A Priest, A Rabbi and Your Mom Walk Into a Movie Theatre…
You might think that your Mom disapproves of all horror films on principle. At least that’s the stereotype: the wagging finger; the warning that horror films cause nightmares. But the truth is that this is merely a bit of parental judo, reverse psychology designed to push us to watching horror films, because nothing warns us and upholds the moral order like a horror film.
Every once in a while however, a horror film strays off the reservation and includes a moral that your Mom would never approve of. While the following are by no means an exhaustive list, they are five horror films that teach a lesson that would absolutely horrify your Mom.
5. The Faculty (1998)
Directed by Robert Rodriguez, story by David Wechter and Bruce Kimmel, screenplay by Kevin Williamson.
The film is especially creepy because the aliens are health nuts. The adults immediately stop drinking coffee in favour of water and all the converted have the healthy glow of fitness zealots. The shots of Coach Joe Willis (Robert Patrick) standing like a tin stainless steel god on his football field completely ignoring the sprinklers going off all around him are especially creepy.
Josh Hartnett plays the school drug dealer Zeke Tyler, who sneaks his drugs into school by removing the ink cartridges from ball-point pens and filling the empty pens full of white powder. (Zeke and the film try to claim that the white powder is in fact powdered caffeine, but this attempt to deny that Zeke’s scat is cocaine rings hollow.) At a critical moment in the film, Zeke concludes that their make-shift study resistance group has been infiltrated by one of the aliens. Zeke’s response is the classic reaction of any drug dealer trying to sniff out a narc: he spills out some white powder and orders the others to sniff the scat.
Dubious Moral: The best way to avoid becoming a insufferable little fascist in high school is to do copious amounts of cocaine.
4. Cherry Falls (2000)
Directed by Geoffrey Wright, written by Ken Selden.
The effect of this is to turn the traditional slasher formula on its head: the sluts are safe while the virgins are in mortal danger.
The film’s saving grace is that it sticks to its guns. When the town becomes convinced that the town’s virgins are being carved up, parents begin having “Have you had sex yet and if not – why not?” conversations with their teens. This leads to the town’s teens taking matters into their own hands and organizing a mass deflowering party. They do so, perhaps not with the active assistance of the town’s adults, but certainly with their acquiescence. The film claims that the adults don’t interfere because the party takes place just outside of city limits, but one suspects that this is an excuse that the parents seize upon with a certain amount of relief.
The film’s high point comes when the school slut Cindy (Kristen Miller) comes into her own and holds an impromptu sex education class on the front lawn of the high school, giving the girls of the school practical instructions on how to handle the (male) school virgins during the planned orgy.
Dubious Moral: Not having sex as a teenager will in fact kill you.
3. Ginger Snaps (2000)
Directed by John Fawcett, story by John Fawcett and Karen Walton, screenplay by Karen Walton.
The highlight of the film is the sequence where Ginger and her sister Brigitte (Emily Perkins) tentatively try to get help for Ginger’s bizarre symptoms from the school nurse and are treated to an extended and highly disturbing description of the joys of menstruation.
Ginger Snaps concentrates on female puberty, but the film does extend the metaphor to male puberty as well, particularly the tendency of young adolescent males to start growing hair in the oddest of places.
While not the hero of the story like Zeke Tyler in The Faculty, the only character in Ginger Snaps who offers any help to Brigitte – and even a possible cure for Ginger – is local drug dealer Sam (Kris Lemche). His solution is to inject Ginger with belladonna, warning that the deadly nightshade might either cure Ginger or kill her by overdose. When he prepares the drug, Sam boils the plant in a spoon over an open flame and uses a syringe to gather up the liquid. Basically, it looks like he is preparing heroin.
Dubious Moral: To survive the agonizing pain of puberty, consult your local drug dealer.
2. Braindead (1992) (aka Dead Alive)
Directed by Peter Jackson, story by Stephen Sinclair, screenplay by Stephen Sinclair, Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson.
Virtually no one in the film seems to understand that they are in a zombie film, with the possible exceptions of the natives at the beginning of the film who have clearly watched a lot of Evil Dead even if the film takes place in 1957, 24 years before the release of Sam Raimi’s classic film. As a consequence, this film includes some of the most ineffective methods to kill zombies ever, including poisoning(!) and burying them alive living dead.
The highlight of the film is surely the moment when the local priest, Father McGruder (Stuart Devenie), while fighting zombies in his cemetery, kung-fu kicks a zombie in the face and shouts “I kick arse for the Lord!” Technically, he kicks face for the Lord, but I think we can forgive the Father for his confusion.
The climax of the film is the final confrontation between Lionel and his grotesque zombie Mum when Lionel finally deals once and for all with his Mommy issues.
Dubious Moral: Sometimes the only way to deal with a domineering, over-protective Mother is to completely annihilate her with extreme prejudice.
Directed by Wes Craven, written by Wes Craven.
Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
Directed by Chuck Russell, story by Wes Craven, Bruce Wagner, Frank Darabont and Chuck Russell, screenplay by Wes Craven and Bruce Wagner.
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)
Directed by Wes Craven, written by Wes Craven.
Within the context of the larger Nightmare on Elm Street series there is a hidden trilogy. They are the only films written by Wes Craven and the only films to star Heather Langenkamp and not to put too fine a point on it, the only films in the series that are any good.
Like both The Faculty and Ginger Snaps, Nightmare on Elm Street spits in the face of horror film tropes by stating that doing drugs not only won’t lead to your imminent death, but drugs can actually help you fight the monster and win, or at the very least postpone the battle until you have a better chance of winning.
Like in The Faculty, the original Nightmare on Elm Street tries to pretend that the only drug that Nancy is taking is caffeine, but it is clear that by the time that Nancy starts quoting from The Anarchist Cookbook and plotting to turn her house into a giant death trap for Freddy Krueger that she is a full blown tweaker, mainlining meth-amphetamines.
Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is not completely pro-drug, Taryn (Jennifer Rubin) is killed by Freddy’s heroin needles and part of the plot of the film hinges around the fact that the hospital – where the children have been committed because of their nightmares – decides to sedate the children, delivering them directly to Freddy. And it is clear that as effective as the drugs that Nancy are taking are, at best they are merely postponing her struggle with Freddy; they are a treatment not a cure. But making the distinction between drugs that help and drugs that hurt is a level of distinction that most horror films never even aspire to.
Dubious Moral: To keep your childhood dreams from becoming nightmares that kill you, the proper drug cocktail is essential. Consult your pharmacist.