Tuesday, August 04, 2020 00:04

A Modern Cliché

I recently attended the 2nd Bram Stoker International Film Festival in Whitby, North Yorkshire…if you want a full appraisal of the festival, please check out my report on the Brutal as Hell website (and seriously, if you aren’t already reading this site – get it together!)

One thing which struck me there – in terms of the presence of new horror clichés – is the phenomenon of people being tied to chairs. I’d estimate around two in every five films involved this already-hackneyed motif. And how? Where did this come from? Have you ever known anyone get tied to a chair? It’s possible you have, but I maintain that the whole thing’s pretty unlikely.

Having created the endurance horror genre (I am again deliberately shying away from the ‘torture porn’ tag as I have some issues with describing these films as ‘porn’) I think filmmakers needed a slow scene – a focus for the mental suffering of their main characters, and a moment of excrutiating pause. In terms of camera-work, it also makes sense to have a character suffering in one place – perhaps with a great deal of harm being inflicted on them, but happily static and easy to record. This is, however, a pretty lazy way to handle the same theme over and over.

If you doubt what I’m saying – come on, how many people do you know who own a length of rope? Perhaps that’s a bridge too far…okay, do you know where to buy rope in your town? If you bought some, could you co-ordinate an attack on your would-be enemy’s house and find an appropriate place to tie them up? Can you even tie knots?  Does it not seem strange to you that this plot device is now routinely rolled out in so many horror films, often with little explanation, and just as if there is no other way to communicate dread and power imbalance in cinema? My heart sinks when I see this happening in films, and they often lose me after this point…

There are variations on this theme – sometimes the bad guys use strips of fabric instead of rope, and sometimes victims are cunningly tied to pillars or similar instead of chairs – but all in all, if Bad People target Basically Good People then someone’s going to get their wrists chafed.  It’s become part of the horror lexicon in recent years, so just as there’s a Maniac at the Window and a Last Girl, there’s a Twat Who Has Been Tied Up, even if the mechanics of this procedure are beyond the logic of most of the films – realism or not!

Be aware, filmmakers – there are others like me. If we see a character tied to a chair in your films, we may just assume you’re a tad lazy and unimaginative. We may even start with the knowing giggling. Think of a different way to communicate the idea of powerlessness which doesn’t depend on the presence of decent hardware stores and planning capabilities. After all, this schtick is often in so-called realist horror films, but you’d as well depict a monster rampage in the Home Counties as depict a wave of villains who were once apparently Boy Scouts.

One Response to “A Modern Cliché”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Robert Ropars, Hellbound_Heart. Hellbound_Heart said: Wrote a quick blog post – tie me up, tie me down! http://bit.ly/9O33k7 #horror [...]

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