Tuesday, August 19, 2014

WHEN THE LOVE OF GREEN RUNS RED: FINANCIAL HORROR FILMS

Actual photo of currency required to pay my bills.
It's been three months since I've updated Day of the Woman. I've never gone that long without updating this site since it's creation back in February of 2009.  Since starting to write for Icons of Fright, I've sort of reserved Day of the Woman for my more "academic" or analytical articles.  However, the brain frying recovery drugs and overwhelming stress of the financial woes caused by my battle with pancreatic cancer has taken its toll on me.  Yesterday I broke down and did something I never thought I would ever do; I signed myself up for a donation page through Paypal.  I have gone approximately six months without any financial assistance but I've reached a breaking point where it was either ask for help, or become the female Frank Abagnale, Jr.  We've all heard the expression "money is the root of all evil," and what artistic medium understands evil better than the horror film?
 (WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS)
Or in my case, throws you into debilitation debt!
There are many, many reasons why people need money and after being put through the financial ringer myself, I'd be lying if I didn't admit I've contemplated doing the absolute unthinkable in order to make ends meet.  Thanks to the current abysmal state of the American economy, our American horror films are beginning to center around financial woes.  One of the major themes in financial horror films is desperation.  It was arguably the story of CHEAP THRILLS that perfectly captured the internal struggle of, "For X amount of money, would you do it?"  The authenticity of Pat Healy's character Craig is what makes this film so magical...and horrific.  A college graduate with a degree (and a passion) in a field that doesn't pay the bills forces him to work a dead-end manual labor job in order to support his new family.  If this doesn't sound like 95% of the world born after 1980, I don't know how else to paint that picture.  Craig is pinned against his old pal Vince in a cruel game of "Do this for X amount of dollars," and with every stake raise, the audience will play right along.  Why? Because for a majority of us, we've all been there.  I've contemplated sacrificing my own fertility by selling my eggs for $10,000 and that's no different than Craig losing a finger for fifteen grand.  This sort of a film is relatable to a wide audience, which is presumably why we continue to see similar storylines like the flick 13 SINS.  But this isn't a new concept.  If we look back to the TWILIGHT ZONE episode "Button, Button," we're still dealing with strapped for cash individuals pushed to the brink.  
Back in my day you could answer a newspaper ad without risk of murder.
These desperate measures may only call for a mild desperate action, like the collegiate Samantha not leaving a screwed up baby-sitting situation in THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL because she needed the money to pay her rent.  In more extreme cases, people allow themselves to question their morals and personal limitations at the possibility of financial assistance.  AJ Bowen's character Ben in RITES OF SPRING resorts to ransoming a child after he's unjustly fired from his job. Mary Mason had resorted to stripping in order to pay for medical school but instead puts her medical license at risk by becoming an extreme body modification surgeon in AMERICAN MARY.  Brittany Snow's character Isis can no longer afford to take care of her sick brother, and reluctantly attempts to make money by playing a twisted game of WOULD YOU RATHER?  
Now Playing: THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BEIGE
Sometimes the terrible acts aren't out of desperation, but rather pure and selfish greed.  There's a reason greed is one of the seven deadly sins, and it's because it makes us do some pretty unforgivable things.  While there are plenty of examples of selfish people doing selfish actions in the name of selfish greed, one of my favorite recent examples is YOU'RE NEXT.  Hailed for it's spin on the slasher genre, the underlying message of the film is "Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen, and Nicholas Tucci are total dicks." I'm kidding.  In reality, YOU'RE NEXT is a story about some entitled brats that were too impatient for their wealthy parents to die off so they could have their inheritances, so they took matters into their own hands. These brothers make for perfect villains, because I don't know who I could hate in real life anymore than affluent kids.  On the flip side, there are also plenty of films about step-parents trying to kill off their children in order to obtain their inheritances.  A personal favorite is BURNING BRIGHT, a film about a father that traps his step children in a house with a wild tiger to escape the blame of their deaths. 
For a millionaire, he sure could afford to hire a maid. Damn, son.
Money also has the power to turn people into certifiable psychopaths.  Look at people like Frederick Loren or Steven Price in THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL films.  Hi, we're millionaires with SOOOO much excess money, we're going to play games with these peasants!  You all need money, so whomever can stay the night in this haunted house wins!  What kind of bullsh- is that? Normal philanthropists donate money to charity, but no. People who are super rich totally have the power to pull dick moves like this and we as the audience completely buy into it.  Look at films like BLOOD DOLLS or THE AGGRESSION SCALE, money makes people nuts!  People kill to protect their money or, because they're super rich, they can afford to have super weird hobbies.  Money may make the world go round, but it also makes people super weird.
This is the closest I'll ever get to examining Larry Fessenden's brain.
For some, committing terrible acts for money is just part of the job description.  Employees in films like in I SELL THE DEAD or REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA make inhumane actions look commonplace, because there really isn't a way to make an "honest" living anymore, is there?  We've all become so desensitized to being forced to work in shit jobs for shit pay, that even when we see it happen on an exaggerated cinematic level, we never once stop and question the moral repercussions of questionable lines of work.  Hit men, gangsters, grave robbers, organ repo men, vampire slayers, and assassins are all just a few examples of horror jobs that pay green for red.

On a serious note, this film is well deserving of a watch.

One of the more unique looks into a financial horror film is THE INHERITANCE, a film less about selfishness and more about what is owed to someone. The story follows five cousins set out on a family reunion during the dead of winter. The purpose of the retreat is to secure their inheritance, a fortune that dates back many generations...because they're all descendants of slaves.  What is so interesting about financial horror films is the seemingly infinite possibilities for storytelling.  Everyone regardless of race, religion, socioeconomic standing, gender identity, sexual orientation, or physical ability will have to encounter money at some point in their lives.  It's one of the few constant truths in this world, and it will scare us all for the rest of eternity.

4 comment(s):

Shane_M said...

You hit it right on the head with this one. I've been in a bad financial situation recently and had to drop medical insurance I had because its to expensive to keep. I haven't gotten that desperate though.

Wendell Ottley said...

First, I had no idea you were dealing with cancer. My prayers are with you on that one.

As for the article, well thought out and very insightful, as always. Money is a powerful motivator and an even more powerful corruptor which is what makes it huge to the point where it is the driving force behind a large chunk of plots across genres, horror included. As you mention, You're Next was a wonderful example of this. The Inheritance sounds fascinating. The story is intriguing and it is rare that a horror flick, especially a serious one, focuses on people of color. I'll have to see this.

Brian said...

Good to see you writing for this blog again. You've been missed!

Anyway, you mentioned 'Would You Rather?' Did you like that movie? I thought it was alright for what it was. Jeff Coombs rarely diappoints and his performance was no exception.

Gene Phillips said...

Hope you're doing well.

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