The horror genre for years has been a scapegoat for parents who want to protect their children from all the nastiness the world has to offer. How many times have you heard a parent say “Oh no, my son/daughter won't be seeing that film. It's too violent. I don't want them growing up like that.” Like what? Chances are with the world the way it is, your child will see more violence and death on the news.
Truth is, yes some movies are too violent for young audiences, but by banning it from their lives entirely, you're just giving them a reason to seek it out and to see it. And speaking as a former teen rebel, if a child wants to see a slasher film that you deem too inappropriate, they will find a way to see it.
Let me embarrass myself for a moment. When I was five years old I saw a scene from Hellraiser that gave me nightmares for weeks. Fast forward seven years and at the ripe old age of twelve I begged my mum to let me watch I Know What You Did Last Summer. Now, I know what you're thinking. I Know What You Did Last Summer is lame. It's a bad movie. But in 1998, I couldn't have cared less. It starred Sarah Michelle Gellar whom I loved in Buffy. Ryan Phillippe who was the hottest thing on two legs. Jennifer Love Hewitt who was a darling on Party Of Five (although I would have liked her more if she didn't toy with Scott Wolf's heart) and Freddie Prinze Jr. who was just yummy.
October 31st 1998, my friend and I sat down to watch this movie. We got three-quarters of the way through it before we turned it off. That night, I saw the Fisherman in my dreams and woke up screaming. The next morning, I got up, went into the shower only to see the tree outside the bathroom window resembling the outline of the Fisherman. (Sad Fact: To this day I still cannot watch this movie at night. The Fisherman did a real number on my psyche)
OK, once you're done laughing at my lameness, I promise that I have a point. My point is, I have been watching horror movies almost religiously since 1998. Does that mean I'm more susceptible to go out and commit a murder?
I don't think so.
The way I see it, horror movies are an escape. It's the reason they are so popular. Without leaving the comfort of your living room (or local cinema) you can enjoying watching some mad man rip apart a bunch of teens without any remorse and you don't have to feel guilty about enjoying it.
While watching the horror movie, our fear level is raised, our sense of revulsion of the demonic, at the same time a fascination with the idea that it somehow might have a basis in reality, we can contemplate and absorb, all from the comfort and safety of a movie theatre chair with soda and popcorn, where we put ourselves in dire danger, and walk away feeling as if we accomplished something brave and daring.
To quote Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich) from Scream: “Don't you blame the movies. Movies don't create psychos. Movies make psychos more creative.” This statement I deem to be true.
Now, I won't deny that in the past there have been killings that have been heavily influenced by motion pictures however, in saying that, the movies are not to blame. The person who has committed the crime was disturbed long before the movie influenced them. If anything, the movie gave them a new creative edge. (It also gave them a reason for insanity when they faced the judge in court as well as giving me a reason to debate such a topic)
Horror movies reflect the culture that we live in.
In 2007 Halloween director John Carpenter went into bat for the horror genre, by saying that they don't cause real life violence. If anything, movies are influenced by real life violence. “Real life causes this, fake life does not cause it,” Carpenter said at the Tribeca Film Festival. “The reason for a lot of these movies is the culture that we live in, the events that have gone on in our world. Censorship never works, you cannot destroy an idea. You can hide, you can try to cover it up, but you can't destroy it, it will be there and it will bubble up again.”
Now apparently in that same year the FCC produced a report with findings that indicated a child is more likely to be violent themselves if they are exposed to violent media. OK, I accept those findings, but how can you censor the media?
With the internet and television being predominate parts of our lives, children are susceptible to over fifty-hours of media coverage a week. And let me tell you that 99.9% of that coverage isn't about hugs and puppies.
So why do horror films get the raw deal? Why are they the first ones to be blamed for all that's happening? Because it's easy. Horror movies play on the most vibrant of our emotions: Fear.
Let's take a quick look at something Australian for a second. Wolf Creek. Loosely based on the Ivan Milat backpacker murders that struck fear into the hearts of Australians from 1989-1993. In 2001 (four years before Wolf Creek hit cinemas) a British backpacker by the name of Peter Falconio disappeared from the middle of the outback in the Northern Territory. His girlfriend at the time, Joanne Lees, claimed that Peter was murdered. For the next four years, her story of survival was displayed everywhere.
When Wolf Creek hit cinemas in 2005, many people thought it was in bad taste considering what had happened just four years before but despite the protests, Wolf Creek did extraordinary well. (Fun Fact: Out of the respect for the ongoing trial of Bradley John Murdoch - the man accused of killing Peter Falconio - Wolf Creek wasn't shown in any cinema in the Northern Territory) Wolf Creek is a perfect example of art imitating life.
Scary movies have such broad appeal because the theme of nightmares, the psychological thrillers and terror, raise the dopamine level of our mind, it focuses or rivets our attention and captures our, albeit, base instinct, and forces us to undivided attention.
Saying that children watching horror movies is going to equal violence is like saying that watching porn will turn your child into a sex offender. Sounds ridiculous now, doesn't it?
Truth is, if you want to protect what your children watch, then there is a simple, no fuss way to do so. Movies have classifications for a reason. If you have a ten year old begging to see something that's rated R, don't tell them no. Tell them they can see it in a few years, then opt for something scary that's projected at their age bracket. (Fun Fact: Disney actually introduced horror movies to children. One of his first flicks was a horror-spoof of dancing skeletons, 1929 The Skeleton Dance, a Silly Symphonies animated short, voted one of the 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time, by the animation industry, in 1994)
So to some up, until mankind is peaceful enough not to have violence on the news, there's no point in taking it out of shows and movies that need it for entertainment value. That's all that it is in the end. Entertainment.