Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Horror In The Age Of YouTube

One of my four-year-old son Owen's most requested activities is to watch horror previews on YouTube. Mostly we watch old-school monster movie stuff, with some newer material on occasion. But in the process of warping his mind, I got to thinking about the easy access to horror that YouTube provides and whether it's a dangerous detriment to the genre's mystique. It's one thing to be able to pull up trailers but to be able to see random scenes out of context is something that can't help but degenerate the sensibilities of viewers.

Like every other young movie buff who grew up in the pre-home video age, I would scout the TV listings each week looking to see when classic films would be airing and make sure I was in front of the TV to watch them. To know that, say, Psycho would be on at 4 o'clock on Tuesday made it into an event. And in the specific case of Psycho, waiting for the shower scene was a source of obvious anticipation - to know that this infamous scene was coming and that I'd better be paying attention because once it was over I'd have to wait until the movie repeated maybe several months later to see it again. The fact that anyone who hasn't seen Psycho today who wants to satisfy their curiosity can go to YouTube, watch the shower scene and then move on to answering their e-mail strikes me as incredibly dispiriting.

I'm sure people old enough to have seen Psycho in theaters in 1960 would say that it wasn't the same experience to watch Psycho on TV with commercials and so on and while that's surely true, that seems ideal compared to watching it in bits and pieces on a computer - or on a phone, for that matter.

For past generations of kids, a large part of horror's allure was that it was inaccessible - a forbidden fruit. Either you couldn't get into theaters for R-rated movies or your parents didn't have cable or a VCR or else they did have all that but they closely monitored the television. That might sound like it sucked but to my mind, that early drive to have to find ways to watch horror movies - that need to be patient, resourceful, and dedicated - instilled a sense of passion that remains at the heart of many adult fan's ongoing love of the genre.

Now everything is just a click away - even the likes of Cannibal Holocaust or Zombie. Horror hungry kids don't even have to beg their parents to stay up late, to lie about what they're up to, or ask for money for a video rental. It used to be a real adventure to go to the video store to find a Fulci movie or some Italian cannibal flick (and to try and watch it someplace without any parents getting wise) but now anyone can watch the zombie vs. shark fight in Zombie on their computer with no hassle. I ask you - where's the romance in that?

I was so determined to see horror movies as a kid that I'd try to watch R-rated movies through the static of cable channels that my parents didn't subscribe to. Now if anyone wants to see Linda Blair spewing pea soup in The Exorcist or the chest-burster from Alien, the clips are out there 24/7. That's assuming, of course, that kids today even care about old crap that was notorious once upon a time. I'm sure they've moved on to much harder material.

Horror ultimately depends on context to work - from a classic like The Haunting (1963) to the cheesiest Saw sequel. While I think it's still possible to scare audiences today and that the internet can have a hand in generating excitement for a film (as The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity proved), the age of YouTube could threaten to turn horror into a Greatest Hits collection. When future generations wonder why so many horror movies don't have the same impact that they did on earlier audiences, it won't be so much a case of "you had to be there to understand" but only that you just had to watch the damn movie.


Anonymous said...

I think this is applicable across the board as the interwebs allows for the easy accessibilty of all things. I agree, it loses some of those alluring elements like danger and having to carefully plot (at least if your're a kid anyways) how to get a hold of a film or find that friend who's parents don't mind showing them.

But I also think its up to the parents to teach their kids and to keep that mystique going. I think a big part of the reason why I got into horror had to do with my parents regulating what I could see and what I couldn't (it may be harder to do for the internet generation, but its no less important). That kind of increased the mystique and its really what drew me to the genre. If mommy and daddy say no, that means I've gotta try that much harder to see it.

Anywhos, bottom line, mom and dad still need to play the part and regulate most of what kids do during their formative years. Allowing them 24/7 access to the internet will in fact dilute some of the 'joy' in watching films and in turn, warp their perception of what that experience is and should be.

Great post.

Will Errickson said...

I must say, as someone born in 1970, I agree with every word of this post! The illicit romance of the video store horror shelves is something I'll never forget. For my 16th birthday my best friend somehow got his dad to rent us the uncut version of RE-ANIMATOR. Oh man that was some birthday party. Other great early horror videos that were age-inappropriate were DEAD & BURIED and the Nastassja Kinski version of CAT PEOPLE. SUSPIRIA, BEYOND THE DARKNESS and ZOMBIE all followed!

Jeff Allard said...

PoT, as an adult I'm all over the ready availibilty of everything but I'm so glad I grew up during a time when it wasn't so easy to get one's horror fix. That's an experience I wouldn't want to trade.

Even with restricting what kids can watch, when the time does come for someone to be able to watch more adult material, there's no question as to whether they'll be able to get to any movie they want. Back in the day, even if you were old enough to see a movie like The Wicker Man, you couldn't because it was a 'lost' film for many years. I had the issue of Cinefantastique devoted to it and I thought for ages that article would be the closest I'd ever get to seeing the actual movie. Now it's on YouTube.

And Will, the romance of VHS is something that will sadly never come again. Before my parents bought a VCR, they'd rent one for two weeks during the holidays and for those two weeks, I'd be trying to squeeze in as many titles as I could. That was how I first saw Dawn of the Dead, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Deep Red, and Zombie. The idea that I'd ever actually own those movies - and about a thousand other horror films - would've blown my mind!

I'm sure future generations of horror fans will have their own experiences to wax nostalgic about but they won't beat the glory days of VHS.

Anonymous said...

I see your point. Maybe its my idealistic/nostalgically inclined mind at work but I'd hope that as they get older they'd opt for the experience vs. instant gratification. But I don't think that will happen. Sigh.

Chris 'Frog Queen' Davis said...

Very well said...your post and the comments. The combination of not "supposed" to watch this paired with the hard to find factor created a kind of magic in my youth that definately influenced me for life....some may say not in a good way. :)


Jeff Allard said...

On the upside, I'm sure older fans thought that home video would kill the mystique of horror by making it too accessible and yet somehow it didn't so maybe horror is able to endure no matter how much things change.

Timmy Crabcakes said...

I'm thinking YouTube continues the same impulse that gave us monster magazines and those highlights movies such as Terror In The Isles.
If the scene/monster/killing is interesting enough I'd figure the viewer would track down the entire film at some point.

But since people in general have shorter attention spans and less patience for building suspense, I wouldn't be surprised to meet some kid who proclaims his love for 'classic horror' based solely on watching snippets on YouTube.
I know that for myself, it's become way too convenient to start up a movie online and then wander away from it the moment the action slows... whereas, back in the 'old days' that movie would have been all I had and ever second would have been savored.

the jaded viewer said...

Great post. I have to say the VHS days of old are something to be cherished.

Watching horror movies based on VHS cover art led to some awesome flicks and to lots and lots of garbage.

Even trading movies back in the day was a thrill. I saw Cannibal Holocaust on a dubbed 8th generation VHS tape from a trade.

YouTube makes it easier but yeah the buildup, the anticipation is sadly gone.

Jeff Allard said...

Yeah, on the one hand - because we've become so spoiled - I wouldn't want to go back to having things be so hard to obtain but yet I know that growing up when everything wasn't right there for the taking helped shaped my sensibilities as a fan.

Amanda By Night said...

On the flipside, YouTube has been a place for me to go to watch (and re-watch) many hard to find great television shows and made for tv movies. I feel the same way about Hulu and other streaming sites. I love watching Cocaine: One Man's Seduction online. It reminded me of the days when I'd have that little TV perched on my kitchen counter and I'd be there on the stool watching with wide eyes as Dennis Weaver snorted one down! Good times, indeed! :)

I think horror is alluring to some whether or not our parents forbid us or it's more readily available or whatever, we just like it. And those who do will seek it out and enjoy it. Maybe it's a good thing Killer Party is on YouTube because for most of the younger set there are not VCRs in the house nor is there a legit DVD release to discover, so why not stumble across it online?

Jeff Allard said...

Amanda, you're right. I think it's just my generational prejudices causing me to worry about the effects of having too much access to material that used to be real work to find. You know, the usual old fogey-style rant: "if people don't discover this stuff they way I discovered it...blah, blah, blah..." As I said at the beginning of the blog, my young son loves to watch scary previews on YouTube and as he gets older, that may (hopefully) prove to be a formative memory for him in appreciating horror films.