The website Truly Disturbing recently posed a few questions: Are PG-13 horror films TRULY DISTURBING? When did PG-13 become the staple of scary movies? What ever happened to the time honored tradition of paying for one movie and sneaking into the forbidden R rated movie? Why are these silly films crammed down our throat?
Good questions, all, so here’s what I’ve observed.
First, a bit of definition. “Horror” films lend themselves toward showing what was promised (gore and graphic violence) and trying to exceed their R-rated expectation. “Scary” PG-13 films, hamstrung with censorship rules to protect children (sigh!), must play to what you can’t see to achieve the same effect, but can they?
Real “horror” films cannot be PG-13 because graphic violence and gore is a staple of the genre; enforcement of R films to keep under 17 out of these shows is what nearly killed the genre back in the late eighties and early nineties. A “scary” movie (usually billed as a “thriller”) can be very effective psychologically. Gore Verbinski’s remake of The Ring and the recent success of Insidious are great examples of these; they are filmed like horror but play with the mind (hinting at what may be and showing glimpses rather than everything) to keep the rating PG-13.
The “why” is money; PG-13 targets the disposable cash of late teens that R films can no longer reach. Still, I always have to laugh whenever I hear died-in-the-wool horror fans say how much they hate these non-horrific PG-13 films, but what did they expect? Like any genre, some entries truly suck, but in trying to find ways to convey a sense of dread without showing it, it takes great imagination and innovation to make that work. What scary PG-13 films don’t show (and what you don’t see) can often be scarier if you let the story sink in and accept it. Yet if you’re only in it to see it (blood, guts, and gore), PG-13 must always disappoint because those are the rules.