Horror movies can be tearjerkers, too — especially these 5 meta-horror masterpieces.
The goal of this series is to show that being “manly” and being disconnected with your emotions do not necessarily go hand-in-hand. While the approach to these articles is one of comedy and satire, the emotional core of these movies is very valid. Manly movies make guys cry, for example:
Meta Horror Films
Meta means “referring to itself or the conventions of its genre” and recent pop culture has reveled in this unabashedly. People love to be on the inside of an “inside joke,” and when millennials watch a movie that references another movie that they’ve also seen they eat it up. Horror movies have a strong history of this, from direct to indirect references sprinkled throughout the murder and mayhem. In honor of the months getting colder, darker and spookier, let’s dive into some seriously scary — and emotional — fright flicks. Boo!
We’re trying something new on this one, because I love me some horror movies. Multiple movies, all sharing the same theme, and all making guys cry sounds fun to me. Usually this paragraph is dedicated to how a specific movie qualifies as manly, but with 5 different ones it has to be broader. That being said, the horror genre in general is seen as a date movie only in that guys take girls in hopes that the fear will raise hormone levels, which can lead to cuddling…or more! (Lightning strikes in background, ominously!) Like I’ve said before, gore and violence are always associated with manly movies, but that doesn’t mean these slasher-flicks with their self-referential humor won’t make you reach for the tissues.
1. Cabin in the Woods
The reveal of this film is that horror movies actually happen, or at least horror movies and the monsters that inhabit them are trickled down ideas from true sources. Vampires, ghosts, and killer zombies all exist, and are used as tools to enact ritual sacrifices to a slumbering elder god, lest he wake and end the world.
I KNOW, IT’S AWESOME!
The downside is that the evil deity demands certain sacrifices, and when none are available, this secret bureaucratic society creates them in the form of ready-to-order horror movie tropes. You could be a completely innocent teen, getting good grades and trying to save up for a car, next thing you know you’re pumped with I.Q.-lowering gas and libido enhancers, forced to act like a dumb bimbo for an hour, whore yourself out to a stranger, and then get murdered by a hillbilly zombie.
The hell man, that’s not fair! Usually horror movies have rules, and we cheer when the protagonists break said rules. Now we find that the inherent system is actually a designed, bureaucratic system? That instead of a strange preternatural morality controlling our fate, we have the bad guy from Billy Madison trying to appease Galactus? Boo, sir. Boo-hoo sir. Consider how long this system has theoretically been in place, in how many countries, and you’ll find yourself saddled with a considerable weight of depression.
2. Evil Dead
First, the “meta” connection. Directors Sam “Evil Dead” Raimi and Wes “Here’s Freddy” Craven have great respect for each other’s work, but also liked to have fun. So much so that their films had a veritable dueling banjos of meta-humor snuck in. First, in Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes, there was a torn poster from the movie Jaws in the background of one of the scenes. As the story goes, Sam thought this was a prod at Jaws as a horror movie, and in defense Sam put a torn poster of The Hills Have Eyes in the cabin basement that Bruce Campbell trudges through. It’s fun to think that these directors were having so much fun at their craft that even while lobbing in-jokes at each other they can make millions of dollars. Plus we get pretty decent horror films out of the equation.
As for the emotional connection, the purpose of Bruce “Chin” Campbell originally going to the cabin — if we are to ignore the plot of Cabin in the Woods — was to spend quality time with his girlfriend. He gives her a magnifying glass on a necklace, which I assume meant something to someone. But midway through the film, not only is she possessed, but he is forced to kill her. Her disembodied head then proceeds to taunt Bruce, rubbing salt in the wound. With all the gore and slapstick going on, it’s hard to focus on the fact that he truly loved her, and to murder her and desecrate her possessed corpse…those are shoes I don’t ever want to be in. Ash’s fear of the demons is one thing, but the implied horror is really how he must feel after dismembering his girlfriend and burying her.
If I had to live with the knowledge that I was even capable of that, I might turn in my boomstick.
3. A Nightmare on Elm Street
The duel between Raimi and Craven didn’t end there! In response to the Evil Dead reference, Wes put Evil Dead on the marquee of a movie theater in one of the scenes of his famous Freddy Krueger series. Pretty funny stuff — and in a pretty horrifying movie. Plus this introduced the world to Johnny Depp, so that’s pretty scary as well.
Of course the scary part of this film is also what makes it so sad. The concept that Freddy is a chill dude who just happens to murder teens in their sleep is pretty awesome, especially with the fact that sleep isn’t just a good idea… it’s the law. You eventually have to sleep, and when you do, he gets you.
That’s the conceit of the horror, but the sadness comes from the adults in the town. As a father of a toddler myself, I try to protect my son and be a source of comfort against the stresses of the world around him. In this film, not only do the adults know exactly who this boogeyman is and the danger he represents, but they actively lie to their children about having killed him in the first place. If my child was having nightmares about a guy I murdered, and I lied to him while knowing he was in danger, I would get a reverse fake ID so that Freddy would kill me too…cause you know…he only kills kids.
It doesn’t have to make sense! I’m the adult here!
Bill Murray dies.
5. Shaun of the Dead
This film is the prime example of a film that spoofs its own genre while also being one of the better examples of said genre. The meta-jokes are everywhere, and on several levels. First, there’s the level of Edgar Wright’s Cornetto trilogy, with Hot Fuzz and The World’s End sharing jokes that started with this film. Simon Pegg leaping (or failing to leap) over a series of fences is more visible in this regard, the Cornetto ice cream product placement is more subtle. Then there’s the meta-layer connection to Evil Dead. Jump-zooms stolen right out of Sam Raimi’s director book, the off comment that “Ash isn’t here today” (referring to Ash, Bruce Campbell’s character in Evil Dead). This film stands on its own but sure gets a lot better if you’ve seen a few other movies first. And hey, it’s even got some gun battles and zombies being cricket-batted in the head!
The emotion from this movie comes from Simon Pegg’s emotional growth. The film was marketed as a romantic comedy with zombies, and that’s very apt. The catalyst of the evolution Simon Pegg goes through is a zombie attack, but the focus is never “Where did they come from?” or “Are they still people?” Simon has to figure out what he wants in life — and if the answer is his girlfriend, he’s forced to mature and become a leader. Obstacles in his way of this growth are his overbearing stepfather, coddling mother, and loser best friend.
THEN THEY ALL DIE.
At its heart, this is a Nicholas Sparks-style romantic tragedy…only if you remove the hackneyed cancer plots and replace them with a masterful metaphor for letting go of your baggage and realizing your priorities. He ends up with his love, but the loss he experienced getting there is kinda glossed over. But hey, it’s a comedy.
Like what you see? Secure enough in your masculinity for more? Check out more Guy Cry Cinema or watch Dan on No Right Answer, the weekly debate show that knows what’s really important: Pointlessly arguing about geek culture.
Disclosure: Lionsgate, distributor of Cabin in the Woods, is an investor in Defy Media, LLC, The Escapist’s parent company. This article was published without the consent or approval of Lionsgate or its employees.