Movie theaters used to hold a special kind of magic.
Lined up with my friends, clutching the occasional purchase of popcorn and a soft drink, or sneaking smuggled in snacks, we would watch in awe and horror as teenagers paraded around on screen, seemingly oblivious to the threat of violence lurking around the corner. When I was about thirteen years old, I sat through the original Scream. The rules of horror movies, as articulated by the character Randy, were clear and concise:
Randy: There are certain RULES that one must abide by in order to successfully survive a horror movie. For instance, number one: you can never have sex.
Randy: BIG NO NO! BIG NO NO! Sex equals death, okay? Number two: you can never drink or do drugs.
[crowd cheers and raises their bottles]
Randy: The sin factor! It’s a sin. It’s an extension of number one. And number three: never, ever, ever under any circumstances say, “I’ll be right back.” Because you won’t be back.
But there were some rules that we knew that never were articulated.
- 1. The black character always dies, normally first. This is normally related to not being lead characters, but easily dispensable side characters. Sure, we had Tales from the Hood, but we knew the score. I think that’s why all of us at the local participatory theater screamed the whole way through I Still Know What You Did Last Summer. “Run, Brandy, Run! You gotta make it because they already killed Mekhi!”
2. Upper middle class white kids are the stars of these things. In general, no matter how big and bad the villain is, they are still hanging out in pastoral campgrounds or tony neighborhoods, waiting for their victims to sun themselves on their cabanas. The only exception I can think of was Candyman who was black and haunted the Cabrini-Green housing projects. And later, came a few other things we need not name. But in general, horror film villains and heroes alike were in the providence of “not us.”
So when Moses and his crew took to the screen, defending their tower block from alien invasion, my inner fourteen year old wanted to jump up and start yelling.
Unfortunately, my 28 year old self knows we don’t do those things at the Museum of Modern Art, even if we really, really, want to.
[Some light spoilers ahead.]