There’s an overwhelming amount of people that cite Pennywise of Stephen King’s IT as the source of their fears of clowns. Additionally, JAWS made people fear the ocean the same way PSYCHO made us fear showering alone. The experiences we have during a horror film can legitimately change the way we think or interpret our surroundings. Wes Craven had it right in SCREAM when Billy gives his iconic line, “No, Sid, don’t you blame the movies! Movies don’t create psychos; movies make psychos more creative.” However, we’d be fools to believe that horror movies don’t hold an incredibly strong grasp on societal beliefs.
America has always been a nation fascinated with guns. As of October 1st, 2015, there were 294 mass shootings in the 274 days lived of the calendar year. Legalities and accessibility statistics aside, that’s a lot of people misusing their guns. There is clearly a disconnect in reality when we have trouble seeing guns as something dangerous and instead as something “cool” or “necessary.”
For a lot of people, the sound of a chainsaw immediately elicits an emotional recall of the first time watching TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACE. A long hallway in a hotel will immediately flash The Grady sisters from THE SHINING in our minds, and it’s next to impossible not to be suddenly filled with the urge to beat Jared Leto with an axe whenever Huey Lewis & The News’ “Hip to be Square” comes on the radio a la AMERICAN PSYCHO. But we keep showing guns in horror films as the end all, be all of weaponry, and that representation seems to stick.
The only thing that seemed to put Michael Myers at bay in HALLOWEEN was when Dr. Loomis finally unloaded a few rounds into him. A large majority of all slasher victims are unarmed, and perhaps the truest horror mythos is that the only way to kill a zombie is by “shooting them in the head.” We vilify everything from curling irons in SLEEPAWAY CAMP to Cotton Candy in KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE, but the one weapon that is a genuine, bonafide epidemic in real life is still being presented as the only thing that we have that can keep us alive.
Not only do horror movies exist to teach us how to survive in dangerous situations, but it also holds a mirror up to the issues facing society at that time. DAWN OF THE DEAD was an allegory for capitalism, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE was a way to discuss rape culture, and now we have films like THE PURGE discussing race disparity and class separation. All of these issues were (and unfortunately still are) huge problems at the time of their film’s inception, and yet we still have this fear of portraying guns in horror films as anything other than the only thing strong enough to fight the bad guy.
At the same time, people with guns in horror films can also be seen as the comedic relief of a horror film. Stupid cops that don’t know how to shoot a gun or local sheriffs that stumble and drop their weapon out of fear have been portrayed in horror films for decades, continuing the idea that guns aren’t as dangerous as we’re told because of how silly some of the characters armed with them are presented.
Cinema has always been a means to escape reality, and perhaps the ugliness of gun violence is still something too close to home to portray in our modes of entertainment. In 2011, Ryan Murphy introduced the world to the phenomenon that would become AMERICAN HORROR STORY. In its first season, an episode showcased a very Columbine-esque school shooting that outraged audiences and critics alike. The Wire said the episode “went too far,” and TV.com said this portrayal was “unnecessary.” Gun violence is a real life, horrifying incident and yet our entertainment outlets almost refuse to address its existence. And then, when we do address it, it becomes a joke. The rapper Drake was the victim of a fictionalized school shooting on the teen drama DEGRASSI and now it’s next to impossible not to find a “Wheelchair Jimmy” meme in the comments of his music videos. We’re so uncomfortable with the idea of guns being presented as dangerous weapons that we either make fun of it, or pretend it doesn’t exist.
Horror films hardly ever show a villain with a gun, but we’re fascinated with the idea of making our heroes possess the most extreme weapons imaginable. Ash’s boomstick in ARMY OF DARKNESS, Cherry Darling’s leg in PLANET TERROR, and Ami’s machine gun arm in THE MACHINE GIRL are all cherished rather than feared. These over the top interpretations allow a disconnect from the severity of these weapons, and horror fans now find a sense of enjoyment from the carnage, rather than a fear. Filmmakers have never been afraid to tackle taboo subjects, but mass shootings and gun violence still seem to be the one “real-life” problem that even horror films are too afraid to touch. Maybe it’s because deep down, we all know how dangerous it really is to pull that trigger.
*Header Photo: AMERICAN HORROR STORY – 20th Century Fox Television