A scary thing happened on the way to the Movie Forums - Horrorcrammers

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But that still raises the question of how appropriate it is to portray a character in an unsympathetic, mocking fashion when they're part of a group that already faces a lot of discrimination in general, especially in a movie that pre-dated things like the Americans With Disabilities Act by over a decade and a half, you know?
It's a fine line to walk.

Nowadays especially it seems a filmmaker simply cannot portray a group without considering how said group will be affected by the portrayal, and I feel like that’s just too much to ask.
Portraying people with handicaps (mental or physical) in a negative or meanly "funny" way is just as much of a stereotype as the Tiny Tim/saint trope, in my opinion.

I see both sides of the argument. On one hand, it's an interesting choice to make the unlikable one (and there's ALWAYS an unlikable one) a person who is a wheelchair user, because it plays against the natural sympathy that you'd have for such a person. On the other hand, the way that the film uses Franklin as comic relief feels different than how other unlikable characters in horror films are usually treated.

I think that the only reflection filmmakers really need to make is "Is my portrayal of this group a lazy stereotype?" and, if the answer is yes, "Do I have a good reason for including this stereotype?".



I consider myself a fan of the film, but I always sort of check out during the grandpa scene. I seem to be in the minority in that I don't find the silliness adds to the tension and the terrible old man mask doesn't help. I find gramps' presence more jarring than Franklin's.
I think that’s fair in assessing the execution but I think the grandpa is clear in its intention of maintaining the horror as much as the dark humor.



I consider myself a fan of the film, but I always sort of check out during the grandpa scene. I seem to be in the minority in that I don't find the silliness adds to the tension and the terrible old man mask doesn't help. I find gramps' presence more jarring than Franklin's.
I didn't find that moment silly, and didn't mind the mask either (it looked realistic enough to me, actually), but I still found that scene as a whole less effective than it could've been, since it came in the second half of the film, which was already nearly non-stop terror for Sally, so pushing even more of that on us ended up being more tiresome than terrifying by the time the movie was over, IMO.



I think that the only reflection filmmakers really need to make is "Is my portrayal of this group a lazy stereotype?" and, if the answer is yes, "Do I have a good reason for including this stereotype?".
Yup, like in Dressed To Kill, where there was absolutely NO good reason for the movie to have the
WARNING: spoilers below
group of stereotypical black "thugs" randomly threaten Nancy Allen's character (an attractive white woman) with a sexual assaulting as she was just standing around waiting for a subway; I mean, wtf De Palma?



1) His performance is distractingly bad at times and passable in others. This doesn’t equate to a good performance, especially when the character is constructed to be obnoxious.

2) You can find burdensome handicapped characters easily, especially in the horror genre where they’re used to be oppressive or outright terrifying, from Pet Sematary to Creepshow. They’re not hard to find and also frequently unintentional (see; this years BP winner CODA)

3) Show me where else the horror is outright undercut by the humor besides Franklin. It’s usually an accent to the off kilter insanity. Franklin is tonally in the wrong film.

1) I can understand someone leaving TCM with the impression that it is a bad performance, but I think those people are completely wrong. I think there are a couple of moments, when isolated, make the actor look pretty silly. And he is also a really annoying character to be around. But these awkward moments and these annoying moments, when put into the context of the whole performance, not only define why he is such an outcast but, in the little moments when he is trying to relate to others, make it such a sad performance. As Popcorn pointed out, there is empathy to be found in his little outbursts. We understand why he has been pushed aside. We may even think he is deserving of the bullying. But there is more to the characters than raspberries and tumbling down a hill and getting chainsawed to death. In short, you're wrong, along with most of the rest of the world.



2) Of course you can. But there is also an abundance of characters with disabilities who are treated as saints. And in the context of what Wooley was talking about (basically, the victims in a slasher film), disabled characters are treated much more as the latter.



Do disabled people need postitive representation in film. Absolutely. Do they need predominantly positive representation? No. And I generally like to look at these things on a case by case basis, and I hardly find Franklin as a very good example of a character setting that particular cause backwards. Or it even being remotely exploitative (outside of the scene on the hill)


And as for disabled characters, like the one in Pet Semetary, where they use the disability itself to disgust its viewers, I think it is a fair reaction to be put off by that. Because that is an example of bad representation. It his her disability itself that is being potrayed poorly, regardless of the intentions of the character. Not that such a character is completely out of bounds in a horror film. As this flashback scene being presented through the eyes of a child where such a character as this would have been frightening because of their disability, I think this can work and not be offensive. BUT the way PS handled it was pretty ****ing bad. And so while I agree with you that this is a good example of how not to represent disabilities on screen, I don't think a part of this conversation at all because i don't think Franklin and Zelda are in the same stratosphere.


3) I don't think the horror is undercut by Franklin. I think because of how the audience generally feels about him, there are conflicted feelings when he is killed, but I think the horror still very much stands. But just like a lot of moments in TCM, there is an element of gallows humor in much of the violence. And there are traces of straight up humor from the start of the film, that have nothing to do with Franklin (the man at the gas station who keeps lugging his bucket of water out to wash the same car window, for example). So I don't really know what you're talking about. Franklin's obnoxiousness isn't played as pure comedy. Nor do the moments of humor he provides necessarily water down the horror.



But these awkward moments and these annoying moments, when put into the context of the whole performance, not only define why he is such an outcast but, in the little moments when he is trying to relate to others, make it such a sad performance. As Popcorn pointed out, there is empathy to be found in his little outbursts. We understand why he has been pushed aside.
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I'm conceding there is one element where we can at least argue your point. The point as a general one, that because Franklin is disabled, and disabled people are marginalized, he shouldn't be portrayed badly, is what you were talking about. And one possibly ill conceived scene does not change why I think that is completely the wrong avenue for representation to be going down.



I assume if we took out the falling down the hill scene, you would still have issue with Franklin? Right?



Portraying people with handicaps (mental or physical) in a negative or meanly "funny" way is just as much of a stereotype as the Tiny Tim/saint trope, in my opinion.

I see both sides of the argument. On one hand, it's an interesting choice to make the unlikable one (and there's ALWAYS an unlikable one) a person who is a wheelchair user, because it plays against the natural sympathy that you'd have for such a person. On the other hand, the way that the film uses Franklin as comic relief feels different than how other unlikable characters in horror films are usually treated.

I think that the only reflection filmmakers really need to make is "Is my portrayal of this group a lazy stereotype?" and, if the answer is yes, "Do I have a good reason for including this stereotype?".
I’m conscious that you and I have had a version of this conversation and that, in a sense, neither of us will probably change her mind, so this may be a bit redundant. I also do see some of both sides’ points, and yes, both the overly negative and the overly positive portrayal can be seen as “lazy”. What I take issue with is taking into consideration the “victim impact” aspect of artistic choices (and isn’t the term “victim” deeply offensive in this context?). We had a similar conversation about feminism, right? I just don’t feel like any number of “nagging shrews” in a film will affect “young men’s attitudes towards women irl” when there’s 4chan and whatnot out there. Similarly, I feel like the moment where the filmmaker thinks, “I wonder how this disabled character will be perceived by the disabled community?” is a death knell for the film. It’s the extreme self-awareness, yes, it was always there, but this is just too much imo. Some of the best supervillains in film history imo are not exactly mentally well, from Norman Bates to Hannibal Lecter, and I’d keep it that way.

I mean, when push comes to shove, I think we can all appreciate that the term “lazy stereotype” is deeply subjective. I am aware that personal experiences don’t have a good rep here, but I was brought up by pretty wise people who’d seen a lot to understand that in some cases, not too rarely, people who are unwell or have physically suffered for extended periods of time will feel more bitterness towards the world than those who have not. They won’t have seen the best of the world, right? They will look at things or people’s actions less charitably because they often don’t have the patience, the luxury to think otherwise. I would know because I was deeply unwell for several decades.

It’s also not unreasonable to wonder about very ill people harbouring homicidal impulses/other antisocial impulses because they don’t have much to lose (can we acknowledge how the Tenet villain arc/motivation is being played out, well, in the geopolitical arena right now?) Ill health comes into nearly every single discussion on the subject of nuclear, tabloid-driven though that may be. I feel like that is unreasonable to deny and decry as a “lazy stereotype”. That may not be everyone’s experience, but it’s no stereotype; not to mention that, as I said in the feminism discussion, stereotypes do originate from somewhere, they don’t come from thin air. I actually tend to find the “mentally ill maniac” scenario more grounded by the day.



Like all things, I think it's a balancing act; like, you should be able to portray a member of a marginalized group in a negative light if that portrayal actually feels authentic, because of course there are unsavory members of every group, marginalized or not, in real life, but there should still be some sort of consideration as to if you're unnecessarilly reinforcing harmful stereotypes with them, since those can hurt even movies that are good otherwise, like the unavoidable underlying transphobia of Silence Of The Lambs, or the unnecessary racial stereotypes in Taxi Driver, you know?
Yeah, I do appreciate that. What I would cautiously say about the horror genre specifically is that to me it primarily operates in the subconscious realm and always will (or should to be effective imo). To that end, I think it’s important for horror films to be able to portray subconscious human impulses without judgment, in a kind of “look what occurs” way. That’s my reading of The Innocents (2021) - it doesn’t judge/explain extreme child cruelty via an Omen-like “evil kids” copout, just gives us something to think about.

I can see the issue with SOTL, but I also think that it should be perfectly “appropriate”/not an issue to portray a character arc whereby someone was, I don’t know, sexually assaulted or simply propositioned by a member of the same sex as a child and that has shaped that character’s attitude towards gay people of the same sex as them. Yes, that can be described as a “lazy stereotype”, but it is also something that occurs, I personally know someone in that situation. And if I as a filmmaker wanted to explore that PTSD, I could equally consider that I’m exploring a relatively obscure and dark phenomenon (like an anti-Mysterious Skin) as well as/rather than perpetuating a stereotype of gay people being a danger to kids. If I feel like that’s a story worth telling, I feel like that consideration/reasoning should be given equal weight.

It’s an odd one, but as with the example above, I wouldn’t want to live in the world/artistic environment where I’d be advised/expected to hold off from telling that story for fear of perpetuating a stereotype.



1) I can understand someone leaving TCM with the impression that it is a bad performance, but I think those people are completely wrong. I think there are a couple of moments, when isolated, make the actor look pretty silly. And he is also a really annoying character to be around. But these awkward moments and these annoying moments, when put into the context of the whole performance, not only define why he is such an outcast but, in the little moments when he is trying to relate to others, make it such a sad performance. As Popcorn pointed out, there is empathy to be found in his little outbursts. We understand why he has been pushed aside. We may even think he is deserving of the bullying. But there is more to the characters than raspberries and tumbling down a hill and getting chainsawed to death. In short, you're wrong, along with most of the rest of the world.



2) Of course you can. But there is also an abundance of characters with disabilities who are treated as saints. And in the context of what Wooley was talking about (basically, the victims in a slasher film), disabled characters are treated much more as the latter.



Do disabled people need postitive representation in film. Absolutely. Do they need predominantly positive representation? No. And I generally like to look at these things on a case by case basis, and I hardly find Franklin as a very good example of a character setting that particular cause backwards. Or it even being remotely exploitative (outside of the scene on the hill)


And as for disabled characters, like the one in Pet Semetary, where they use the disability itself to disgust its viewers, I think it is a fair reaction to be put off by that. Because that is an example of bad representation. It his her disability itself that is being potrayed poorly, regardless of the intentions of the character. Not that such a character is completely out of bounds in a horror film. As this flashback scene being presented through the eyes of a child where such a character as this would have been frightening because of their disability, I think this can work and not be offensive. BUT the way PS handled it was pretty ****ing bad. And so while I agree with you that this is a good example of how not to represent disabilities on screen, I don't think a part of this conversation at all because i don't think Franklin and Zelda are in the same stratosphere.


3) I don't think the horror is undercut by Franklin. I think because of how the audience generally feels about him, there are conflicted feelings when he is killed, but I think the horror still very much stands. But just like a lot of moments in TCM, there is an element of gallows humor in much of the violence. And there are traces of straight up humor from the start of the film, that have nothing to do with Franklin (the man at the gas station who keeps lugging his bucket of water out to wash the same car window, for example). So I don't really know what you're talking about. Franklin's obnoxiousness isn't played as pure comedy. Nor do the moments of humor he provides necessarily water down the horror.
1) What does the film gain in these moments? It isn’t used to create an authentic and emotional brother and sister moment. It doesn’t engage audiences emotionally because it distances them from the character. Franklin and Jar Jar are purposely crafted annoyances to highlight their ostracism. What’s the result? An annoyance.

2) I’ve never once said that films should only represent disabled people positively. I’ve said that THIS film poorly portrays its disabled person and claims of subversion carry little weight. Even if I were to accept that there’s an abundance of saintly disabled people in horror (I’m not), I still don’t see the value in its presentation of Franklin in this fashion.

Compare him to Mark in Friday the 13th Part 2. One is shown to be human, not defined by his handicap and his death is among the most shocking and affecting in the franchise. A different characterization of Franklin would underpin the tragedy of the event. Making audiences at best ambivalent and at worst outright cheering for his death (commonplace event) does little to advance the shock and tragedy.

3) The horror is absolutely undercut by Franklin’s characterization specifically because it lessens the impact of his death. The lone chainsaw killing of the film should carry more weight than an encounter with with a hammer or a meat hook but it’s regularly left off of the list of potent TCM moments specifically because of who it is happening to, as the execution itself is really well done.



Also, when Family Guy does a much better job with its portrayal of an unlikeable handicapped character than you did, then you just know you messed up:





What I take issue with is taking into consideration the “victim impact” aspect of artistic choices (and isn’t the term “victim” deeply offensive in this context?). We had a similar conversation about feminism, right? I just don’t feel like any number of “nagging shrews” in a film will affect “young men’s attitudes towards women irl” when there’s 4chan and whatnot out there.
I don't think anyone has used the word victim to describe disabled people (outside of the context of being a victim in the literal sense in the horror movie).

I think that artists should have an eye toward the larger artistic and cultural context of their work, as that larger context has undoubtedly informed what they are portraying in their movie. When you silo films into their own universes, yes, it seems like a good argument that artists should pursue their vision without worrying about external factors. But films don't exist as silos, they exist in a larger context. Which is to say that if you have a joke about an older woman or an "unattractive" woman reporting that she's been raped, and that's a punchline moment for two male characters to look at each other with bug-eyes, you might want to ask why that moment is important to include.

I think that often (but not always!) filmmakers who use stereotypes are revealing their own lack of imagination. If you don't belong to a particular subgroup, you have to draw your understanding of that group from somewhere, right? I think that any artist with integrity will at least take a moment to reflect on where they are drawing their impressions of that group.

Similarly, I feel like the moment where the filmmaker thinks, “I wonder how this disabled character will be perceived by the disabled community?” is a death knell for the film. It’s the extreme self-awareness, yes, it was always there, but this is just too much imo.
I disagree. For example (and this is not a disability example), David Fincher spoke to victims of sexual assault when deciding how Lisbeth would act around her abuser. There are plenty of examples of writers and directors taking the time to do research in order to improve the portrayals of groups to which they do not belong. I don't think, for example, that caring about the portrayal of the deaf/hard-of-hearing community, harmed Sound of Metal.

Again, it goes back to an artist reflecting on where they got their ideas about a group. If you are just mimicking the portrayals you have seen in other films, then you're just adding to a feedback loop.

Some of the best supervillains in film history imo are not exactly mentally well, from Norman Bates to Hannibal Lecter, and I’d keep if that way.
. . .
stereotypes do originate from somewhere, they don’t come from thin air. I actually tend to find the “mentally ill maniac” scenario more grounded by the day.
There's definitely a precedent of people with mental health problems committing murders, sometimes in sensational fashion (a la Ed Gein). And obviously horror movies are generally more concerned with sensational type killings, so you'd expect an overrepresentation of such characters.

I think that this discussion---which originated around the character of Franklin---is both about representation AND about whether that representation is appropriate to its context. Does the portrayal of Franklin fit with the "realism" aesthetic of the film? And there's obviously some disagreement on that point. I don't think it's as simple as "are filmmakers allowed to use stereotypes?". I think it's more about how jarring it is when a stereotype (or any character, really) is introduced that doesn't fit with the rest of the film.



Also, you can use stereotypes, but it should be in some sort of a way that's justifiable for the work you're making, like the "stereotype fairy" skit on Chappelle's Show (sorry for the potato quality of the clip, by the way), where the whole point is to self-awaringly have people give in to their urge to act in a stereotypical manner, rather than just straight-forwardly present them in a genuine manner:





1) What does the film gain in these moments? It isn’t used to create an authentic and emotional brother and sister moment. It doesn’t engage audiences emotionally because it distances them from the character. Franklin and Jar Jar are purposely crafted annoyances to highlight their ostracism. What’s the result? An annoyance.

2) I’ve never once said that films should only represent disabled people positively. I’ve said that THIS film poorly portrays its disabled person and claims of subversion carry little weight. Even if I were to accept that there’s an abundance of saintly disabled people in horror (I’m not), I still don’t see the value in its presentation of Franklin in this fashion.

Compare him to Mark in Friday the 13th Part 2. One is shown to be human, not defined by his handicap and his death is among the most shocking and affecting in the franchise. A different characterization of Franklin would underpin the tragedy of the event. Making audiences at best ambivalent and at worst outright cheering for his death (commonplace event) does little to advance the shock and tragedy.

3) The horror is absolutely undercut by Franklin’s characterization specifically because it lessens the impact of his death. The lone chainsaw killing of the film should carry more weight than an encounter with with a hammer or a meat hook but it’s regularly left off of the list of potent TCM moments specifically because of who it is happening to, as the execution itself is really well done.

1) It gains a good character. And a good performance. Is more required?


2) Wooly said Franklin's character works as he subverts a trope. You countered by saying he won't get much ground on the subversion claim when the takeaway from Franklin was ultimately 'aren't handicapped people a drag'. It just seemed a pretty glib response when, in essence, I think Wooly has a point. Sure, maybe 'subverts' indicates something of greater import, some kind of revolutionary move in the hands of Hooper to recontextualize the image of people in wheelchairs. But I think in the context of American horror movies, and all of the many teenagers that have been killed at their hands, it does seem fairly rare to see a handicapped character so easy to hate. But maybe I'm wrong. If you give three examples of a character with a disability (any disability) who is a victim in an American horror film, I'll happily concede the point.



3) And I think the horror of the scene stands, regardless. Ya, it offers a somewhat different kind of response than the meathooks and hammers do. And it probably does have elements of people reacting in a more enthusiastic way than those other killings. But I simply don't consider this a betrayal of what the film is doing. It's not a comic end to the character. It remains a horrifying scene, even if there may be conflicting emotions at play.



1) It gains a good character. And a good performance. Is more required?


2) Wooly said Franklin's character works as he subverts a trope. You countered by saying he won't get much ground on the subversion claim when the takeaway from Franklin was ultimately 'aren't handicapped people a drag'. It just seemed a pretty glib response when, in essence, I think Wooly has a point. Sure, maybe 'subverts' indicates something of greater import, some kind of revolutionary move in the hands of Hooper to recontextualize the image of miserable people in wheelchairs. But I think in the context of American horror movies, and all of the many teenagers that have been killed at their hands, it does seem fairly rare to see a handicapped character so easy to hate. But maybe I'm wrong. If you give three examples of a character with a disability (any disability) who is a victim in an American horror film, I'll happily concede the point.



3) And I think the horror of the scene stands, regardless. Ya, it offers a somewhat different kind of response than the meathooks and hammers do. And it probably does have elements of people reacting in a more enthusiastic way than those other killings. But I simply don't consider this a betrayal of what the film is doing. It's not a comic end to the character. It remains a horrifying scene, even if there may be conflicting emotions at play.
1) No more would be required. Unfortunately, we’re talking about Franklin.

2) Claiming subversion when it plays into another common stereotype was my point. Did it not?

As victims? Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, Creepshow, F13th 2, TCM (remake), Silver Bullet, Alien Resurrection, Hannibal, A Bay of Blood, Audition, etc. That’s just from glancing at my collection with the majority of them being off putting or outright villainous as well as having some form of abuse inflicted upon them.

3) Would the horror scene affect people similar to the hammer and meathook if Franklin weren’t designed and performed for maximum annoyance? If he were like Mark from F13p2, would his death be resonate more consistently with the other acts of violence?



it does seem fairly rare to see a handicapped character so easy to hate. But maybe I'm wrong. If you give three examples of a character with a disability (any disability) who is a victim in an American horror film, I'll happily concede the point.
An unlikable victim, or any victim? And do they have to be teens?








I don't know. Whenever I hear Franklin go on his little rant to himself about he basically got coaxed into coming, I always think, "Yeah, that's right. They were pretty thoughtless about what the logistics and consequences of them might be for you to go on this trip that you probably had misgivings about." I think Franklin had the right to be salty. Granted, I also like it in stories where people become really irritable towards each other under stressful situations, at least younger people.



What is?
Honestly, I'm gonna spend the rest of my life looking for another Messiah of Evil. really that's what all this watching of really low-budget 70s and early 80s Horror and Grindhouse over the last several months has been about. MoE was Lemora's fault and now everything else is MoE's fault.


By the way, I watched a movie we discussed recently that I think only you have seen. Haven't written it up yet but it will probably be in my thread by tonight.
I stumbled onto MoE as part of a double feature with Carnival of Souls over a decade ago. So I've always linked those two in my mind. One person I showed MoE to a couple years ago said it really reminded them of Night of the Seagulls. The only Blind Dead movie I've seen is the Ghost Galleon, so I don't have great hopes there.

Shudder has a movie called The Child in its description references "for fans of Messiah of Evil." Upon watching it, I realized I had watched it once already before (during the pandemic), so I turned it off, but now realize, I couldn't remember a damn thing about it, so I should probably rewatch it. My only recollection was, it had that ethereal, dream-like 70's horror vibe; which is actually different than MoE. MoE is kind of more Lovecraftian, which is probably why it's hard to find a similar movie. City of the Living Dead, kind of strikes me as that dreamy, ethereal version of it, that's, well, a lot more bloody. Kind of. Or maybe it's the American sensibility trying to do a Euro type of movie (the directors say Antonioni. That, I raise my eyebrow to); but Superstition (1982) falls under that category, and yet I wouldn't say that that's in the same undefinable category as Messiah of Evil.

I've bought a DVD of Lemora due to your praise of it, but I am saving it for a Halloween group watch, and that's backlisted so much it probably won't be this year.

I'm looking as well.
I guess other possibilities (probably leaning into the ethereal horror and folk tale movies) -
Wesele (1973) (this one I did see during a Martin Scorsese present's Polish Cinema thing years ago). I will at least recommend it, but it's more folk tale and not really horror.

There's also a 70's czech version of Beauty and the Beast (Panna a netvor, 1978) I'm curious about as well as Zulawski's The Devil (which never even got a MondoVision DVD release AFAICT), but those guesses are very blind. And in these grasps, I'm probably straying pretty far.

ETA: and let's be honest. Zulawski won't be holding that camera still. I can't imagine getting a MoE fix from him.



Victim of The Night
And Don't Look in the Basement is fine. But it won't be if one is looking for a Messiah of Evil or even a Carnival of Blood. It's just a minor, understatedly weird, cheapo horror film that has a bit of charm but not a lot of scares. Same goes for Don't Open the Door, which is either slightly better or slightly worse, but in the same ballpark
Yeah, I'm really just scanning for one of y'all, all of whose opinions I respect even when we disagree, to say like, "No Wooley, that's shit that's not worth 90 minutes of your time."
Barring that I'm gonna watch the movie. But that's the beauty of the forum is that we get to talk to each other.



Victim of The Night
And yet, it bares little to no resemblance to the “real” story and makes tons of stylistic choices to create an effect on audiences. Just because something happens in “reality” doesn’t justify the choice to use it in a film.
I dunno man, you know I respect you but I feel like you're really treading water here, making phantom arguments I'm not even sure you've thought through or believe for some reason I haven't figured out yet.
"Just because something happens in reality doesn't justify the choice to use it in a film." Really? I think it absolutely does. I can't actually understand, without more contextualization from you, what that statement is even supposed to mean. Of course, if something exists in reality it can be used in art. What other point of view is there on that subject?