Sunday, March 20, 2011

Review: Train (2008) ... or how pecs became the new boobs in horror films ...

There is little point to reviewing Train ...

It was mercifully dumped to DVD to cause the least damage to the careers of those involved, including Thora Birch who took a precipitous fall after American Beauty and Ghostworld. Like her A.B. co-star Mena Suvari, she is a talented actress who has been relegated to making dreck and I personally get no satisfaction whatsoever in pissing on the grave of this film.

So I was just going to skip doing this post, but there was something remarkable about Train that merited a post. Something that spoke to a trend in modern horror films that I haven't seen too much written about.

Pecs have become the new boobs in horror films.

Yes, it seems that the exploitation of women's bodies in horror films (so prevalent in the 70s and 80s that it galvanized the Feminist movement to oppose the entire genre) has given way to the unabashed exploitation of male flesh. Train is but one example of this trend, but it is definitely one of the more overt.

We start by meeting a team of American wrestlers (male and female) travelling in Eastern Europe. We linger on the male leads (Kavan Reece and Derek Magyar) in their singlets...

Then it's time for a bath. While Thora Birch remains tastefully submerged, we get some nippleage from Derek Magyar.

Later, during a game of Truth or Dare, none of the women are disrobed, but the gay assistant coach (Gideon Emery) bares his ripped bod and tattoo...

... and then dares Derek to strip to his jock and run the length of the train. Which he does with aplomb...

But I didn't count one boob. We had pecs galore, along with a side serving of bum, but no boobs.  In the 70s and 80s, it was nothing but boobs. At least one actress had to bare her breasts, before being killed in some undignified manner quickly thereafter. It was just how it was. But now, boobs have become an endangered species in horror movies.

We're not gonna take this lying down, girls!

I almost feel bad for boobs. With the exception of the Friday the 13th remake and the My Bloody Valentine remake, boob sightings in modern horror films are as rare as believable character arcs. (And, no, I'm not just repeating the word boobs to get extra hits on my website. OK, I totally am ... Boobs).

Simply put, in the 00s, the leering gaze of the horror film camera started shifting from the female to the male torso. Is this just a sign that the horror audience has shifted from being primarily male to primarily female?

Perhaps. But my theory is that Mary Harron started the trend in 2000 when she translated the oft-accused-of-being-misogynist Bret Easton Ellis novel American Psycho into a classic horror/dark comedy...

Christian Bale
American Psycho (2000)

Bale's Patrick Bateman may torture, exploit and abuse women, but Harron's camera never exploits his victims, it only exploits him. We empathize with them, while Bateman comes off as the giant soulless hefty bag of douche that he is.

I'm sure her point was to expose the grotesque body consciousness of the superficial 80s, but Harron inadvertently kicked off a trend in pec-gazing that would last another decade and, thankfully, shows no sign of stopping.

I submit as evidence....
Justin Long
Jeepers Creepers (2001)

Al Santos and a Busload of Hotties
Jeepers Creepers 2 (2003)

Ryan Reynolds
Blade: Trinity (2004) and Amityville Horror (2005)

Chad Michael Murray
House of Wax (2005)

Matt Bomer and Taylor Handley
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006)

Al Santos (again)
Killer Movie (2008)

Bobby Campo and Nick Zano
The Final Destination (2009)

Penn Badgely
The Stepfather (2009)

Is this a trend that anyone else has noticed? Any alternative theories on why? 


  1. Thanks for the heads up on this. Can't believe I missed it! And, yes, I agree, it is genius. I had kind of noticed this trend, but hadn't thought about it (oddly) as I'd just cynically assumed that it was just a callous ploy to get teenager girls who don't like horror to pay for horror. I prefer your theory that the horror audience is changing and challenging gender stereotypes.
    Poor boobs though, but, yay, for the shirtless boys!

  2. so hollywood horror is becoming like David DeCouteau movies where men are often skimpily dressed for no purpose.

    now sure how i feel about that.

  3. The idea of being naked and vulnerable in a potentially violent and violating situation can be used extremely effectively (Heather Matarazzo's death scene in Hostel II is a good example of this, I think), but often it is just an excuse to exploit a cheap special effect - the tight bods of young actors and actresses.