Reality TV and horror movies: A marriage made in hell
Dead Set

With the latest Celebrity Big Brother upon us and another bout of scheming, personal clashes and full-blown meltdowns in store, Mark Butler argues it’s no surprise that reality TV has provided rich-pickings for the world of horror films. 

(Warning: graphic horror gifs lie ahead…)

In the criminally overlooked 2002 thriller My Little Eye, an intriguing bunch of plausible twenty-somethings find themselves plunged into a nightmare of paranoia, violence and literal back-stabbing when their six-month stint on an internet reality show comes to a terrifying, visceral conclusion.

Still, it could have been worse. They might have been forced to spend a month in a house with Katie Hopkins.

Katie Hopkins

Given the chilling characters, psychological torture, and ominous tension at the heart of most reality TV shows, it’s hardly been a dramatic stretch for horror cinema to embrace and utilize these popular prime-time shows as the basis for a whole host of unspeakable acts.

Big Brother took off at the turn of the millennium, and within a couple of years a few crafty slashers had been inspired to create part-serious, part-satirical responses on our cinema screens.

In the same year as My Little Eye, one of horror’s most iconic villains, Michael Myers, returned to wreak havoc on a bunch of college students, and engage in a kung-fu fight with Busta Rhymes.

Yep – that actually happened.

Say hello to the preposterous Halloween Resurrection. Revolving around a web-based show in the decaying Myers house, it had all the hysterical outbursts and surprising developments you’d expect from classic Big Brother, only this time Nasty Nick was wielding a massive knife instead of writing some stuff down with a pen.

By the time Charlie Brooker used the reality staple as the setting for a zombie outbreak drama in the brilliant Dead Set six years later (complete with zombie Davina – pictured above), we were starting to get used to the claustrophobic hell of twelve self-absorbed idiots stuck together for weeks on end providing an apt platform for fear and dark humour.

Since then, there have been horror films reflecting every single kind of dumb reality show. Camp Dread and Wrong Turn 2 are obscenely gory spins on the ‘survivalist’ brand of wilderness tripe being spat out by networks on a routine basis.

When their nubile pack of ambitious young things are sent scampering off into the woods to tackle challenges for the cameras, tongues are sent flying off into the bush – as well as being firmly in cheek.

There’s a truly gross scene in Wrong Turn 2 when the heroine is strapped to a chair by mutant cannibals and forced to chow down on human meat and various…ahem…parts. But is this really any more distasteful than us all gathering round the telly to gawp, point and guffaw during a bushtucker trial?

Similarly drawing on the sadistic edge of reality telly are 13 Sins and Cheap Thrills, two recent movies which feature desperate protagonists performing ever more degrading and dangerous acts in the hope of securing life-changing sums of money, while a gleeful, baying audience egg them on to deeper and darker acts of depravity.

Then there’s Stuart Hazeldine’s excellent thriller Exam which, the silly climactic twist notwithstanding, happens to be a genuine treat.

It features a bunch of borderline-sociopathic corporate types, suited and booted in immaculate style and assembled for a once-in-a-lifetime job interview. Once things get serious, the candidates resort to mind-games, bullying and outright intimidation to get things done.

It’s The Apprentice, basically; only with slightly more explicit torture than having to listen to another procession of lofty boasts, tedious business-speak and eye-watering clichés.

Reality TV and the slasher genre, eh? It’s hard to tell which is scarier.

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