13 Jan 2016

SLASHER FILM RULES - Why Rule #3 [Death as punishment]

Films have formulas and rules, but how well do films follow those formulas?  Why do the Slasher Film rules exist?

I looked at 10 rules the Slasher Film genre followed, tested 20 films against them and analysed the results, but let's look at the rules themselves, so let's look at the third Slasher Film rule...

Death will be a punishment for...

While this seems obvious that death is a punishment, it includes the fact that all those dying deserve punishment.  Obviously most of the “crimes” don’t really deserve death the characters still are being punished for something.  Sometimes the killer is deliberately punishing for this actions, other times it is a more subtextual thing (The characters are being punished by the writer, not the killer).

Implied in that description is the two ways of looking at death-as-punishment in horror films (and often films in general).  Those two ways are - in-universe and outside the story.

In-universe is simple - often (but not always) the killer will have a reason for targeting "transgressors" and only transgressors - Pamela Vorhees (Friday the 13th) getting "revenge" on sex-and-drugs loving teens because of the (presumed) death of her son, or Billy (Silent Night, Deadly Night) killing people who had been "naughty" when he was dressed as Santa, or the killer in "And Then There Were None" trying to punish those who had escaped the law.

Outside the story, there are two main reasons transgressors are killed:
  1. The most obvious example is to make it OK for the viewer to "enjoy" the death, the victims "deserve to be killed."
  2. To allow the audience to identify with the victims - nobody's perfect and the teen audience are the ones who 

3a.   Sex - It is the most widely known rule, you can probably recite it with me: if you have sex you will die.  Woman are being punished for being slutty and men for being undeserving of the sex they get.  Bonus points for death during sex or while naked.

If this one didn't speak for itself the description pretty much covers.  We could go into the juxtaposition of sex and death or the centuries or the taboo of sex, but you know all that stuff.

3b.  Nudity  - However,  nudity also is punishable by death.  This goes hand-in-hand with sex=death in a lot of cases, but also just nudity itself can be punished.  The more “unnatural” the nudity the bigger the punishment.  Skinny dipping, for example, will be more likely to result in death then showering naked.  Note, however, even a shower is unsafe and it often said that showering=death.  Whether sex or nudity is punished or not, the final girl is unlikely to participate

A lessor version of sex=death.  Another factor is the fact that "natural nudity" (changing alone in a bedroom (or with a trusted partner) or showering is when people are where they feel most safe - usually in locked rooms where they assume no one can see them - and are the most vulnerable (because they're naked) that it amplifies the fear factor.  Plus, it gives the makers an excuse to show nudity.

Screen Nudity vs Real Life Nudity:  Even the good girls must get naked sometime.  If she isn't showering she would probably begin to smell, you know?  Just because it isn’t shown onscreen doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, however, it is what is shown on screen that is punished.

This is a massive cheat by film makers.  The "bad girl" is shown alone in a shower, fully nude.  The "good girl" if she showers at all is shown from the shoulders up.  Somehow what we the audience can see is part of the character's transgression.

 3c.  Drinking - An adult having a strong drink may get away with it.  Even an alcoholic adult may be given a free pass.  But underage and especially underage binge drinking is certainly punishable by death.  

This is kids having fun and doing bad stuff. It works on two levels, really.  Those who think the kids are misbehaving and want to see the kids punished and the main young audiences who do these things and can emphasis with the victims causing a bigger scare.

3d.  Drugs - Drugs are even worse, drinking is far more socially acceptable than drugs. The altered state of being drunk or stoned may, of course, lead to unknowingly walking directly into their death.

As with drinking, but obviously worse.

3e.  Hitchhiking - Accepting a lift, even with someone you know, will get you killed.  Giving someone a lift can almost be as bad.  There are entire films built around the premise.

Mostly this is about trust - and being trapped with a stranger.  But it's a cliche and something that happens (if rarely) in real life.

3f.  Other Criminal Behaviour - Pretty obvious and direct.  The set-up may require all the participants to be committing a crime, but the main perpetrators are the one to be punished.  If they are breaking into a haunted house, the person who suggests it and who does the actual breaking are doomed.  The Final Girl will counsel against and only enter grudgingly.

You do the crime, you get killed every time.

3g.  Being annoying/being cowardly/being a sleazy guy - Sure these aren’t actual crimes, but it is satisfying for the writer, audience and possibly killer to see an annoying person die.

This one is about really weak transgressions.  The sleazy guy is trying to get sex (but probably doesn't or they'd be in the top category) so it's a mild transgression.  The coward is often about being a bystander - however, too cowardly and you could put others in danger which is certainly transgression.  Being annoying isn't even transgression unless it begins to fall into the realm of sexism or racism or such.  The worse examples of these are obvious transgressors.  The weak examples are basically bystanders, however, all thtee types are annoying.  And an annoying character is someone the audience wants to see killed.

3h.  Being a bystander.  Following the rules, an innocent shouldn’t be killed, but sometimes they do, just to make up numbers.  Also, if someone doesn’t break an above rule, perhaps there is another reason they were punished.

This is really a rule breaker.  I added it more for purposes of keeping track of non-transgressors.  It happens and as film series go on and the killer/writer get lazier these deaths become more common.  In standard horror films these deaths are there to keep the death count up and consistently spread throughout the film (they often happen at the beginning of the film before the main characters have had time to transgress and are still being established as characters, and are there to give the audiences some deaths in the middle of that boring "story" stuff and can heighten the sense of danger for the characters - whether they know about the deaths or just miss the warnings they provide.)   In the sub-genre "gorno" or 'torture porn" it even becomes the point - the horror is in those films is about brutal punishment and the punishment of the innocent makes it more brutal.

~ DUG.

Please do the survey to determine future rule sets.
All about the Slasher Films.

No comments:

Post a Comment