I began this journey into the movie ratings system and its relationship to horror while researching James Wan's 2011 Insidious - the first "modern" horror flick that truly gripped my imagination while causing me to sweat profusely. I'm a newer horror fan and if you're interested in getting to know me a bit better, check out my Childhood Horror post.
Speaking of childhood horror, WE'VE GOT TO THINK OF THE CHILDREN! At least that's what the Motion Picture Association of America and The Classification & Rating Administration are tasked to do. Founded in 1922 the MPAA was created in order to protect the movie industry from federal interference, a kind of "if we police ourselves, they can't police us" move. When we look back at the 1920s through the end of the 1950s the phrase "artistic expression" doesn't readily leap to mind. Enter the 1960s and the civil rights, labor, and women's movements. The Hay's Code that was in place since the MPAA's creation was considered outdated and was subsequently replaced by the film rating system that is still in place today.
As we navigate the ever increasing world of connectivity and technology, the film rating system is supposed to grow and evolve with the times. However, independent filmmakers face a slew of red tape and bureaucracy in order to get their films made much less distributed and shown to the public. And here's where we as horror fans take issue. Horror thrives in the independent cinema. We seek out the morbid, perverse, slimy, grimy, sickening, and distressing. We delight in the uncensored dark.
At its core, the MPAA is a guideline for viewing audiences, namely adults, to help make judgments on how intense a film is going to be - and whether or not it may be appropriate for their family to watch together. We can rail against this all we want, but the unfortunate facts of the case are these:
1. At this point the masses are conditioned to respond to this rating system, and that's what movie makers are looking for, their audience - the masses.
2. The current rating subdivisions are; G, PG, PG-13, R, NC-17. "The introduction of the PG-13 rating in 1984 expanded the scope of the rating system. Not intended to be tied to any specific age, the rating is a stronger note of caution suggesting to parents to further investigate the content of the motion picture before allowing their children to see it." - The Classification & Rating Administration
Conclusion: A PG-13 rating is the most middle of the road an adult film can be. Hoping to garner the widest audience, independent and big budget films alike are aiming for this middle ground and can we blame them for doing so? There have been many solid horror films that have worked within the parameters of the PG-13 guidelines, we just wish they could have kept in all the juicy bits we KNOW they had to edit out. Our cry to Make Horror Great Again isn't to the directors so much as the amorphous "movie industry". Just like they took a chance on Deadpool and Logan, give horror fans some credit - we'll make truly well-made "R" horror movies profitable.
What can we do to get the "R" back in horror? Promote those that buck the rating system, to their commercial detriment. Seek out film festival releases and the hopeful independently financed projects on sites such as Indiegogo and Kickstarter. Keep up the word of mouth and the community that I know we all have regardless of where you're tuning in from. We all have that one friend who has the really weird shit, lets give credit where credit is due...and return borrowed DVDs in a timely manner you heathens.