A while back, a friend and I compared our opinions about horror movies. His philosophy was that people just want to see “boobs and blood,” especially boobs. There are a plethora of horror films, such as such as Silent Night, Deadly Night, to support his argument. But I don’t agree with him, especially since most of the horror movies that made any money with this strategy were filmed in the 1980s.
Sure, I admit my opinion is biased from being a (mostly) prose writer. In novels and short stories, I simply can’t rely on visual titillation because words are visually nothing more than black marks on a page. So I have to make my stories powerful through other means.
Horror critic E.C. McMullen Jr. wrote an interesting essay a few years ago titled “Sex Won’t Sell Your Genre Movie.” His analysis is that sex had more power to sell genre movies — and cars — in decades like the 1970s because that’s when being naughty in advertising was a novel thing. Since then, he says, our standards have changed. “Sex doesn’t sell our stuff anymore, unless they’re actually selling sexy stuff: body wash, sexy clothes, cologne, things we want when we want to fuck.” More recent articles, such as one from The Independent, provide other evidence.
Now, I’m not sure horror movies can be compared to cars. That’s kind of an apples and oranges thing. I wish McMullen spent more time on better examples. And, as my cousin who worked in the muscle-car magazine business would tell you, bikini-clad girls draped over cars are still a major part of their content. Sex is still used to sell plenty of stuff other than sexy stuff. My town’s newspaper, in fact, frequently runs an advertisement showing a open-legged babe squatting near a bottle of some nutritional supplement. (In an earlier version of the ad, she squatted over the bottle.)
But I still agree with McMullen’s thesis as it applies to movies. Sex doesn’t sell movies anymore — let alone horror movies — unless they’re sex movies, and now that the porn industry is hemorrhaging through free-to-view websites, it doesn’t even sell those very well.
So. You want to make good horror movie? Then here’s my advice.
Write a good story.