Sex, Violence, and Horror: Are We Short-Charging The Teens?

Published on June 25th, 2012 in: Horror, Movies, Over the Gadfly's Nest, Teh Sex |

By Charlie M.

They say you always remember your first.

I certainly do.

dracula mina
Bram Stoker’s Dracula, 1992

I mean (of course) the first adult-rated film a person watches, be it at home, creeping downstairs to the TV, at a friend’s house with a DVD purloined from an older sibling, or even sneaking into a dark cinema when you’re under the age of 18. In my case, it was Bram Stoker’s Dracula, or, as the movie moguls described it, Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula. Or, as in my underage head, Gary Oldman’s Dracula. Who knows what it is about teenage girls and their erotic fascination with vampires? It’s an equation where even the innuendos have been bled dry (apologies).

Yet my forbidden film-watching memories didn’t stop with the handsome and fanged. I have fond teenage recollections of watching Candyman with friends, all of whom pretended to be spectacularly bored by the gore, yet none of whom would say “Candyman, Candyman, Candyman” to a mirror, thus (so says the urban legend) summoning the wrathful spirit.

Sitting through a horror film with a carefully posed blasé expression was a rite of passage, a demonstration of psychological robustness at a time when we all felt far from certain of ourselves. If the girls were drawn to the fantastic world of horror, in my male friends the age of 14 triggered a genetically programmed and encyclopedic knowledge of violent gangster films. Scarface. Mean Streets. Anything with Robert De Niro. Combined, our tastes were eclectic but hardcore. We watched 9 1/2 Weeks, Se7en, and The Exorcist, purely for the sex, violence, and horror. Oh, the shame. Oh, the delightful gore. Oh, that we thought that people really orgasmed the moment their elegant clothes slithered ziplessly off their implausibly perfect bodies.

There is a point to all this nostalgia. Which is this: For many teenagers, adult films open an illicit window onto a world yet to be encountered; virgins do not (or at least did not back in my day) wish to watch other virgins exchanging furtive glances. No. What my friends and I wanted was evidence of that elusive “fourth base” (though it was clearly male prurience rather than female romanticism which coined that sporty metaphor).

More, we wanted to see adults fighting the emotions that we felt so passionately, but without too much of real life with its jobs, mortgages, bills; the extremes filtered in all their goriness through the safe medium of film. Grappling with the responsibilities of parenthood, marriage, and work? That’s grown-up. Grappling with the incarnation of a good-looking demonic incubus seducing young girls, sucking intestines from random strangers, and hellbent on enslaving mankind? That’s adult.

twilight edward bella
Twilight, 2008

Commercialism has driven filmmakers to respond to the newest generation of hormonally excitable teens. The adult content of cinema has been repackaged, rebranded, and toned down for the younger generations. Sparkly vampire film franchise Twilight has come to represent this genre of teen-oriented horror/thriller/romance. For those unaware of the Twilight phenomenon (anybody?), it involves the star-crossed love between vampire (Edward) and introvert girl (Bella), and, erm, that pretty much sums up the whole thing.

But although I have my misgivings, I am not going to join the bandwagon of franchise-weary folk rubbishing something that was intended for a very different audience from myself. This is partly because I suspect were I fourteen, I would probably have been a fan and partly because the film had an unexpected highlight for me—I found myself deeply moved by the responsible parenting of Bella’s father, the long-suffering and rather dashing Charlie. Proof, perhaps, that if teens enjoy adult films, sometimes the lure works the other way around.

These age-appropriate versions of horror are far more suitable for their intended audience than the adult equivalents; I can well understand their popularity. Yet I do hope that teenagers continue to subvert expectations as they have always done, and that once in a while the younger generation have the guilty pleasure of watching pulp trash that was never meant for their eyes.

I’m referring to that thrill of watching something with scenes of graphic violence or explicit language, where the protagonists are legally able to fulfill their desires, and people not only bite the dust figuratively but literally. Sometimes, when your hormones are raging and the world is a mixed up place, what you really need is a film where the monsters aren’t all misunderstood and vulnerable, but just plain evil and possessed of a very simple desire to eat everything. Sometimes it may be good to have a teen-friendly version, but sometimes the teens need the real deal.

3 Responses to “Sex, Violence, and Horror: Are We Short-Charging The Teens?”

  1. Paul:
    June 25th, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    I really don’t think Twilight is at all connected with the kind of movies/experiences you’re talking about. It’s an extension of pre-teen fantasy novel in the Philip Pullman / J.K. Rowling jazz. Teenagers aren’t going to Twilight instead of indulging in body horror, or splatter comedies. It’s an entirely separate demographic. Though it might be worth mentioning that Dracula done by Coppola was accused of similarly humanizing the enemy in a bad way, and of being far too fixated on romance at the expense of horror.

    With the continuing success of transgressive cinema – Human Centipede, Serbian Film et al – I think it’s pretty clear that need is still being expressed and met. I’d say that it has only increased in severity, and quantity, and where it concerns Asian cinema, has been exquisitely human and of real substance.

    What may be missing are good natured horror movies made for teenagers but rated for those above the age. Nightmare on Elm Street just is made for 12 year olds. And if you missed it when you were that age, you can’t quite understand a large part of its appeal. The concept is exquisitely designed to disturb and excite those on the verge of being teenagers. Big budget American horror movies in the last ten + years have been largely disposable, being overwhelmingly filled with terrible remakes of (mostly) good movies. But you have stuff like Drag Me To Hell, Paranormal Activity and The House of the Devil all arriving in the same year. None extreme, but fun and designed to appeal to the younger fellow. Old QT is also an incredibly good exploitation film maker in the best sense of the genre, and makes perfect movies for the growing up. Kill Bill in particular, which should inspire everyone to go out and watch a hundred Hong Kong martial arts movies.

    Also worth mentioning of course that the internet has mostly removed the need for pre-teen folks to go illicit movie hunting in order to satisfy primal desires and pics of fucking.

  2. Popshifter:
    June 26th, 2012 at 10:59 am

    Paul, your comments are thought provoking. Perhaps you’d like to write a longer article to expand upon them?


  3. Paul:
    June 26th, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    Sure, I’ll write something up tonight.

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