment, for the moment when the characters accept their fate and do whatever it takes to survive. The audience gets to know these characters by this point and is at the same time relieved that the bloodbath has finally ensued. No more waiting, just cutting.
The horror film capitalizes on the viewer’s fascination with the horrible, gruesome, and terrifying, understanding that the same drive that makes an audience cringe also drives their attraction. This is never more apparent than in films like Antichrist and The Last House on the Left, which take the attraction of the moment of death and transform it into a climactic moment that mirrors that of snuff film.
Antichrist (NSFW, explicit sex)
In Lars Von Trier’s psychological horror film Antichrist, the two main characters (identified only as “He” and “She”) must grapple with the death of their toddler son, who fell from an open window while He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg)were having sex in another part of the house. This is shown in the film’s opening sequence, shot in slow motion black-and -white. The toddler climbs up to the window ledge and falls to his death at the same moment that She orgasms. From this first sequence, Antichrist establishes sexuality, and particular female sexuality, with death. Wracked with guilt, She spirals out of control and into a violent outburst in which she mutilates both her and her husband’s genitals, before He finally strangles her to death—the moment of her death, like that of any snuff film, is arguably the film’s climax. The film’s graphic depictions of sex and violence are both gruesome and attracting in the way that the violence of any horror film is. However, Von Trier’s focus on graphic sex and its connection with (equally graphic) disfigurement and death graduates the phenomenon from “sex in a horror film” to almost snuff-like fascination.
The Last House on the Left (NSFW, gore)
One of the most brutal scenes in Dennis Iliadis’s 2009 remake of Wes Craven’s classic The Last House on the Left is when Mari Collingwood is held down by the psychotic Sadie and raped by her boyfriend, Krug. Very little of the scene is left to the imagination, and it is more terrifying in its realism than most of the ensuing gore in the rest of the film. However, it is the necessary set-up for the film’s main attractions: her parents’ revenge on their daughter’s attackers. Each moment of retaliation of Mr. and Mrs. Collingwood against Sadie, Krug, and Frank is met with a jolt of sadistic glee from the viewer, who find themselves drawn in by the satisfaction of their vindictive, vigilante justice. The moment when this shifts from simply the attraction of violence and vengeance to full on snuff is the final scene of the film. Everything is over not when Mari has been avenged and her attackers brutalized in return, but only when Mr. Collingwood paralyzes Krug and places him so his head is inside a microwave—then turns it on until his skull literally explodes. The credits roll, the film’s purpose finally fulfilled once the (now) helpless (now) victim has been killed graphically on screen.