An article in the New York Times over the weekend reports that the hot-button issue of the marketing of horror and other gruesome entertainment to young audiences may soon become an issue in the political arena again. The Federal Trade Commission will shortly be issuing a new report on how violent movies, video games and music are advertised to minors, following up on a similar study seven years ago (in the wake of the Columbine tragedy and similar incidents) that led Hollywood to promise to police itself more closely on the matter.
Much has changed since then, as the article points out: Horror fare has become rougher with the “torture cinema” trend spearheaded by the SAW and HOSTEL films, and the rise of the Internet has led extreme trailers, clips, graphics, etc. to be accessible to viewers of all ages, minus the restrictions typically imposed on the exhibition of movie trailers and TV commercials. (It’s worth pointing out, as the article does not, that certain trailers, like the one for TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE BEGINNING, have only been made available for on-line viewing during late-night hours.) In addition, independent companies that specialize in the hardest-core fear fare (Lionsgate, etc.) are not bound by the strictures that the MPAA imposes on the placement of ads (which, themselves, must be approved by the board for any film submitted for a rating) with TV shows, magazines and websites whose audience is 35 percent or more under the age of 17.
The issue came to a head a week or so back when After Dark Films came under fire for putting up billboard and other outdoor ads for its upcoming CAPTIVITY featuring extreme images of heroine Elisha Cuthbert being tortured and killed. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, one such billboard was placed within viewing distance of a middle school, to the dismay of its students and their parents, and the resulting outcry led to the campaign’s quick removal by After Dark, which may now face disciplinary action by the MPAA (which had viewed and disapproved of the materials). After Dark topper Courtney Solomon has insisted in subsequent interviews (including on FANGORIA RADIO last Friday night) that these ads were posted without his knowledge; ironically, according to The Hollywood Reporter, After Dark has also come under fire from suicide prevention groups for its proposed campaign for the dark comedy WRISTCUTTERS: A LOVE STORY, but Solomon was too busy to reply to the protestors because he was overseeing reshoots on CAPTIVITY to make the latter film more violent.
So does all this mean that horror and similar entertainment will become an issue in the 2008 presidential election? Will the FTC’s report have a chilling effect on chillers? It’s hard to say at this point, and some observers have noted that the genre’s future may have as much to do with the box-office returns for horror this year, which have so far been disappointing (THE HILLS HAVE EYES II opened to an estimated $10 million this past weekend, down a third from the debut of its predecessor a year ago). In that regard, all eyes will be on the numbers generated by next week’s one-two punch of THE REAPING and GRINDHOUSE, and Lionsgate’s release of HOSTEL: PART II in June.