The Naked Truth About Horror Films and Old People
A weird cinematic sub-genre has shown some staying power.
Have you ever flipped through your news feed and come across an article validating some obscure observation that you were convinced few others on this planet had ever made? It happens to me from time to time, and about a week and a half ago it happened to my wife. She was returning from a work trip, and killing time on her phone (while waiting for her flight), when she happened across a piece that surprisingly captured a running inside-joke between the two of us. She immediately texted me the link.
The article, from an entertainment publication, started off this way:
There’s a worrying new trend emerging out of modern horror, something so perverted you’ll be wondering what has happened behind the scenes. We are of course talking about naked old people as villains.
Yes, naked old people. Their usage in horror films in recent years is going to be the subject of this week’s newsletter. Being that it’s assuredly not a topic for everyone, I won’t be offended if you immediately scroll down to “Random Thought” and the rest of the regular features. Just remember that if you stick with me on this one, you were in fact warned.
Here we go…
Naked old people is not only a real trend in the world of horror cinema, but a topic my wife and I have found ourselves commenting on more in recent years than either of us would probably like to admit. In fact, it’s been discussed often enough in the Daly household that I half-suspect Alexa overhead us at some point, and is ultimately responsible for the placement of the article on my wife’s phone.
The piece’s author, Jamie Dunkin, traces the formula’s origin all the way back to 1980’s The Shining, but properly notes that only within the last decade has it become somewhat mainstreamed in the horror genre. And he’s right. It’s very much “a thing” now (showing up in at least four movies in 2022 alone). As best I can tell, the “relaunch” began about eight years ago with It Follows, The Visit, and The Witch, and was most recently present in this year’s Barbarian.
But the most bizarre instance among them, in a scene my wife and I still joke about, was 2018’s Hereditary.
Now, before I continue, I should clarify that the point of this week’s newsletter isn’t to mock the elderly (a club I’ll be joining in just about 15 years) or even the clothes-less elderly. It’s about Hollywood’s inclination to transform attire-challenged old people into modern-day monsters, essentially placing them in the same category as ghosts, ghouls, vampires, and werewolves.
I’m not contributing to any of this (you will find exactly zero naked old people in my Sean Coleman Thrillers). It’s the filmmakers that are doing it. So please, don’t kill the messenger.
Anyway, back to Hereditary.
I realize that a lot of people (especially fellow horror fans) really like Hereditary, and consider it one of the best horror movies of the last ten years or so (maybe even of this century). In fact, the word-of-mouth factor, including from individuals my wife and I know personally, was the reason we decided to watch it.
But I dare say that those people are wrong. I could state several reasons why I believe the film falls short, but one in particular has to do with the use of — yes — naked old people.
Spoiler alert! Do not proceed if you plan on seeing Hereditary, and don’t want any of the naked details given away.
Toward the end of the movie, one of the film’s main characters — Peter, a teenager — is chased into the attic of his house by his demon-possessed mother. There, he soon witnesses an absolutely terrifying sight: his mother effectively killing herself in the most horrific way imaginable (the imagery and sound is genuinely gruesome). Peter is left staring in shock, neither moving nor speaking.
But suddenly, there’s a subtle sound from the corner of the attic that draws his attention away (a little jingle, like spare change from someone’s pocket).
What he sees is something objectively far less terrible than what he just witnessed his mother do. It also pales in comparison to stuff he saw happen to other family members earlier in the movie. Yet, he screams in absolute terror, and without thinking twice, bolts in the opposite direction and dives right through the attic’s glass window, where he falls a good 15 feet, face-first, to the ground below.
What was it he saw?
Three… naked… old… people.
Were they monsters or ghosts, or something like that? you might be wondering.
The answer is no.
Were they doing something threatening to Peter, like snarling or running toward him with a knife?
Nope. They were just kind of hanging out between an old dresser and bookcase. One of them — a woman — even offered Peter a friendly smile and wave.
Yet, Peter decided that after all the deranged, unspeakably violent things he had seen in the lead-up to that very moment, it was the mere sight of naked old people, loitering in the corner of an attic, that warranted reflexively throwing himself through a second-story window.
My wife and I burst into laughter (unintentional comedy is never a good sign for a horror movie), and we even rewound and re-watched the scene a couple more times just to make sure we had processed it correctly.
Sure enough, we did. And if you don’t believe me, here it is (warning: like I said, the stuff with the mother beforehand is not for the faint of heart, and honestly none of it — as you can probably guess — is easy on the eyes).
I’m guessing there must be some test-data out there that has indicated to filmmakers that audiences are thoroughly frightened by naked old people. Otherwise, naked old people wouldn’t keep turning up in horror movie after horror movie. Right?
Granted, I’m not particularly comfortable with such visuals myself. The same goes for a variety of nude demographics (including the one I fall within). So I guess, on some level, this formula is genuinely effective. Still, I feel like things are getting carried away. The well is being visited far too often.
Consider for a moment that the iconic horror villains of about a century ago looked like this:
Pretty cool, huh?
Now, ask yourself if you really want the horror villains of this century looking like this…
Folks, I’m just not sure this is a good pop-culture development, even if it does open doors for some aging, previously overlooked actors to finally catch their big break in feature films. If saying that makes me ageist, gymnophobic, or whatever, feel free to cast your judgement.
I just think it might be time, for the good of society, for filmmakers to nip this geriatric sub-genre in the bud.
Take mercy on us, Hollywood. Please, take mercy.
Notice any other weird trends in modern horror films? Tell me about them in an email or in the comment section below.
Obligatory Dragon Shot
A rare field-trip for Prince.
Did You Know That Signed, Personalized Copies of the Sean Coleman Thrillers Make Great Christmas Gifts?
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Hot off the vinyl presses is the latest release from Glen Phillips, front-man of the alternative rock band, Toad the Wet Sprocket.
While his biggest commercial successes (by far) have been with the band, a lot of people what probably be surprised to learn that “There is So Much Here” is Phillips’ tenth solo studio album. He’s a prolific and very good songwriter who doesn’t seem to have slowed down a bit since at least the late 1980s.
Phillips tends to lean closer to the folk genre in his solo work, as is the case with the new album. Here’s a taste.
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading today’s Daly Grind.
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Take care. And I’ll talk to you soon!
It’s part of a desensitizing process. Marginalizing the elderly - easier to euthanize by way of economic need.
I took your advise and watched the film version of "Snowpiercer". I don't watch horror. Thank you. I enjoyed it. I must tell you however that Toad and Glen Phillips are soft rock not in the folkie genre. Try a Martin Carthy or Anne Briggs record for that.