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Thursday, September 4, 2008

Clive Barker Trashes PG-13 Horror, Approves Remakes

Barker has been quite the opinionated little camper in the past year. First, he lashed out against torture porn, then rightfully spoke his mind regarding Lions Gate's treatment of his latest film, The Midnight Meat Train. And now, he's speaking his mind to MTV on some hot topics within the genre.

Firstly, he's made it quite clear that he's all for the upcoming remakes of his classic movies Hellraiser and Candyman, provided there's a good story to be told, and that something different and interesting will be done to make them worthwhile. He inferred that he'd rather see a quality remake than a sequel which does a shoddy job of adding to the franchise. A while back, he had officially given his blessing to the Hellraiser remake in particular, but the directors he had approved have since left the project.

Also, Barker made some strong remarks with regard to the recent trend of trimming down horror flicks in order to get a more audience-friendly PG-13 rating:

"It’s one of the most disgusting developments in the last few years; the whole notion of a PG-13 horror movie to me is a contradiction in terms. It’s like having a triple-X Disney picture. It doesn’t work... Wes [Craven] says that ‘When you go into a horror movie, you need to feel that you’re in the hands of a madman.’ Now what madman makes a PG-13 picture, right? Your horror-movie madman… doesn’t neaten up all the edges and make it all nice for mommy. [Studios] do it because they want to bring in younger audiences and make more money. But they don’t make better movies."

While I agree with Barker primarily, there has to be a distinction made here. In recent cases in which this phenomenon has occurred (such as Prom Night), you're talking about a situation in which studios have taken material that is clearly meant to be of an rated-R caliber and diluted its effectiveness by forcing it into a PG-13 pigeonhole. From a creative and artistic standpoint, that's clearly a disastrous development. However, that said, I don't agree that there can be no such thing as a great PG-13 rated horror movie. In fact, I think that's kind of ridiculous.

There certainly can be excellent horror movies rated PG-13 (and even milder!)--they're just different types of horror movies. Not the kind in which excessive body parts--both internal and external--are on plentiful display. But there are movies which can fully accomplish what they need to, and be effective, without exceeding the MPAA's guidelines for PG-13. For example, movies like The Others, The Ring, The Exorcism of Emily Rose and The Lady in White were all very good, and all rated PG-13. But to be clear, none of them were "trying to be R."

For that matter, what about every single great horror movie made before 1965, when filmmakers were unable to make movies of an R-rated type? Are we saying none of them are effective, none of them have the power to disturb us? Psycho would certainly be rated PG-13 if it were made today, maybe even PG--do we accuse Hitchcock of "neatening up the edges"? Granted, he didn't have the option of making his movie any more graphically violent, but would that really have made it any better than it is? Heck, Universal gems like Frankenstein and The Wolf Man would probably earn a G rating today. For my money, Nosferatu is a more powerful horror movie than many rated-R horror movies I've seen.

So I guess my point is, filmmakers should not be asked to reign in their vision in order to fit a PG-13 rating--but at the same time, we shouldn't broadly proclaim that it's impossible to make a PG-13 horror film that isn't well worth seeing.


Anonymous said...

Great point and I agree - I love the movies where they don't show it all to you. What you imagine in your head is far worse than any special effects guru or CGI programmer can put on a screen. I've always found the camera cut-aways far more powerful than showing me every little bloody close-up.

You don't need graphic violence to make a horror film - all you need is a sound, engaging story and the atmosphere that a good director can create with lighting, sound and camera angles.

Wes Fierce said...

I agree with you completely. Plus, Barker doesn't seem to be in touch with the projects that his material crosses over to outside of print. So I never really pay attention to him when he chimes in on the film industry. :P

gord said...

Good points both of you! (b-sol and Barker)

In fact, one of my favourite horror films The Haunting (1963) is rated PG, I believe. Maybe even less.

I think Barker is so outspoken on the issue because his films are so over the top with gore and violence, that cutting them down to an R, and therefore the horror films he knows best and probably sees as 'real' horror, would be blasphemy. What he seems to have failed to realize, and which you touched on rather nicely, is that horror doesn't need blood and guts to be effective. Although, it is also equally as effective as a show don't tell horror film when done right.

B-Sol said...

It's definitely a '70s/'80s horror mentality, if you ask me.

Anonymous said...

It's a problem with the whole ratings system. Nobody (at least nobody with an eye toward American theatrical release) lets the force of the story drive the movie; they let the rating they want drive the movie.

A great ghost story can be scary as fuck, but the typical ghost story has no room in it for blood and gore. But a ghost story movie without blood and gore won't get an R rating, so no one will take it seriously. And so ghost stories today feature ludicrous ghosts that kill people violently or splash blood everywhere.

But even in violent, bloody stories, the ratings system fucks up movies. In an R-rated movie, you can show all the graphic violence you want, as long as the victim is morally compromised or unlikeable. If you have a movie where genuinely innocent people are brutalized, you might as well bypass the ratings system and release it as unrated, because the MPAA is gonna throw a fit. So instead of genuine body horror, we get morality plays tarted up with corn syrup and food coloring.

The MPAA is why all the good recent horror films are coming out of places like Thailand or Spain, where they don't have the tradition of pandering to the MPAA, and can make more money selling Region 1 DVDs than they can putting foreign-language films in shopping-mall cineplexes.

frgodbeyjr said...

I really like your comments as well as Barker's on this subject. I am not a fan of PG-13 "horror" movies, but I do agree if it is done not for the purpose of getting a younger audience, but for the concept and material in the movie... tension, suspense, or fear, then go for it. If it's done by the studios for bigger profit... BOO! I really like your site. Good job!

Anonymous said...

Very interesting argument you present here. I have to say with what you added at the end about the old horror classics is right one the money and frankly has me questioning my own view on the subject which has always been on the side of Horror needs to be R.

Nicely done sir, nicely done.

JGerardi said...

Still one of the scariest movie going experiences Ive ever had was Jaws, which I dont think would be pg13 today either and was PG way back when. Another film to look at is The Shining which were it not for some nudity and a few f-bombs could VERY easily be PG-13, there is very little that makes that film an R

Anonymous said...

RayRay - Great post, B-Sol. It was good to hear from Clive Barker, as well. I used to read his stuff like it was the antidote in years past. BTW: Midnight Meat Train is a fantastic read. As far as PG-13 horror, I think all made valid points, and we probably can all agree that content ending up as PG-13 is acceptable, but to tone down for the rating is sinful. I agree that the MPAA's time has come and gone, and we should be rid of this leftover of the censorship period.

B-Sol said...

The MPAA in theory was a great idea, because it freed filmmakers from outright censorship, and was meant to just provide guidance for moviegoers. But the MPAA started wielding the ratings like a weapon, and it's become an indirect form of censorship. Not sure what the solution is, maybe the stigma of the letters themselves can be eliminated by completely renaming all the ratings in some way.

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