Lose the Shame, Scorsese

M and I watched “Shutter Island” last night, and were getting all into it (even the melodramatic “Cape Fear”-like soundtrack) until about, oh 30-40 minutes in when we realized exactly how the movie was going to end. Spoiler alert! ————————->

What we knew because we’ve been trained, specifically by movies, to know is that the whole thing was going to be a headtrip. Leo Dicap was not a federal marshal investigating a high-security mental institution for a missing patient (and/or grisly, inhumane practices, depending on which macguffin you favor), but a loony tunes living an elaborate fantasy in order to block out traumatic memories. Which, fine. Great. I liked it the first time I saw it when it was called “Jacob’s Ladder” or “The Others” or any of about ten Hitchcock films, etc.

But I like all those films. In those stories, the filmmakers went to a lot of trouble to build the psychotic, dream-like states of their characters into the story and the ends of those movies felt like a final puzzle piece clicking into place instead of an elaborate attempt to trick the viewer. But what really got my goat last night was that I had settled into a movie that seemed like it was going to be something that generally doesn’t exist anymore: a genuinely scary, strange, mystery/thriller in a gothic setting, directed by a master.
That movie would have made me absurdly happy. Instead we got that old “psychological” ending. Ho hum, saw it from a mile away. How much cooler would the movie had been if They really were doing awful experiments on mental patients and lobotomizing the staff and the feds had found them out?

But we don’t get that thing very simply because Martin Scorsese is a snob. After all, who directs horror movies? A bunch of punk kids and tattoo freaks, that’s who. Who directs psychological thrillers? Everyone who’s anyone. Sure we got “The Shining” from Kubrick, and there are probably other examples of great directors genre-slumming it now and then, but for the most part serious mainstream directors don’t “do” horror. I don’t mean to single Scorsese out. He was going off a script written from a Lehane novel anyway. But I do think it’s true that filmmaking is *so* generically segregated that we don’t ever get to see Scorsese direct a horror movie. Coppola gave us “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” in the ’90s but that’s the last time I remember seeing a “horror” (and really they were romances dressed up in scary costumes) movie directed by an auteur.

This makes me sad, because for all the indie horror films I really enjoy, how much would I love to see a big-budget creeping gothic like “Shutter Island” pretended to be for an hour? A lot. Like quite a few other horror fans, I’m tired of torture porn. I still remember when horror films used to have plots/be scary.

I guess what I’m saying is: you broke my heart, Scorsese. You promised Shirley Jackson but you delivered Dr. Phil. Come on directors, show some testicular fortitude and make a scary, creepy movie that doesn’t tell us at its not-at-all shocking or surprising climax: “and it was all just a dream/psychosis/coma etc.” Stop putting your old-fashioned, modernist ideas about narrative and psychology all over my awesome horrortime.

(And I guess I mean, mainly, American directors. “Pan’s Labryinth” and “Let the Right One In” being recent, amazing movies whose plots were not psychologically neutered.)

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