Reality television has taken over both the airwaves and pop culture in a way that, at least at this point in time, seems completely irreversible. To criticize the direction that television has gone in the past decade would be as useful as an old man complaining about Elvis seductively shaking his hips. That certainly doesn’t make it okay that it’s happened (especially since the effect has been so negative), but unless there’s a massive anti-pop cultural movement (don‘t I wish), nothing can be done to change what TV has become.
The idea of average people being put in miserable situations for the entertainment of others is not a new one. Films like The Running Man and David Cronenberg’s Videodrome quite accurately predicted much of what television (and in the case of Videodrome, the internet) would become years later, even predating the OG of reality TV, The Real World. Of course, since the time in which reality television has become as commonplace as sports and news, there have been numerous films that used the reality TV format as well as a handful that even predate the big boom. Here are five of my favorites:
Written and directed by Maurice Devereaux, this low-budget Canadian production masks itself as an outrageous Japanese game show aptly titled Slashers, where a handful of contestants must try to survive a slew of slasher film influenced serial killers in order to win a cash prize.
The film bears some resemblance to The Running Man in concept, but Slashers is very much its own beast. The Japanese game show approach is as wild as it is entertaining (the theme song is super awesome fun time), and the slasher killers themselves are quite enjoyable. Something else that’s notable is that the entire film is presented as one continuous shot. While the edits are obvious, the hook works and the film uses this technique to great effect.
Despite being released by Fangoria Films, Slashers seems to be pretty much unknown, or at least I hardly ever hear or see anyone talk about it, which is too bad because it’s a true low-budget gem that every horror fan should check out.
My Little Eye (2002)
Directed by Marc Evans, My Little Eye takes the idea of TV shows like The Real World and Big Brother, and gives it a horror twist. The film places a group of five strangers together in a secluded location while having a camera record their every move; however, things go awry when some of the cast members begin to get killed off.
It’s been some years since I’ve seen this one, but from my recollection, the film is well made and features some good, slow-burning tension that has a way of crawling underneath the viewer’s skin. The camerawork is impressive as the television show camera angles add a lot to the overall style of the film. Also, there are times when the look of My Little Eye is somewhat reminiscent of an Argento film.
Series 7: The Contenders (2001)
Daniel Minahan’s Series 7: The Contenders is a reality competition where six volunteer contestants are forced to hunt each other down in a death match where there can be only one winner. The film is presented as an entire season of the TV series, which is named ’The Contenders’ (Series 7 refers to the show‘s season), and follows each of the six contestants as they try to take out their opponents before their opponents get to them.
What really works about this fantastic and darkly comedic satire of reality TV and the people who consume it is the way it focuses on each contestant as their personal story unfolds. The movie mostly focuses on returning champion, Dawn (played brilliantly by Brooke Smith), who is not only pregnant but as ruthless as it gets. However, there is a great arch to her character when it is revealed that Dawn had a previous romantic relationship with one of the other contestants, at which point she expresses a softer side.
Series 7: The Contenders is, without a doubt, one of the best of the bunch, as it skewers its influences in a brilliant fashion that must be seen to be enjoyed.
Fun Fact: This film is perfectly narrated by Will Arnett
Wrong Turn 2: Dead End (2007)
In what is likely the fan favorite of this group, Wrong Turn 2: Dead End took the layout of what was a very solid first film and went into a completely different and equally fun direction, setting it in a reality based survival competition hosted by no other than Henry Rollins. Well, a character played by Henry Rollins, but it’s pretty much him.
Besides being smart, funny and enjoyably gruesome, the best thing about Wrong Turn 2: Dead End is the way director Joe Lynch presents the film, which is almost reminiscent of the better slasher films of the 80s. Furthermore, and as I already mentioned, the idea of taking what was set up with the first Wrong Turn and adding the element of a reality show is an absolutely clever and fresh way to tackle what could have been a run of the mill sequel with nothing new to add. Which, incidentally, is what the other sequels have done.
Video Violence 2 (1987)
Written and directed by Gary Cohen, Video Violence 2 once again follows the exploits of first movie’s killers, Howard and Eli, who have turned their demented brand of torture and murder into a variety show broadcasted live from their basement. Not only do Howard and Eli subject victims to various types of torture, they encourage their demented viewers to send in their own violent videos, which they showcase for all their demented fans to enjoy. It’s America’s Most Demented Home Videos, if you will.
While the Video Violence movies aren’t going to be everyone’s cup of blood, I find them to be quite entertaining for what they are, and I’m willing to give a lot of credit to Video Violence 2 for being pretty ahead of its time with the home video angle. It’s cheap, offensive and juvenile, but when it comes to a shot-on-video horror flicks, what else would you expect, let alone want?
Well, that about does her, folks. Feel free to drop a comment below with some of your favorite reality show based horror flicks!