Do current horror films mirror the anxieties of Generation Y?

Last month, I wrote that the current crop of horror films are all washed up because they’re too scared to deal with the realities of a post-9/11 world in a metaphoric way. Today, Christopher Kelly of the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, gives an opposing few, in an article titled “Cutting-edge horror movies mirror Generation Y anxieties.” [article no longer available]

Kelly cites recent efforts like WOLF CREEK, HOSTEL, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, and THE HILLS HAVE EYES to buttress his argument that we are currently experiencing a deluge of brilliantly made, disturbing horror thrillers that are flying under critical radar while being embraced by the teenage audience who “gets” what they’re all about.

Kelly makes a decent argument for the appeal of these movies, but he does fall down in a couple of important ways. Most obviously, not all of the films he cites have been “embraced” by audiences fighting a wave of critical disdain. The biggest grosser among them (in terms of ticket sales if not blood) is HOSTEL, which didn’t earn even $50-million in the U.S. HILLS is stalling out around $40-million. REJECTS earned around $20-million. And WOLF CREEK was pretty much a flop — its U.S. theatrical release was little more than a platform for its debut on video next week.

I’m not saying a film’s worth should be judged by its box office performance, but this inability to reach critical mass is worth noting when Kelly is advancing the idea that these films are hugely successful because they strike a cord with Generation Y viewers.

In fact, none of the these titles have been blockbuster hits; they tend to be profitable only because they are made so cheaply. But you wouldn’t know that from Kelly’s article, which quotes HOSTEL-director Eli Roth, saying “Both SAW II and HOSTEL cost $4-million, and they’re beating movies that cost $200-million.”

Well no, as a matter of fact they’re not, unless you’re relying on the mathemtical device of profit ratio. Sure, HOSTEL made back ten times its cost, and KING KONG only broke even. Yet KONG was still seen by many millions of more viewers.

As for Kelly’s other argument, that these films click with younger viewers who fear they have no control over their fate in a post-9/11 world that also includes a war in Iraq, I find that dubious as well. To cite one example, the HILLS HAVE EYES remake is basically a Charles Bronson revenge movie that uses the horrible violence in the first half to set up the “fun” violence in the second half, when our wimpy hero turns cold-blooded killer and offs the mutant family that killed his wife. As if to drive the point home even more clearly, one of the victims in the first half is a dog, who mate helps our hero kill off a few of the bad guys. Who’s not going to root for the dog in a situation like this? And who’s not going to get a vicarious kick out of seeing the dog extract veneance?

In short, these films are truly made for a gore crowd that enjoys seeing violence on screen. They identify with the perpetrators because that is the only way to enjoy the films. It conveys a sense of power — a feeling of superiority to the lily-livered screaming squeamish screamers in the audience who shriek and hide their eyes. In short, it’s a very superficial kind of horror — a test of machismo to prove that you can take it, no matter how badly the filmmakes dish it out.

Definitely some of these films earn a certain respect for their crastsmanship and effectiveness, but I draw the line at pretending they speaking in any meaningful way to “a generation growing increasingly disillusioned with its political leadership and facing the prospect of having to fight a war against an ever-changing enemy in a hostile and alien country.”

If anything, such films address the issue in the exact opposite way: by gleefully embracing the notion that there are lots of evil crazy violent people who want to kill you for little or no reason, they ultimately endorse (whether intentionally or not) the idea that any kind of violent reprisal is justified.

So, perhaps these films do speak to the post-9/11 world, but only in a way that George W. Bush would approve