In every generation of horror we have different things that define and seem to rule that generation. In the 30’s we had the classic monsters, in the 50’s we had cheese, the 80’s gave us slashers and in the 90’s the hot phrase was “Meta”. Meta horror movies are horror movies that acknowledge the events occurring are like a horror movie.
Extra Bit: If anyone ever decides to act like a pampas ass and say “You do not even understand meta movies.” then ask them what meta stands for. When they cannot answer it is Greek for with or across something defining it as similar and existing at the same time look smug and walk away. Remember, only you can prevent hipsters.
The fore father of the meta horror genre that quite literally defined it was the Scream franchise. While meta technically existed before this series in horror movies this is the one to bring it up front and even defined the rules to survive a horror movie and how they work. Now we are going to look into the top five rules of the movies that discuss the rules (now that is meta!).
Rule # 5 – Set the Rules!
Every horror movie genre lives by its own rules and within those genres the movies themselves set the rules. To set the tone for your film you have to set your own rules and not always just assume the audience knows how they work. Not everyone knows all the rules and those anal hipster nerds will gladly correct you whenever you do something they feel is wrong, because you know no one knows your movie like the obsessed fans that had nothing to do with it.
Best example of this in horror are the Scream movies that out right state the general horror movie rules and define the rules they live by. They tell you not say “I’ll be right back.”, they explain in sequels it can become anyone and most especially they tell you in trilogies that all rules go out the window in the third film. Trust me when I say these all easily live up to these rules and make sure you never forget that they know what is happening and try to use it to their advantage… even the sequels fails to take advantage of this at the box office.
Rule # 4 – People Will Ignore the Rules!
Yeah this is where the suspension of belief comes into play with horror where if someone did not do something dumb you would not have a movie. If the teenagers went after hearing the camp site is cursed, if the family left when the walls began to bleed or if the people on vacation never went where they shouldn’t we would not have horror movies. This has to be true in the films that acknowledge they are in a horror movies. Someone has to believe the rules are bullshit, go against them and then pay the price and become a good corpse.
A good example of this is Wes Craven’s New Nightmare where people are told that Freddy is a demon living within a film that has to be made before it escapes into the real world. People of course think this is nuts and suddenly the bodies hit the floor faster than a comet going by at a kool aid party. The plot to horror is so obscure you would never believe it and thus no one does and we get a lovely blood splatter so pretty we could throw it on a canvas in gallery.
Rule # 3 – Deja Vu or I Swear I Have Seen This Before!
For you to set any rules there has to be precedence to base the rules on. Unless you are a powerful psychic you cannot just wake up screaming, “Do not go into the dark basement!” So to make the rules for the movie there has to be a similar movie to base it off of cause how else will you know to stab something in the heart that seems to only come out at night and tries to suck your blood.
For a good example of this rule check out Tucker and Dale versus Evil. This is summed up in the greatest line in recent horror movies, “You want a killer hillbilly? I’ll show you a killer hillbilly!” Without the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, House of 100 Corpses, Hotel Hell and a slew of other hillbilly related scary movies (if you hear banjos then paddle faster!) there would be no way to know what a killer hillbilly is. So these are not just fun chainsaw wielding gore fests, but instructional videos on what to avoid out in the sticks (if you cannot identify the meat in the cafe then do not eat it!).
Rule # 2 – Rules are Meant to be Broken!
Turns out all the cool kids smoking in the boys room were right annd the rules are put into place to give us something to break. In meta horror movies you have to realize that the protagonists are not the only ones who know they are in a horror movie. The antagonist also has a full understanding of the situation cause.. well Hell, they made it! You think the maniac with the butcher knife thinks Michael Myers is just a funny name for an ogre? You may be able to out smart a horror movie, but can you out smart a meta-slasher?
Hands down the greatest example of this comes from Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon where we are intorduced to a film crew doing a documentary on an up and coming slasher. Yes this films focuses on following the antagonist as he sets up the usual traps and even admirers serial killers such as Freddy who through drugs got kids to think he attacked them in his dreams. While scream defined the rules to survive Behind the Mask defined the rules of being the killer.
Rule # 1 – Why so Serious?!
Okay yeah The Dark Knight is not a horror movie, but that gargling with gravel Batman voice will still haunt you. As a wise man once said, “Do not take meta horror movies so seriously as only the final girl makes it out in the end.” Maybe a paraphrased that a bit, but the point stands that you are making a horror movie that fully acknowledges other horror films and how fucked up and weird this situation is. With something like that you are not making Sophie’s Choice. You have to find the balance between making it serious enough people are interested, but never so seriously people spend the whole movie pissed off at it and bored.
Beyond a shadow of a doubt the top film to demonstrate this, and a personal favorite horror film of the millennium, we have Cabin in the Woods. The name alone is meta, it is also cheesy and yet still is intriguing. I do not even have to go into the movie to explain how this fit; that is how good it is. This film redefined the concept of meta horror as it does not just acknowledge the rules, but it explains why all the rules exist and tongue in cheek makes fun of all of them.
If you want to understand meta horror then grab every film listed on here (minus The Dark Knight), grab some popcorn, invite over a few horror fans and just start streaming. Pretend it is a serious on Netflix and knock everything out in one sitting and regret nothing!