It's the Booze Talkin': Controversy is a great way to sell horror!

M. Night Shyamalan appears to be back. His latest feature SPLIT not only received critical praise, but the low budget thriller managed to pull in an especially impressive 40 million opening. That’s pretty fantastic considering the director has had more than a few detractors. Yet it isn’t all sunshine and puppies for Shyamalan. There was a time when the twist-happy filmmaker made those that are unique or strange the heroes. That is not the case with SPLIT, as well his last film, THE VISIT. This time, the characters with issues are the monsters. We are now seeing Shyamalan scaring folks with people who are mentally unbalanced, which doesn’t sit well with all viewers.

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There is always a division in horror. You will either see a sympathetic monster, or just a stalking madman waiting to kill. Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and the son of a thousand maniacs himself, Freddy Krueger. Yet all of those characters are over-the-top crazy. James McAvoy is a man with 23 distinct personalities. Unfortunately for Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula, there is a 24th that is far more frightening. Thus, we have a little controversy. In fact, some groups have called for a boycott of the film due to its treatment of mental illness. Whether that is fair or not is really up to the viewer. I for one wasn’t particularly bothered by this, but I guess for some it could very well be a deterrent. However, if you really don’t want people to see the film, you might be better off just not going, or better still, not giving it any attention at all.

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The problem with stirring up controversy is that you raise awareness. Good or bad, if you hear people complaining about a poster with Santa Claus coming out of a chimney with an axe, genre fans are more inclined to go. In 1984 when SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT came out, it immediately angered folks, especially family values groups. If they had actually watched the film the may have realized there is nothing to worry about. Here we have a really bad movie, one that is so cheap and unscary that most would turn it off immediately. Suddenly everybody and their mother is discussing this blemish on cinema. Instead of just disappearing onto a video shelf, it became a cult classic spawning several sequels. Do you really think that would have happened if people didn’t rise up out of fear for their children? Most likely not.

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Horror has always known controversy. Even back in the day when audiences were horrified by the 1932 classic FREAKS. The Tod Browning directed flick features a cast of real life circus performers, many of which had extreme deformities. Not only was the film banned for thirty years, it didn’t help Browning’s cinematic career. Today, this flick is considered by many a genre classic. In fact, the lure of its controversial past certainly helped build an impressive following for the film. The same can be said about movies like Wes Craven’s THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT in 1972. It’s only a movie… It’s only a movie… the tag line reminded us. Would this demented flick have ever found that kind of infamy had it not been for all the ill will from folks that didn’t want it seen? I highly doubt it.

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You don’t have to look far to find movies that upset folks for numerous reasons. THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE was banned in several countries upon its release in 1974. The Japanese thriller ICHI THE KILLER had young genre fans frothing to see the grotesque thriller in 2001, of course mostly because it was banned in many places upon its release as well. Everything from A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971), CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980) to PEEPING TOM (1960) all faced serious backlash, yet are by most accounts considered important moments in horror history. Even PSYCHO had Alfred Hitchcock creatively presenting his film to the ratings board - without really making cuts - in order to bring his tale of Norman Bates and his mother to life in 1960. And now, we have yet another horror film earning a ton of hate unseen. And frankly, I’ve got a feeling more people are going to go see SPLIT, partially due to the call for a boycott.

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Maybe it’s the booze talkin’, but controversy is a great way to sell a horror film. Eli Roth’s HOSTEL was a huge hit in 2005. It also had an entire country upset at how it was portrayed. So many films have dealt with dark subject matter and many have benefitted from a little bit of vicious word of mouth. If those looking to complain had ignored I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978), HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (1986), A SERBIAN FILM (2010), WITCHFINDER GENERAL (aka THE CONQUEROR WORM from 1968) and THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE trilogy, those movies would have likely not had much of an impact. Alas, those offended helped spread the word. The one thing people forget is that horror has always had the power to shock and offend. If anything, Shyamalan should have been celebrating once the cries for a boycott came. Let’s face it, controversy and this genre go hand in hand.

Extra Tidbit: How often does controversy become the deciding factor for you when watching a horror flick?
Source: AITH



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