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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Grrl Power in Horror

Gee it seems like it was just yesterday that I was bemoaning the sorry state of Horror in Hollywood. Actually it was 2 months ago. But that as they say, is a lifetime when talking about movies.

In those months we’ve had Zombieland and Paranormal Activity. Zombieland had been on radar screens for months. It was the third big original horror to come down the pipe this year (after Drag Me to Hell and Jennifer’s Body). If Z-land had bombed like the previous two then Horror would have been deader than dead. But Zombieland didn’t bomb and so the genre remained viable.

Then along came Paranormal Activity. It’s strange to call something that’s only made 8 million so far a hit. But it only cost 10 Grand to make and it’s really just getting started.

But business aside what can screenwriters take away from the successes and failures of ’09? (Besides the obvious but joyful news that we can write horror once again!) Well I think it’s pretty obvious, when it comes to modern horror, girls rule. Even before this summer we were bombarded with news that the horror audience was now 60% female. I can personally attest that the packed crowd that was at the Paranormal Activity screening I attended was evenly split between X and Y chromosomes. As writers we should take a reverse baseball mentality and try to hit ‘em where they are and try to write horror projects that will attract the audience.

But wait, you might be thinking to yourself, didn’t Drag Me to Hell and Jennifer’s Body have female lead characters? Weren’t they geared to the female audience? Well, no, not really. A closer examination of all four films will reveal there differences. (SPOILERS AHEAD!!!! READ NO FURTHER IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THESE PICS!!!)

Just because a film has females as lead characters doesn’t mean it’s geared to the female audience. Brokeback Mountain featured two male leads but it wasn’t geared to Frat boys. It’s what happens to the characters and what they do that makes it audience friendly.

Drag Me To Hell has a female lead but she’s put into Looney Tunes gone horribly wrong while her cute boyfriend stands off to the side and doesn’t get involved. Really Drag Me To Hell and Paranormal Activity have basically the same plot. The difference is that PA has the couple working together AS a couple. Furthermore while in PA is a definite horror movie, with plenty of creeps. DMTH is a whacked out cartoon. It’s really aimed at people who want to see Alison Lohman get slimed, not going for that female demographic.

The campaign for Jennifer’s Body has already been savaged by others. It featured a lot of Megan Fox’s body and a lesbian kiss. Somebody was still working the 1980’s playbook trying to get the Frat boy audience. And really you can’t fault them when the title of the pic is Jennifer’s Body. But the story was really about high school frenemies taken to the extreme. The result pleased no one.

Zombieland might have the text book female audience character in Emma Stone’s Wichita. She’s smart, funny, tough and thoroughly in control. She starts out by conning the Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson characters not once but twice. But she has a soft side. Her one mistake is brought about because she desperately wants to give her little sister one last taste of childhood. That act puts them both in peril but even that allows Jesse Eisenberg to dramatically risk all to save them providing a nice romantic touch. It turns out she’s still a little bit girly underneath that tough exterior (and she ends up back in control of things at the end!)

Not to stereotype but there were also a bit of romance between the two characters in Paranormal Activity whereas there were almost none in Drag Me To Hell and Jennifer’s Body and I think that has something to do with the success of the one and the failure of the other two. There actually is a very close relationship between horror and romance. Horror fiction grew out of the Gothic Romances of the 1700’s. The first horror classics were overflowing with romantic imagery; Dracula hovering over the sleeping damsel, Frankenstein’s Monster carrying the girl off in the moonlight. Of course you only have to look at Twilight to see the modern romance/horror fusion story.

So rejoice horror writers, the demand for your werewolves and zombie stories is about to sky rocket. Just remember to add a little female empowerment and a dose of romance along the way.

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