Studios find joy in teen horror films

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 April, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 April, 1999, 12:00am

IT is a scary thought, but the most powerful filmgoers in the United States are those who can honestly claim they were barely out of their nappies when ET was phoning home. It is becoming increasingly clear that if you are unfortunate enough to be much older than 21, you no longer exist - at the least in the eyes of Hollywood.

The big Hollywood players barely have time to snip the next cigar and sip the next wheatgrass juice, so busy are they green-lighting the latest teen movie. They have seen the box-office figures, read the demographics and come to the conclusion that - until the next big thing comes along - the teenager is God.

It has become impossible to ride a subway or watch television without one's senses being assaulted by ads for one teen-flick after another. To list just those currently on show: Go, Ten Things I Hate About You, She's All That, Never Been Kissed, Cruel Intentions, Varsity Blues, The Mod Squad.

And that is just the scream-free variety. If it is teen-slasher (pubescent horror) movies you are into, there is always Scream, Scream II and (currently in production) Scream III, I Know What You Did Last Summer plus sequels and an increasing number of rip-offs like Idle Hands and Carrie II.

The teen-flick is proliferating faster than fainting victims at a David Cassidy concert. It is a trend reaching into every corner of the American psyche - and the worst of it is, the vast majority of us old-timers (those over 24) would rather listen to an old David Cassidy LP than watch them.

To star in a teen-flick, one by no means has to be a teenager. Indeed, some of the hottest teen-flick stars, like Drew Barrymore, are easily the wrong side of 20. However, it does help to have more than two names, as Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Rachel Leigh Cook will testify. Those possessing less than three monikers must compensate by adopting frilly, turn-of-the-millennium first names, such as Reese, Elijah, Neve or Alicia. Oh, and Drew.

The plots? Anything from coming-of-age to stalked-by-a-psycho - as long, that is, as they feature a large ensemble cast of impossibly young and attractive walking Gap commercials.

The question on the lips of all of us to whom Led Zeppelin are but a cherished memory is: why? Teen-flicks are of course not a new phenomenon - cheesy beach movies with stars like Frankie Avalon can testify to that. More recently, there was the thankfully short-lived Brat Pack trend of the mid-1980s, which produced films such as the Breakfast Club and gave birth to a host of actors, such as Rob Lowe, Demi Moore and James Spader, who overcame a bad haircut handicap to blossom into big-name stars.

But it was the surprising 1996 success of Scream which had movie moguls salivating over the potential of actors young enough to be their grandchildren. That film grossed over US$100 million (HK$774 million) despite starring a bunch of unknowns, and its sequel did just as well. The box-office triumphs of most of the teen-flicks which are being churned out by the truckload are made even sweeter by the fact that they are relatively cheap to make - around US$10 million to US$20 million apiece. But teenagers not only love teen-flicks, they love movies, full stop.

According to the latest statistics, those between the ages of 12 to 24 account for fully 38 per cent of cinema ticket sales - far more than any other age group. No wonder Hollywood can hardly contain itself.

The Spice Girls do not have a monopoly on Girl Power, it seems. The space agency, Nasa, has long been a bastion of the testosterone-driven right stuff, but women are now claiming their half of space.

Only 32 of Nasa's 144 astronauts are female, which in itself is a marked improvement on the days before 1978, when space travel was a male-only club.

Of the women, only one, Eileen Collins, has the top rank of commander, and she is soon to make history by being the first woman to lead a space shuttle flight.

But there could be more to come. Nasa bigwigs are seriously talking about a shuttle flight manned (for want of a better word) entirely by women.

The official reasoning for such a move is that it will enable scientists to further their research into the effects on the female metabolism of prolonged weightlessness. But the sceptics inside the administration wonder whether it is little more than a publicity stunt: Nasa has been well aware that it needs more public interest to stimulate Congress into increasing its budget, and the much-hyped John Glenn mission was aimed at achieving precisely that.

Even the astronauts have little clue as to how or why crews are selected for each shuttle mission. But whatever Nasa's reasons, it cannot risk sending up an all-female crew without having a legitimate scientific or technical reason for doing so.

Hold the front page, or at least the inside pages: the US has its first-ever Green Party member of a state legislature.

Despite being outspent 20 to 1 by her Democratic and Republican rivals, Audie Bock has won a seat on the California State Assembly, representing a district of Oakland.

Ms Bock triumphed despite running in a city where 65 per cent of voters are Democrats, going head-to-head against a candidate who had already held the seat for 12 years before going on to become the city's mayor.

Small stuff, perhaps, but a minor miracle in a country ensconced in a two-party system - and far less open to mainstream environmental politics.