Tuesday, October 13, 2020

City Limits: How Horror Films Made Me a City-Dweller

I love horror films, and if I've learned one thing from all my scary movie-watching it's never, ever leave the big city. 

Great horror stories - I mean really good ones - are hard to come by. Alas, most horror films since the 1970s seem to follow a few templates that wear thin after a while. Those story templates are:

Family living in New York/Chicago/Boston/London experiences some kind of trauma or upheaval  (impending divorce, death of a child, loss of a job, or all three) and believing that somehow leaving the city behind will solve things, hightails it to some small village or bucolic setting to start anew. Unfortunately, horrors beyond all imagining await them in these little idyllic burgs - ancient curses, possessed houses, creepy yokel neighbors - that make anything NYC can throw at 'em look positively Disney-esque. 

or

A group of villagers hiding a big secret causes something unspeakable to happen to one of the townspeople or to some poor schlub just driving through. Do not stop in a small town, city people. You'll be sorry. Especially if the townfolks' eyes are just a little too far apart. Also, don't stop in a cornfield.

or

College students leaving trendy campus for fall/winter/spring/summer break, heading to a remote mountain or lake cabin, only to end up chopped to bits by inbred goofballs or monsters from the deep woods or lake.  

These repetitive tropes, however, serve up an important lesson: bad things happen when you leave the city. I don't care how cute a cabin is or how peaceful that sweet small town looks, it's all a murderous, bloody facade. Flee the bright lights at your peril, children. 

Now, there is the occasional city-horror story - Rosemary's Baby, Devil's Advocate, and several films about haunted rent-controlled apartments left to broke, unsuspecting relatives - but none are as terrifying as venturing outside the city limits to small-town or countryside locales. Anyway, who can turn down a fabulous apartment at the Dakota with Ruth Gordon as a next door neighbor, eh? Makes baby-devil worth it, I say. And a rent-controlled apartment? Shoot, who cares if it's haunted? I mean, even after bad things happen, you can forget it all by going to a Broadway show or a museum. 

So I'll take my chances in the chaos of city life. The crimes are predictable, and by taking a few precautions can usually be prevented. Besides, all sorts of weirdness and horror await in small-town Maine or on that Spanish moss approach to a Louisiana mansion or inside the rustic mountain cabin belonging to crazy grandpa. 

I'm a city girl, and I'll take the Dakota and Ruth Gordon every time.