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Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Downside of PG-13 Slashers

I'm not referring to the downside that is obvious to any die-hard fans of slasher horror--which is that sacrificing an R-rating for a younger demographic means the loss of most of the violence and gore that fans go in for in the first place. Rather, I'm talking about the problem of exposing teen-age and pre-teen audiences to material they probably shouldn't be watching unsupervised.

At no time in the past were slasher flicks marketed to the under-18 crowd. Despite the fact that the characters were always teenagers, the audience was always more in the 18-25 range. But a movie like the new version of Prom Night, now the number-one movie in America, is playing to wider audiences than ever before. And there's a drawback to all that, which a story out of suburban Chicago draws attention to.

The Herald-News reports that a multiplex in Naperville, Illinois was forced to pull the movie on its opening night, after an unruly gathering of some 300 unsupervised patrons age 11 to 15, all on hand to see Prom Night, had to be ejected by police. The paper described the scene as a "near-riot", during which a 911 call from the theater led to the dispatch of 11 officers and squad cars to restore order. An arrest was made when one of the young theatergoers refused to leave.

And here comes the interesting part. A representative from the theater chain commented that the Naperville incident was not islolated. Rather, several such large-scale disturbances had been reported at Prom Night screenings across the country. In all cases, those involved were underage patrons dropped off by their parents.

Needless to say, this is not something that could have ever happened, for instance, with the original Prom Night back in 1980. That film was rated R, and thus viewers under 17 could only get in with an adult--and for the most part, the audience was made up of adults, anyway. Somply put, we're talking about an audience here that would ordinarily be dropped off to see movies like 10,000 B.C., Drillbit Taylor or Nim's Island. Instead, they're being taken to see a flick whose subject matter is thematically R-material, but because it's been stripped of graphic violence, it's suddenly deemed appropriate for kids that have barely outgrown Hannah Montana.

This is the negative repercussion of marketing slasher movies to children. Of course, the picture's number-one status will be all that studios pay attention to. In their minds, the strategy of toning down horror movies for teens is a sound one, resulting in wider profit margins from a genre that typically doesn't bring in many number-one hits.

We can't rely on Hollywood to have scruples--never could. As parents, it falls on us to do our jobs as the custodians of our children. Part of that is supervising what they watch--that's where the responsibility lies. So use your heads, people.


Unknown said...

Entertainment Weekly has an article on Prom Night ripping up the box office, and Screen Gems president Clint Culpepper is quoted as saying, "If you are going to make a movie for a bunch of kids, you have to make it PG-13. You try not to make the movie for an audience that is older than your protagonist."

That's really total crap, and you have a point. Why would we tone down the violence just to market the movie to an audience that's still not old enough to see it. That's like making a porn movie PG-13. Oh wait, we're getting closer and closer to that as well.

Anonymous said...

Hey now...my son is 14 and LOVES horror movies. (and isnt a little punk either) Now while I understand you are talking about slasher flicks and that could be a different story...I'd let my son watch one. (and do, Friday the 13th etc, the old school ones) The only horror movie that has really scared him has been The Thing! Anyway, I do agree that they shouldnt 'kid-down' horror movies, it's just wrong. But look what Hollywood did with Grindhouse...releasing it seperately, w/ no trailers....
Anyway, just want to make the point that it's not wrong to let your pre-teen and young teens watch horror movies. It's a staple in my house, and something we all really enjoy doing as a family. (and at his age now, one of the only things he likes doing with mom and pops! ;)) It's fun, not something bad, and just dont want people to get on some high-horse of rapping parents across the knuckles for letting their kids have some good ol' American fun of horror movies.
Let's face it, some stuffy parents would be appaled, just appaled ;), that parents let their kids watch horror flicks, but they need to go take their valium and go break KISS records or something. bleahh..

B-Sol said...

I agree, and I want to be clear about something. I let my kids watch horror movies too. They're much younger, so I keep it to the tamer ones like the Universal monsters. But by 14, it would pretty much be anything goes, as far as I'm concerned. The point I'm making though is that 1.) There are some kids at that age that still aren't really ready for it, and 2.) that even parents who let their kids watch horror movies should really be watching them with them, instead of leaving them to their own devices. Teenagers are an excitable bunch--that's why they have parents. We're there to guide them.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm a bit confused... I thought this was a HORROR blog... what were you guys watching when YOU were 10, 11, 12, 14? I was old enough to see Friday the 13th in a theater on its 1st release, so OK, I can't relate to the Slasher issue, but I assume you all, like me, were managing to see whatever gore and grue you could (for me that included staying up 'til midnight on Halloween when I was 8 to watch "Psycho" on TV - and the main difference between Psycho and a slasher is that Psycho is actually scary, and disturbing).

B-Sol said...

As far as my own experience goes, they didn't make PG-13 rated slasher movies when I was a kid. All slasher movies were rated R, and I never went to see any of them as a kid, because I was too young to get in, and my parents wouldn't take me. The first slasher I saw in the theater was Nightmare on Elm Street IV. I was 14, and got in with an 18-year-old friend. The majority of the audience were adults. And that was a very rare occurence for me. Before that, my horror experience was pretty much confined to the far less violent horror movies of the '30s, '40s and '50s.
I did get to see more violent horror flicks thanks to home video, but not until my parents thought it was kosher. Of course young kids are gonna try to get their hands on that stuff as much as possible, that's normal--and that's why it's the job of parents to keep watch over it.

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