WARNING: This post contains spoilers about the endings of several horror movies/graphic novels/books.
A review at the Book Smugglers reminded me that I had this post in my drafts. I’ve been thinking about horror and happy endings since I read the two widely different reviews of the movie THE STRANGERS at Pajiba and Roger Ebert. Now, I’d been dying to see this movie — it looks like the type of horror movie that I love, the kind that relies upon suspense to scare you rather than gore. Well, check out the trailer (which all by itself kind of freaked me out):
Pajiba’s reviewer loved it; Ebert called it nihilistic and gave it one and a half stars.
And ‘nihilistic’ killed all of my anticipation. Maybe I’m wrong (and if I am, please feel free to spoil me because I’d have loved to see this movie) but I’m guessing that means that the couple is dead at the end.
I talked about this before when I watched the remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD. There has to be a payoff of some sort in these movies/books*, and I have a feeling that my idea of payoff differs widely from the apparent popular/artistic** idea of a payoff. For me, the payoff is that someone gets out alive (and if no one does, then there has to be a point to their having lived). There doesn’t have to be a romantic HEA. In 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, for example, Eben gets ashed by the sun, and Stella is left alone. It’s a bittersweet ending, but it works for me because Eben’s sacrifice meant something. If, in 28 DAYS LATER, they’d gone for the Cillian Murphy-is-dead alternate ending, I’d have been fine with it … because someone got out alive, and there was a payoff to my sitting through the movie.
It’s not enough to be scared; it’s not enough to jump in my seat. If I’m invested in the suspense, it’s because I’m interested in the characters, and I’ve become invested in the outcome of the movie. (I don’t necessarily have to like them, but I do have to be interested in them.)
The last thing I want to do is to turn off a movie and say, “What was the point of that?” (The final death in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD had a point IMO, so that movie is one of the few exceptions to that; so is the end of I AM LEGEND (the book)).Â If a couple is going to die at the end, and there is nothing gained when they die (either in the world they live in, or in me through their journey, where I come away with more than just a heightened heart-rate (see again: I AM LEGEND (the book)) it actually makes me wish they’d died at the beginning. I mean, seriously — how much does it suck to be tortured and/or terrorized for two hours and then die? What’s the point of that? Doesn’t it pretty much say, “There’s no point in fighting, so to save yourself some pain, you should probably just give up?”
So, anyway. I tell myself sometimes that I put too much emphasis on the ending, and should just be pleased with the journey … but more and more, I just can’t. I don’t need everything to be wrapped up tidy and happy, but I find that I have no interest in a nihilistic message.
*But not necessarily in short stories. (For example, I really like that short story by Stephen King where the guy is a drug-addicted surgeon stranded on an island, and slowly self-cannabilizing. Or the one on the raft, where the oily thing in the water eats all of them.) The investment of my time and/or money is in direct proportion, I think, to my need for a payoff — but this is across the board. A romantic/erotic novella, I don’t need a huge, sweeping love story. A single-title paperback, I’m wanting more out of it. And if I pay hardcover price, hot damn that story had better be good, because the page length isn’t going to justify the difference in price.
**I’m not sure what, exactly, is driving the current trend of torture-porn horror (which THE STRANGERS isn’t) and nihilism — a sense that it will be make money or that it is “truer” and more hard-core realistic. For example, the ending to the movie THE MIST — I loved the ambiguous ending of the short story, and would have much, MUCH preferred that to the movie ending. Stephen King, though, disagrees with me; I read somewhere that he wished he’d written the novella with that end. So *shrug*.
As a final note, my little sister is in labor. And, thanks to the poll at your left, he’ll be named Fox.
As a final, final note: If the X-Files and/or Batman movie has a nihilistic message, you can expect me to be absolutely nutzoid at RWA the next weekend.