35. Parental Guidance: The Rise of PG-13 Horror

For a long time, thanks to the Motion Picture Production Code, any horror movie that was released was a kid’s movie. Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, Dracula and The Mummy were all friends of horror movie kids growing up and Vincent Price, Lugosi, Chaney and Karloff were their heroes. But after the Production Code gave way to the Motion Picture Association of America Film Rating System horror started to more and more often be made with a teenage or young adult audience in mind as the gore and nudity within the films increased. Seeing a horror movie as a kid became a challenge of olympian proportions that involved sneaking in the movies. However, with the creation of the PG-13 in July, 1984 a new subgenre of horror films emerged that served to bridge the gap between the world of the child and the world of the adult.

The PG-13 rating was first suggested by Steven Spielberg after Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Gremlins (both 1984) raised questions about the current rating system; these films were well below an R rating but could not be said to be appropriate for all children. A compromise was found with the PG-13 rating that July and was the catalyst for a new organizational “genre” of horror films; however, due to the date of its creation, several films that would fall into the category – notable, Poltergeist (1982) – are excluded from this discussion. The first horror film to benefit from this new rating was Night of the Comet, released in November of 1984. Other notable films of the 1980s included: Poltergeist II: The Other Side and Poltergeist III (1986 and 1988, respectfully); the wonderfully inventive Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988); the two greatest PG-13 horror films of the decade, Monster Squad and The Gate (both 1987); Critters (1986) and Critters 2: The Main Course (1988); and Troll (1986), just to mention some of the most popular released.

The 1990s continued the trend with popular releases such as The Sixth Sense (1999), Anaconda (1997), Tremors (1990), Critters 3 and Critters 4 (1991 and 1992, respectfully). However, the majority of releases still tended towards an R rating. It wouldn’t be until The Ring (2002), a remake of the Japanese Ringu (1997), that the flood gates seemed to open wide. Following The Ring was a further series of American remakes of Asian films: The Grudge (2004, a remake of the 2002 Ju-on: The Grudge); The Uninvited (2009, a remake of South Korea’s 2003 A Tale of Two Sisters); Shutter (2008, a remake of Thailand’s 2004 Shutter); One Missed Call (2008, a remake of Japan’s 2003 One Missed Call); The Eye (2008, a remake of Hong Kong’s 2002 The Eye); and Dark Water (2005, a remake of Japan’s 2002 Dark Water). Along with sequels to the Asian remakes – The Ring Two (2005), The Grudge 2 (2006) and The Grudge 3 (2009) – there were also sterilized remakes of classic horror films – The Fog (2005), When a Stranger Calls (2006), The Wicker Man (2006), Willard (2003) and Prom Night (2008) – as well as numerous ghost films that blended into each other.

The push towards PG-13 horror has not been slowing since the floodgates first opened and have even caused some film industry journalists, such as Stephen Martin and Brad Miska, to wonder if the push towards PG-13 (which has been affecting more than just the horror genre, as the remakes of Robocop (2004) and Total Recall (2012) attest to). The PG-13 rating tells an audience, before even seeing a film, to expect less viscerally graphic violence or intense sexual situations – which, for a horror audience, can be quite a damning feature. This is not to say that there haven’t been great films rated PG-13, just that they have a larger hurdle to surmount – one that many films, unfortunately, don’t make it over. However, anyone that understands that moviemaking is a business understands that PG-13 horror is here to stay; there’s just too much money to be made with the PG-13 rating as it allows younger audiences to attend. There will always still be R-rated horror movies but they will never be as plentiful as they were before 1984.

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