Horror movies

Recently I apologised and admitted The Thing never really made an impression on me and then apologised again. Lots of people I like said it was their favourite movie, one of them gave me the script to read.

I won’t name him here, because he’s … you know, distributing copyrighted materials and that’s naughty. But we all do it. He’s welcome to name himself, if he wants; I’ll just say thank you (again) and leave it at that.

So I read the script and … well, actually, I didn’t. I read about two thirds of it, went to bed and never bothered picking it up again.

Please, don’t come round my house in a large mob and burn me. Not again. The neighbours are getting fed up.

I know I’m wrong here. I know it’s an acknowledged classic and a masterpiece of the genre, if not several genres, if not just all genres in general; I don’t care. Or rather, I didn’t care, whilst reading it. About anyone.

My experience reading it was this:

  • There are some people.
  • One of them is Kurt Russell*, can’t remember which one.
  • There’s a mystery involving a similar group of anonymous people (these ones are Norwegian). I know the answer to the mystery because I vaguely remember seeing the film; but for the purposes of reading the script, I’m pretending I don’t know.
  • It’s working, because I am that stupid.
  • The mystery is engaging and mysterious. I want to keep reading.
  • Halfway through, the mystery is solved!
  • Characters are starting to die!
  • Not sure which ones because I can’t tell them apart!
  • Why can’t I tell them apart? Well, I guess it’s because I don’t care about any of them.
  • I reckon one of them will survive, but I don’t care which one. Whichever one is Kurt Russell; but it’s kind of hard to tell from the script. Maybe he hasn’t turned up yet?
  • Okay, tired now. Think I’ll go to bed.
  • zzzzzzzz … BADGERS! BADGERS! …  zzzzzz … little furry bastards … zzzzzz … NO! NOT THE BICYCLE! … zzzzzz
  • *Yawn* Morning! Shall I finish the script?
  • No, I don’t really care who lives or dies. Wonder what’s on telly?
  • Ooh, The A-Team! Cool.

And that was that.

And that was what got me thinking about horror in general and why I’m not really that fussed about it.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike horror. I just don’t go out of my way to watch it very often. I don’t think it’s rubbish or people are fools for watching or liking it. I just don’t really care for it. Mostly.

For someone so apathetic about the genre, I’ve actually written a surprising amount of it. Not a massive amount, just surprising. Or at least, surprising for someone who isn’t really that bothered about it.

Nineteen feature projects and a TV series at last count.

Hmm … that’s a lot.

For someone who doesn’t care.

Thing is, people keep asking me to write them a horror and, you know, I hate to say no. Especially if they’re paying.

So I write these things and I never think they’re any good, but in the main people seem to be exceptionally happy. This is a very confusing situation – I’m writing scripts I don’t like for a genre I don’t really understand and everyone seems to thing they’re brilliant.

Well, with one notable exception. I wrote a script I thought was fairly poor, the producer asked to read the horribly rough first draft and told me it was amazing. GENIUS, was his one-word critique … until he took it back to show his partners, who (rightfully) recognised it as a massive pile of shit and “went in another direction”~

Where are the other scripts now? Hopefully, dead and buried. I do have this small, nagging fear they’ll all rise up from the dead one day and march into production at the same time. Imagine a dozen or more of the buggers slopping all over the DVD racks of HMV and stinking up the place.

*shudder* Now that’s horror.

I’m thinking now that part of the new regime is NO MORE HORROR. I’m just not very good at it and don’t really enjoy it. In the main.

But why not? What’s not to enjoy?

I’ve been thinking about that in manageable chunks and come to a vague (and probably inaccurate) opinion about a subsection of the horror genre, of which The Thing is one, basically the films whose loglines start with:

A group of …

See? See my problem? It’s right there! Can you see?

A group of teens go into the woods …

A group of marines invade a tea party …

A group of … um … ice people (?) sit around at the North (or possibly South) Pole …

Always a group, rarely a person who has a specific need tied to the theme of the film. Just … some people. Randomers.

Okay, so quick test – some people are in a room, they might die!


Your best friend is in a room, (s)he might die!

Which one’s preferable? Which one’s scarier?

A lot of horror films seem to involve a random group of people involved in a scary situation. The choice of the random group is, well, random. They’re not important. It could be any group of teens or marines or … mineralogists? Ice scientists? Fuck it, I’ve only just read the script and I can’t remember. Was it a weather station?

A day or a week or a month later and it would have been a different group of teens or marines or whatever and you’d have exactly the same film. These people are not important. Except they are important, because they’re dying and I’m supposed to care about them … but I don’t. Not really.

I read a horror script for a producer once and told him what I thought, he passed that back to the writer (who may or may not have known I said them) and the writer responded with something along the lines of:

I don’t care, this character development bullshit doesn’t belong in horror movies.

Which might well be true. It certainly doesn’t seem to affect people’s enjoyment of them.

But why? Why isn’t character development important? Why shouldn’t horror films follow the more usual movie conventions of having a single protagonist who has a goal uniquely tied into the plot?

Maybe it’s because of the nature of the film? Maybe if these people were people you genuinely cared about and rooted for, then the horrible things happening to them would be too horrific to watch?

But I don’t think that’s it.

Maybe it’s because you need a body count and the only way to achieve that is to have a group of people you can winnow down to the single survivor? Perhaps if there was a clear protagonist for everyone to latch onto, with a goal they need to achieve before the film is done then it would be too obvious who was going to survive and the ‘scare’ is lost.#

Although, that doesn’t sound right to me either. It’s usually fairly obvious from the trailer who’s going to survive (not always mind) and I manage to suspend my disbelief in most other films to pretend the hero might just die this time.

Maybe it’s just that horror films aren’t for me? Maybe I’m supposed to JUST CARE because these are human beings being ripped apart in nasty ways and I’m a sociopathic monster for feeling indifferent about the whole thing?

Yes, that sounds plausible.

Either way, I know I don’t really write any more horror films.I’m done with that now, and it’s for the best. The question now is what do I want to write? Horror is pretty much all that gets made in the UK, apart from gangster and hooligan films and I’m buggered if I’m getting involved in them. So what’s the path? What’s next?

I have no idea.

Well, I do, sort of. What’s next, as soon as I’ve had lunch, is the outline for a Time-Travel-Head-Fuck film.

But after that … your guess is as good as mine.


* I once got fired from a job for tearing Kurt Russell’s head off. This is 100% true story and not a metaphor or an idiom or euphemism for anything filthy. I tore the man’s head clean off, dumped it in a bin and got fired. I may have told this story before. If I haven’t, I really should one day.
~ Sacked me. As well they should have.
# Okay, so I know every character in (almost) every horror film has the same goal – survive; but that’s not what I mean. Anyway, if I don’t care about the character, I don’t care whether they live or die … so I’m not going to hang around to find out if there’s something better to do.
^ Unless I do.
Categories: Career Path, Industry Musings, Random Witterings, Someone Else's Way, Things I've Learnt Recently | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Horror movies

  1. Pingback: 2012 « The Jobbing Scriptwriter

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