Copyright 2018 by Gary L. Pullman
Displays of nudity, partial nudity, or near-nudity in horror movies are often decried as gratuitous. Nothing more than cheap ploys, they're meant merely to sell tickets, such critics contend, and increase box office receipts for low-budget, less-than-spectacular films. Many a second-rate flick would have lost money had it not been for a bare breast, a flash of buttocks, or, at the very least, a bikini-clad victim. No doubt, these charges are frequently true—in part. But they're not all always entirely gratuitous. In fact, they often have a purpose other than mere titillation.
Consider this full-page print ad.
Consider this full-page print ad.
The model, wearing a braand panty set and a pair of light-tan high-heeled shoes, sits, her posture erect, arms at her sides, right leg slightly forward, left leg slightly to the rear, gazing directly into the camera, as though she were making eye contact with the advertisement's viewer, whose eye probably starts with her face, which is framed by her dark, luxuriant hair, travels down and over her breasts, down her slender midriff, turns to trace her right thigh, and detours, at the bend of both knees, to continue down her left calf.
In the lower left corner of the photo, the product's brand name, in elegant white font against a cream-colored carpet, awaits the viewer's gaze: Fayreform, above smaller text in a different style of font that reads, as though it were a subtitle, the command, “Work your curves.”
As this bidding suggests, the ad is all about the model's curves, curves which any woman who purchases and wears the same bra and panty set as the model wears could likewise “work.” As the eye moves along the model's body, it perhaps takes in the photo's suggestions of the opulence of her surroundings, the enormous gilt-framed painting, the mahogany doors, the hardwood floor, the expensive carpets, an upholstered armchair, and some sort of furniture, only vaguely represented, in the back of the room.
It is only afterward that the viewer may (or may not) notice the other white text, in the same font, under the product's name, as that which issues the command, “Work your curves”: “Bet you didn't notice the armadillo.” If the ad has succeeded, as it often does, the viewer is apt to think, What armadillo? It is only by searching diligently that the viewer is likely, at last, to spy the animal standing in the luxurious armchair. The advertiser wins the bet—and implicitly makes the point that the model is so bewitchingly beautiful, commanding attention so completely, that the armadillo, although undeniably present, remained, as it were, altogether invisible. By implication, the woman who buys and wears the bra and panty set the model is wearing will command equally engrossing attention from her admirers.
To be fair, the armadillo's color is similar to that of the chair, resulting in a sort of camouflage effect. On the other hand, the white text is fairly noticeable against the contrast of the mahogany doors. Had the viewer not been distracted by the near-nakedness of the beautiful model, he or she probably would have seen the text and, alerted by the question it poses, have been looking for the armadillo as well as at the model.
The ad uses the same technique that magicians use to fool their audiences: misdirection. The viewer is too busy admiring the model to notice the armadillo (or the text that references the animal). As a result, it is only after he or she has admired the model, if ever, that the viewer does see the text, the armadillo, or both.
Linnea Quinley in Silent Night, Deadly Night
In horror movies, displays of nudity, partial nudity, or near-nudity have the same purpose and the same effect as the near-nakedness of this ad's model. Bare breasts or buttocks or a tantalizingly brief bikini distracts the audience, and, while they are appreciating the display of a lovely young lady's bare flesh, the monster, killer, or other horrible villain abruptly appears, slashing, hacking, skewering, stabbing, shooting, or otherwise spindling, folding, or mutilating the beautiful victim or one of her friends or acquaintances. Titillating displays do titillate, but they do more than simply stimulate the audience's libidos; such exhibitions also draw attention away from the bogeyman who's about to appear. The result is a contrast between the sleek, nude flesh of a beautiful young woman and the same flesh, a moment later, after it's been suddenly slashed or otherwise mutilated. The contrast both conceals and reveals the horror, first distracting from it and then emphasizing it.
Scream queens help us to vicariously experience (and feel) the terror, the pain, and the horror that the scream queens experience. There's a reason scream queens are called "scream queens," and there's a reason that scream queens are usually naked or only partially dressed. Besides that of selling tickets, we mean.