It's kind of funny to think back and realize that the PG-13 rating was created because of a pair of Steven Spielberg flicks. Boiled down to its essence, the new rating was invented because of A) the heart-ripping sequence from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and B) the microwave oven explosion in Gremlins. (Yes, I know Joe Dante directed Gremlins, but it was a Spielberg production.) I remember thinking it was a very smart move: This way movies could get a little more violent / sexy / nasty -- without overdoing it -- and the youthful movie fans could still enjoy the mayhem. But we should have known something was out of whack from the very first flick: The debut of the PG-13 was on John Milius' Red Dawn ... which quickly made its way into the record books as one of the most violent films ever made.
So what began as a simple warning for parents -- "This rating is not 'enforced' like the Restricted is, but we thought you'd want to know that this movie is just a little bit rougher than your typical PG fare" -- quickly became something else: an oasis of profitability wedged between the now-kiddified PG rating and the oh-so-alluring R. Basically, a new rating tailor-made for Hollywood's most coveted demographic: the teenager. (You tell a 15-year-old that this movie is too scary or too sexy for a 13-year old, but not for a 15-year-old, and you're halfway to getting that kid in the door, regardless of what the movie is.)
Over the past 24 years, the PG-13 has become a sacred target for fiscally-minded filmmakers -- especially where horror movies are concerned. Now don't get me wrong: There are tons of "soft" horror movies that are perfectly entertaining, but I'm of the opinion that if you want to make something really scary, then that movie will most likely end up in the "R" territory. Graphic violence, serious tension, unpleasant themes and big-boy scares will pretty much always result in an R rating when all is said and done. Except when the goal from the very beginning is to craft a "PG-13 horror product" that will sell a lot of tickets for three days even though everyone knows it's freaking terrible.
According to the IMDb, these are the PG-13 horror movies that were released by studios between 1984 and April 2008: An American Haunting (2005), Anaconda (1997), Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (2004), Arachnophobia (1990), Alien vs. Predator (2004), Bats (1999), Blood and Chocolate (2006), Boogeyman (2005), The Bride (1985), Cat's Eye (1985), The Cave (2005), Cloverfield (2008), The Covenant (2006), Critters (1986), Critters 2: The Main Course (1988), Cry Wolf (2005), Cursed (2005), The Dark (2002), Dark Water (2005), Darkness Falls (2003), Eight Legged Freaks (2002), The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005), The Eye (2008), The Fog (2005), The Gate (1987), Godsend (2004), Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990), The Grudge (2004), The Grudge 2 (2006), The Haunting (1999), Island of Dr. Moreau (1996), Jaws: The Revenge (1987), Lady in White (1988), The Messengers (2007), One Missed Call (2008), The Others (2001), Poltergeist 2: The Other Side (1986), Poltergeist 3 (1988), Prom Night (2008), Pulse (2006), The Ring (2002), The Ring 2 (2005), Shutter (2008), The Skeleton Key (2005), Skinwalkers (2006), Soul Survivors (2001), Stay Alive (2006), They (2002), Tremors (1990), When a Stranger Calls (2006), White Noise (2005), The Wicker Man (2006) and Willard (2003)
I'm sure I've missed a few, but I can only go by what Mr. IMDb Power Search tells me. As you scan through that list, you'll notice two main types of movie: The tongue-in-cheek monster movies (which are usually pretty fun) and the other ones. The remakes, the sequels, the rip-offs ... the commerce, basically. But when you hear film critics and horror fans raving over a new terror flick, it's almost always a movie that pushes the envelope in some way ... hence the R rating. (Anyone wanna see a PG-13 version of The Descent? Inside? Pan's Labyrinth? 28 Days Later? The Host? Oh my bad. None of those were produced by the Hollywood studios.) Call me a bloodthirsty bastard if you like, but for a horror flick to be any good, it really has to offer (at least the chance of) something truly shocking, scary or nasty -- which means the PG-13 rating has no business in the genre. The batting average pretty much speaks for itself: Aside from a stray aberration like Cloverfield or The Ring or The Others, I now consider the PG-13 rating the kiss of death where horror flicks are concerned. I suspected it for years, but I think it was that pathetic new Prom Night flick that sealed the deal.
Then again, the last two really solid R-rated horror movies I saw (The Mist and The Ruins) pretty much died at the box office, so what the hell do I know? Between the financial failures of the grown-up horror movies and the get-rich-quick successes of the PG-13 crap, it's getting pretty tough to be a horror fan these days.
(Note: The pic at the top comes from a T-shirt available at z-boy.com. I need to order one!)