Horrifying Eggplants—Now Playing at a Theater Near You

I’m not a big horror fan. The first time I saw what could loosely be called a horror movie was the remake of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. For weeks I had to check under my bed for those pods that covered your body in creepy cobwebs as you slept. One time my brother planted an eggplant under my bed to get a rise out of me. The little bastard knew how to hurt me.

We also used to scare the crap out of each other using “The Shining” references. Our bedroom was downstairs when we were eleven or so, at the bottom of a steep, spooky staircase. Whenever one or the other of us were going up first, we would run up the stairs, turn off the light, yell “the twins!” or “redrum!” over our shoulder, slam the door and hold onto the knob on the other side. Being the fatter of the two, I was frequently on the wrong side of that door.

In my early teens I went through a horror phase on cable, catching up on some of the classics I had missed– “Friday the 13th”, “Halloween”, “The Exorcist”, “The Omen”, “Psycho”. I was also a big Stephen King fan back then, which I think says more about his writing level than my taste level. It wasn’t too long before I became a little bored with both King and the horror genre.

So apparently the horror genre had to try harder to get my attention. The plots, flimsy as the were, started to disappear completely. Now it was more about the method of the murders than the story behind them. The filmmakers took our curiosity about the psyche of the killer and replaced it with curiosity about how exactly the knife is inserted. “Scream”, “Nightmare On Elm Street,”–the body counts started to pile up and the blood flowed more freely. Psychology meant little—results were king. It wasn’t enough that a killer killed, he had to do it in more and more outrageous and showy ways. Things were starting to get pretty gross.

But outrageous and showy got dull as well. Things had to get back to hardcore. That’s when we started getting these snuff films, and that’s where I completely jumped off the train. Now I’m sure that there are fans out there of the “Saw” films, or the “Hostel” series, or “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” remake and their ilk. I can’t remark directly about any of them because I’ve gone out of my way to avoid these soulless gore-fests. As far as I can tell, they are about nothing but torture and killing. I understand there’s a perverse thrill to be had by watching such a thing, I suppose, but the idea just makes my stomach hurt. Real life is scary enough, thank you. And this goes beyond the teen slasher flick, where anyone whose name wasn’t above the title was bound to turn up hanging from a hook sometime soon. This was about nameless and faceless torture and death. Back in the day people who fancied this kind of stuff had to hunt films down in the back rooms of 42nd Street smut stores, such was the societal taboo against it. Now it’s playing twelve times a day at our local multiplex.

What happened? Well, we all got pretty numb, didn’t we? The internet allows anyone with any predilection to pursue it freely without having to face a clerk or risk running into someone you know. I don’t think that freedom is completely a bad thing, but it does have a way of pushing what was recently regarded as “abnormal” closer to “normal”. How do you compete with web-sites that only exist to show gruesome real-life deaths? What does that do to people who put themselves in their way? It’s got to be desensitizing them somehow. My exhibit “A” in that argument would be the fact that  movies are reaching ever farther and farther to, as my brother did with the eggplant, get a rise out of us.

I tend to think these films are a sign of something deeply wrong. And the fact that they do so fantastically well scares the hell out of me. Is it just the impulse to have a scary experience, or is it something darker at work? Or maybe we just need to grow out of this phase, like me and my brother did. Although I haven’t checked for an eggplant in a while…

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