Horror Movies Don’t “Need” Nudity To Sell. Stop It.

Last fall I had the tremendous opportunity to host a large number of filmmaker Q&A sessions at a pretty amazing horror film festival. It was definitely an item to check off the bucket list, and it’s something I can’t wait to do again next year. Still, there was one troubling answer that came up in three separate segments. The subject of nudity came up on multiple occasions, and there was debate whether it was just used for the sake of being gratuitous or was truly necessary to sell the story. Although each answer varied, the essential point boiled down to the same thing: in order to generate selling interest in the film, the female body had to be made commodities and commercialized.  Three different directors commented that in order to have any chance to sell their movie they needed an actress to get naked, or else the film would sit in limbo.

(An interesting part of their answer was the actress response in each segment. In one case the performer was good to go and had no problem with doing a shower scene. The second actress basically told the director to get stuffed, and they were able to work around it by using flesh colored underwear.)

Look, I’m like a lot of you reading this in that the first breasts I remember seeing came from a horror movie whose videotape that was nearly worn out from constant rewinding over the naughty parts. In the eighties, one of the key selling points of horror movies, especially the slasher subgenre,was the promise of gloriously exposed orbs of flesh on screen. Droves of horny teenage boys (again, me included among their ranks) drooled over box cover art and made selections based not only on the number of gory kills contained within, but also how much sex and nudity was implied within. For most of us, that was the ONLY way we were going to see boobs short of stealing Dad’s old Playboys or getting a real girlfriend (like THAT was ever going to happen AMIRITE?)

Here’s the deal. We have the internet now. If there’s one thing there’s no shortage of now, it’s naked people on the internet. Long gone are the days of a horny teenager desperate to catch a glimpse of a boob through the scrambled signal of the Spice Channel. One of the appeals of 80’s horror, especially the slasher subgenre, was the unspoken understanding that these B-movies would reward the viewer with not only a copious amount of splatter, but also a copious amount of beautiful, naked, often times writhing in ecstasy female skin. For many teenage boys (and socially awkward twenty-something men) this was as close to second base as many of them would get for years.

A couple things changed this fact in the nineties. For one, the popularity and financial success of Scream meant well known younger actresses were getting cast in horror movies. There was no chance the stars of the shows Party of Five, 90210 or Buffy the Vampire Slayer were going topless for anything less than a prestige picture and jeopardizing their plum TV gigs. You could keep the violence (and at times event that was debatable) but the sex in horror movies would be dialed way back.

More importantly, the proliferation of high internet capable of streaming video meant that nudity, sex and all sorts of wonderful depravity is only a couple of keystrokes away. Pizza faced goobers of the world can rejoice because there’s literally no fetish, no act so disgusting it should make your genitals shrivel back up into your body rather than give you a raging boner sexual act that you can’t find with a quick Google search.

If you’re working on a movie in 2014 and someone tells you  that you NEED nudity in order to sell it, then that person is selling you short. Like I said, there’s no shortage of places one can turn to if they need their naked fix. When I hear independent horror directors talk about “needing” female nudity in order to sell their film to investors or distributors, it strikes me as narratively lazy. Are there times when nudity is not only called for in a scene, but powerful and moving? Of course, but most of the time it’s an excuse to get a five second tit shot in your film. Saying you “need” nudity, throwing in gratuitous shower or “let’s whip off our top” scenes just says you lack confidence in your own ability to tell your story, or the ability to engage with your audience.

One case in particular got under my skin. One of the two directors had already set my “Creep-o Meter” ringing after meeting him earlier. This suspicion was confirmed during the post-screening interview when he revealed that he and the co-director essentially cornered their lead and verbally wore her down to the point of exhaustion until she said yes. So for what amounts to about ten to fifteen seconds of screen times for a pair of boobs, the directors held up the crew and shamed this woman into doing something she was clearly uncomfortable doing.

What’s worse, in some cases when engaging with certain directors, my “Creep-O” meter starts going off the charts. They’ll tell tales of bullying actresses working for little more than a resume padding IMDB credit into taking it off like they’re telling war stories. Held up productions schedules, producers, directors, DPs and more convalescing around an actress with no other representation on set, telling her that she’s letting everyone down and holding things up, threatening to remove her and recast the part, making changes to the script that were never discussed or approved  by all parties before eventually wearing her down are not uncommon. It’s disgusting bullying behavior. I mean, I could almost respect someone that just comes out and says “I haven’t seen a real boob in twelve years, I’ve got scalp itch, an ingrown toenail and my social skills make The Comic Book Guy look like Mr. Congeniality. The only thing I’ve got going for me is this camera and a half baked script about a psychopath that chokes his victims to death with a rubber chicken while singing the oft-forgotten second verse from America The Beautiful. Can you just give me this one?” Sorry buck-o, no one believes you added a twelve minute topless pillow fight because you want to “fight for your art”**.

*Before anyone makes the accusation that I’m a stick-in-the-mud prude, please allow me to reassure you that I love boobs as much as the next person. In fact, I have a standing agreement with my wife: If I happen to die before she does, she must promise to clear my browsing history before she or anyone else can take a look at what’s in it.

**That said, if you want to include more full frontal male in your film, a la The Battery, go right a head. In a few thousand more films the score should be even.

Mike Snoonian

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since 2009 Mike has written about independent horror, science fiction, cult and thrillers through his own blog All Things Horror along with various other spots on the web. Film Thrills marks his attempt to take things up a notch, expand his viewing and writing horizons and to entertain and engage his audience while doing so. When Mike's not writing or watching movies, you can find him reading to his little girl, or doing science experiments with her, or trying to convince her that the term "chicken butt" comes from people putting chicken nuggets down their underwear. at age five, she's too smart to believe most of what he says.

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