We horror movie fans have become a snotty bunch since horror movies themselves became self-aware. With increasingly rare, welcome exceptions, we’re long past such pedestrian experiences as “being scared” by the scare flicks we devour like Romero zombies. No, after untold hours watching masked boogeymen ply their trade on the big screen, our gleefully giggly fear response curdled into weary disappointment and, eventually, sour cynicism, a mindset behind such self-conscious meta-horror asScream
and its ilk. Not only were we not scared, we horror fans were actively contemptuous of everyone involved, especially the protagonists, usually a gaggle of blandly pretty kids with the self preservation skills of toddlers in a working sawmill. We, who’d absorbed our lessons from professors Vorhees, Myers, Krueger et al. would surely do better.
It’s to this snarky, cynical horror fan base that the new Chiller special Can You Survive A Horror Movie? is presumably targeted. Unfortunately, the people behind this nigh-unwatchable, two-hour mishmash of talking heads, reenactments, horror movie clips, and tenuously-connected Fear Factor-style challenges seem never to have watched a decent horror movie in their lives for all the insight on display.
Introduced by a bland trio of reality show-quality young personalities (hunky, stubbly Anthony, hunky, clean shaven Morgan, blond, chirpy Annie) from what is purported to be the New Jersey lakeshore setting for the original Friday the 13th, Can You Survive A Horror Movie? quickly establishes an unvarying pattern. The hosts give an awkwardly-written simulacrum of off-the-cuff banter introducing a type of horror movie situation, a panel of “experts” give rapidly-edited advice on how to survive said situation, and then back to the hosts who undertake a physical challenge linked, barely, to the scenario in question. Unvaryingly repeated over seven categories of movie peril, the show is ill-conceived in its monotony, especially since it becomes increasingly clear that its main focus will be on watching our vapid hosts do gross stuff and not on the whole horror movie survival angle the title promises. I mean, if I wanted to watch Fear Factor-well, I wouldn’t want to watch Fear Factor, and especially not when I’m doing so under false pretenses. Deceit aside, the three main weaknesses in the show are as follows:
The hosts. Perhaps it’s the show’s setting, but there’s more than a hint of the Shore in the choice of male co-hosts (the first “bro” is uttered at the two minute mark,) and all three display the “making scripted banter seem unscripted” skills of the average daytime awards show presenter. (Plus, it’s asking a lot of your viewers to accept that the guys are genuinely surprised they’re going to submerged in water when they’re wearing speedos under their clothes.) When allowed to actually ad lib, usually in response to partial nudity or a particularly nauseating stunt, quips are confined to their genitals or some halfhearted flirting with the unimpressed Annie. I don’t know if the show’s central premise imbalance could have been salvaged with some more interesting people sticking their faces in unappealing places, but asking us to care about Anthony, Morgan, and Annie’s respective plights is a grave miscalculation that makes one long for the cool, soothing presence of Joe Rogan. Just think about that...
The horror categories/experts. CYSAHM? starts off rationally enough by introducing “zombie apocalypse” as its first genre, but as the show progresses, the logic behind each category gets hazier, usually in order to tie into the next physical challenge. In order, they are: animal attacks, getting stabbed, burned, or drowned by a killer, vampires/a human blood diet(?), surviving a slasher killer, being buried alive, and, um, being really, really scared. If the show was going to provide any insight into its central premise, this would be the place to do it, but its lack of focus regarding the types of dangers you’re likely to encounter in an actual horror movie, and the often laughably obvious advice of the varied collection of experts indicates that the producers were just rushing through the horror movie analysis to get to the disgusting stuff. As for the experts, while culled from a potentially enlightening variety of fields (a cop, a doctor, a shrink, the editor of Fangoria magazine, a couple of “scream queens”), the show’s editing chops their advice into disposable, self-evident sound bites that add little to the discussion. Some examples: “Sharks are scary because of their scary physical appearance.” Thanks! “The worst parts of your body to get stabbed in is where your vital organs are.” Gotcha! “If you tried to live on blood, you’d probably throw up, because of the iron.” Yeah, that’s the reason. For the aspect of the show that purports to provide the raison d’etre of the whole enterprise, this is all cripplingly lazy. (Points for ex-soldier Ed “Skullcrusher” Snyder’s advice not to escape killer bees by leaping into a body of water. I would totally have tried that. Well done, Skullcrusher.)
The challenges. Is there a way this part of the show could have been anything but a soul-wearying, repetitious gross-out? Maybe, if some imagination had gone into recreating tasks approximating some famous horror movie deathtraps, rather than constructing a series of tiresome and/or ill-conceived game show stunts, but it’s a rare treat when each segment’s challenge has even a remote connection to the horror movie trope under discussion. Take the opening zombie attack: our heroes are challenged to a sumo-style wrestling match against an extra in zombie makeup. Throw the zombie out of the circle drawn in the sand without suffering a sloppy zombie bite/smooch and you win-because zombies obey collegiate wrestling protocol. This, and a similarly wrongheaded challenge where any potential tension involved in negotiating an obstacle course, supposedly to avoid alerting a killer to the host’s presence, is deflated by the presence of the other two hosts and their cop “expert” cheering loudly from the sidelines, betray the lack of creativity exhibited in almost every aspect of CYSAHM? Of course, I found myself longing for a nice long bout of zombie slap fighting when the challenges started trotting out the bull testicles, maggots, breast milk, rotting meat, cockroaches and the rest of your favorite Fear Factor offals. At best tangentially related to the already vague horror movie categories, unappealingly acted out by the hosts, and deadeningly long, these segments drag CYSAHM? to an interminable two hours, and perilously close to true worthlessness. In one accurate statement on screen horror, an expert states,“What you don’t see is actually scarier than anything you see onscreen,” advice the producers of this special should have plucked out of the mire.
-The effectiveness of the horror movie-inspired traps are undermined further by the fact that most take place on a beautiful summer day. Sunny, looks like a nice little breeze. Lovely.
-While CYSAHM? uses clips from the same ten or so horror movies throughout, they apparently could only afford the poster art from Silence of the Lambs, Cujo, The Exorcist, Carrie, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the original Dawn.
-Anthony’s seemingly genuine panic at being buried alive in a blood-filled coffin is undermined slightly when you notice his hands are quite free to brush those cockroaches off his face if they didn’t want a shot with cockroaches on his face.
-The “horror movie survival game” on the show’s website mirrors the show’s simplistic, on-rails approach to its subject: For example, after you’ve chosen to knock out the game’s psycho killer with a baseball bat, your only courses of action are to “check to see if he’s really dead” (clearly a sucker move) or “run into the woods,” completely bypassing what any true horror flick fan would do without hesitation-“smash Mr. Stabby’s head with your bat until he no longer has a head...and then set him on fire, just to be sure.”
-A CYSAHM? sequel mentioned at one point may be the scariest thing here.