Sex is part of genre cinema. It’s part of the formula, life and death in that crazy mix. Tits’ and Ass and violent deaths sell tickets. As far as science and the neurological part goes, the nudity gets the young adolescent audiences aroused only to shake them to their core as the next emotion is the counter, death. With the arousal in the system, the fight of flight reaction hits harder and strikes better. I know this to be fact, as I’ve talked several neuroscientists about this specific detail of horror genre and how it affects the amygdala. Yeah, nudity and death walk hand in hand in the horror genre.
As an almost fifty-year-old man still enjoying horror, still watching teenagers get snuffed after shagging, or scorned women avenging their sexual abuse, or phallic monster stalking the maiden, or vaginal orifice consuming male protagonists and on and on and on not forgetting the darker more psychologic horrors or arthouse horror or that don’t shy from explicitness either. Well, you get the picture, sex is still a huge part of genre, and for the most part we can watch it for what it is, part of the formula, I and you, we all go along for the ride because it’s formula and part of the way certain horror tales are told.
But then something happens. And said thing taints the films that once where mere fun. The movie that comes under scrutiny today is Tony Maylam’s classic summer camp slaughter fest The Burning. The Burning plays by the book. An instigating set up complete with initial attack, although this initial attack – which is supposed to set the threat – is a genesis story of the antagonist, and how a prank goes terribly wrong leaving him horrifically burned. The piece is full of hormonal teenagers. Horny, but still not quite there as they lust for each other throughout the piece. Well, the men objectify the women, the women try to stay away from the creepiest of the men. and those who do have sex pay for it with their lives, by default the women first in a weird unconscious take on slut shaming. We get to know the male and female fractions, we take part of their antics, the hierarchy of the groups, we start to identify with characters and invest in them, intellectually foreseeing how the story is going to unfold. The protagonists do their thing, the antagonist does his thing, subjective camera angles and all that jazz and special effects maestro Tom Savini goes to work with some spectacular eighties shock and gore.
Classic. But then there’s the taint. The Harvey Weinstein sex abuse and violent attacks and rape of women in vulnerable situations in hotel rooms. As I watch The Burning tonight, I start to feel uneasy with the objectification of the young women of the piece. A woman is attacked and murdered in her home, behind the locked door where the looming antagonist blocks her only path of escape. The first fifteen minute set up of the summer camp and characters are all tits and ass of women. Objectifying studies of behinds, with comments of how much they “want that ass”, running in slow motion as breasts shake, a woman takes a shower and a young man spies on her naked body… later as the film gets into its “stalker phase” a male character verbally abuses his girlfriend when she refuses him sex, later a second character forcefully and sexually threatens his “girlfriend” into being intimacy with him. Sure it’s all part of placing the good protagonists and the camper antagonists (not the killer) on polarised ends of the scale, but hen it hits me, the fact that Harvey Weinstein created, wrote and produced this film, most likely shadow directing behind Mayhem, and the question arises, can I really watch this film in the same way that we watch genre considering the court case against Weinstein for being a sexual predator and abuser of women?
Are we actually watching Weinstein living out his dream of objectification, misogyny and hatred of women beyond being sexual entities there for his desire in this genre classic?
Do we need to reassess movies when we know facts of those who created/acted in them and what happened? Can we watch The Burning and not see the power games, sexual threat and predatory behaviour of Harvey Weinstein being put on screen? Is he acting them out because it’s a genre piece?
Amongst the women accusing Weinstein there are women claiming incidents as far back as the 80’s, and according to an article on the AV Club, one incident of abuse is known during the production of The Burning.So again, we have to question can we still watch The Burning without seeing the possible predatory traits of Harvey Weinstein tainting the sexual content on screen, which according to formula is part of the game, an intellectual and psychological stimulator and trigger, but here come off as the creepy voyeurism and power play of a sexual predator. Can we watch The Burning without that gnawing at our consciousness now that we’re aware of his deeds?