Sunday, June 21, 2009

WOAH THAT'S HEAVY: Serial Killers-Real Life Horror

BJ-C & B-Sol present a Day of the Woman/Vault of Horror joint...

When there's absolutely nothing to do/watch, you can always count on USA to be playing a 15 hour marathon of Law & Order whenever you feel the need to watch some weirdos hack up some of New York's citizens. But is it odd to be disgusted by the fact that 90% of the crimes and situations put on these shows are based off actual occurrences?

So why the hell are we so intrigued by this shit? USA wouldn't put on a 23,423-hour marathon of Law & Order unless people are actually going to watch it. Clearly, there has to be a good amount of people watching to keep it all running. Obviously, people are actually highly entertained by watching other people's misery. Which is kind of gross, if you think about it.

What do Leatherface, Norman Bates, and Buffalo Bill have in common? Well, they're all based on the Butcher of Plainfield himself, Ed Gein.The first "issue" with the idea of cinematically capturing a serial killer on film is the misconception process. There's two sides to the "lost in adaptation" thing that's plaguing our "based on a true story" films. Either the film is more tolerable and softens the blow by making the story less harsh than reality, or they completely overdo it and exaggerate what really happened.

Arguably, one of the best serial killer films is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, (very) roughly based on the killings of Ed Gein. Now, while TCM has earned its classic status, the whole" based on a true story" thing was obviously nothing more than a clever marketing ploy. We all know Ed Gein never chased down a group of people through the woods with a mask and a chainsaw. He did, however, ask for a sex change and make a suit out of women's skin, which is more Buffalo Bill's style.

The film version of Psycho doesn't really capture as much of the Gein persona, but the book by Robert Bloch is a different story. The whole attachment to the psycho mom, and stuffing her corpse and whatnot... that's straight from Gein. Not to mention all the sexual hangups. We do not however, imagine Gein stabbing a girl in a shower to the strains of a string quartet. Again, Hollywood taking a true story and spicing it up for mass consumption.

When you get right down to it, the whole slasher phenomenon in general, is basically juiced up serial killer movies. What is awful though is that the killers are almost turned into the heroes of the movie. People don't say "Oh Leatherface is a screwed up man who needs help" its "OMG LEATHERFACE IS THE BEST SLASHER EVARRR". See the difference?

Speaking of thinking serial killers are awesome, let's talk about the glorification of these folks. There have been TONS of serial killers and yet most people will invariably only be able to name the same ten or so. Write down for a second all the serial killers you can think of. Ready....GO! Done yet? Okay, well $20 dollars says you included all or most of these characters: Ed Gein, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Charles Manson, Jack the Ripper, The BTK Killer, The Zodiac, or Ted Bundy. Extra points for including Eileen Wuornos. And why is this? BECAUSE WE KEEP MAKING FRIGGIN' MOVIES ABOUT THEM!

Take Natural Born Killers--based off Charles Starkweather, and admittedly a great flick. You know what? Woody Harellson is a damn fine killer. And this is a problem! At the risk of sounding hypocritical, Mickey Knox makes you LOVE him. When you should hate him! He's a mass murderer...but he's still so cool. That film in itself sort of makes the point. The two killers keep on killing because the media stupidly glorifies them by broadcasting every move they make....ironic much?

It's been said that slashers and serial killer movies often pack more of a punch than supernatural horror because the former pertain to stuff that really can happen--and HAS happened. It brings it home, because at the end of the day, any one of us can be bumped off like Drew Barrymore at the beginning of Scream. But it's highly unlikely we're gonna go out like Joe the Plumber in The Beyond. See the difference? This kind of horror gets to something deep inside us, which filmmakers know, and readily exploit.

Anyone who's ever spotted serial killer trading cards on sale at their local convenience store or seen a guy wearing a Charles Manson T-shirt knows full well that our culture has a bizarre obsession with these guys. Which is also why we cheer on Jason as he stalks those camp counselors. But you know what? The worst part is that we're supposed to be cheering him on--that's the whole point of slashers, isn't it? And before there's any cry of "hypocrisy", make no mistake, there are many great horror movies based on this topic, and this is not to take away from their classic status. But that doesn't mean the question of why there is this fascination cannot be raised.

Maybe it's a coping mechanism. A way for all of us to cathartically process this fear of death, or to displace it by watching it happen to other people, instead of us. Either way, it points to certain elements of the human psyche that most of us are not always willing to confront head-on. In a larger sense, it can be said that the fascination with horror in general has something to do with this. There will always be a certain people who choose to deal with their fears by embracing them. And sometimes, embracing that fear means glorifying what we're afraid of.

Is it ugly? You bet. Does it make people uncomfortable? Definitely. And yet we love it. We're the Romans, chanting for the next batch of Christians to be thrown to the lions. Except we take comfort in knowing that no one's really dying. And yet somewhere in the back of our minds when watching these kinds of flicks, we also know that this stuff does happen. But we keep watching... And maybe that's exactly why.

7 comment(s):

MonsterScholar said...

I effing hated Natural Born Killers because it freaked me out as a child. Rodney Dangerfield as the incestuous dad still gives me chills. Yuck.

MonsterScholar said...

Like the new layout.

B-Sol said...

Rodney Dangerfield in NBK = Greatest thing ever.

Anonymous said...

I think I have to respectfully disagree with almost this entire posting. I think there's a gigantic difference between being a fan of a Norman Bates or a Leatherface and being a fan of Ed Gein. Everybody knows to take the "Based on True Events" notion with a grain of salt. "The Strangers" was based on true events too. I think the director said, after the movie was out of theaters of course, that the true events in question was when someone knocked on his door at three in the morning and asked if someone that didn't live there was home. That part took up maybe three minutes of a ninety minute movie, and that was the part that was true. Obviously not all of the movies with the "Based on True Events" tag are that cut and dry though.

Anyway, my overall point here, is that people take a liking to the fictional characters. If someone said to me, "Hey, Leatherface is awesome." I'd say, eh, maybe, I'm more of a Michael Myers fan myself. If someone said to me "Hey, Ed Gein's the man!" I'd think they were a sick fuck in serious need of help. I just think that as a subject, this didn't really fit the "Woah That's Heavy" billing. I think as long as people are digging the fictional characters, instead of the fucked up real life sickos, I don't think the world is that fucked up of a place.

Anyway, this was definitely still a good read, as are almost all of the other entries you make. I just figured I'd comment on it. Keep up the good work.


B-Sol said...

Ah yes, but people do dig the real life killer too, don't they? Let's not kid ourselves. And I guess sometimes it make me wonder if there's any connection...

Anonymous said...

Well yeah, I'm sure some people dig the real killer. But basing anything off "some" people is a bit misleading. Some people like to masterbate with a rope around their neck choking them. Some people like to bleach their assholes to make sure it's a pristine white. "Some people" is very vague and is just as misleading as using "Based On True Events" when the only similarity is that people died.


B-Sol said...

Well, I think it's just a topic that fascinated us, and while we certainly don't have all the answers, we sort of couldn't help but pose the questions.

Sorry it took so long for me to respond, I was bleaching my asshole :-)

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