Arbogast not only informs, he also inspires! Arby's latest post got me thinking, so much so that my thoughts could not be confined to a mere comment. The masked one wonders aloud about shotguns and horror films, and when the two became joined at the lead-filled hip. It's a great observation, as it seems for the past decade or two the shotgun has become the must-have horror prop, replacing the torch and mysterious village of past eras (another question: when did vampires start making that noise when they gnashed their teeth? You know the noise, and I'm pretty sure Bela Lugosi never made it).
I started thinking about shotguns and film and came up with two more questions: 1. Was horror the first genre to catch on to the coolness of shotguns? 2. Why do shotguns work so well in movies?
With the first question, I thought back to my favorite film shotguns: Mad Max's pistol-gripped double barrel, used to cerebral smashing effect in the final chase of The Road Warrior; and Sarah Connor's iconic one-armed pumping of her street sweeper in Terminator 2. Those were good guns, but did they truly set the bar? My thoughts eventually took me back to one of my favorite movies that contains probably the most influential violence of any film:
Notice the Bunch's choice of firearm? Yesssss. In terms of guns, The Wild Bunch is best remembered for Bill Holden's pry-it-from-my-cold-dead-hands performance on the Browning M1917, but the legendary opening parade shootout is bombastically opened by a chorus of shotguns. In one shot, we see Ernest Borgnine operating a shotgun at a rate of speed that appears physically impossible -- apparently pumping and shooting in one motion. To list the ways The Wild Bunch revolutionized the Western is a post unto its own, but one of Sam Peckinpah's radical additions to the genre has to be his characters' dismissal of the traditional pistols. One of the most obvious Western canons was a six shooter or two on our hero's hip, but these renegades are interested in staying alive, and that means mowing down rows of bad guys in black hats.
On to the second question: why shotguns? My view is that shotguns are easier to work with in terms of action direction, and they satisfy today's audiences' desire to see bad guys get their due a few times over. Getting shot by a pistol is old money -- either the character clutches a chest wound and slowly dies, or the female character later treats the man's shoulder injury. A machine gun reaks of Cannon productions from the 80s, with villains sustaining numerous hits and reacting to each one with appropriate over-acting. A shotgun delivers more drama because it can blow off a limb (RoboCop) or head (Dawn of the Dead), or simply launch a character off-screen.
There's also the matter of re-loading a shotgun. Feeding in a stream of shells one-by-one builds more tension and looks more satisfying than simply grabbing a fresh magazine (or pitifully re-filling a revolver's chambers). And then there's the pump-action, the ch-chk! as Arbogast puts it. There was a time when characters set the hammer on their pistol for dramatic effect, but what good is a simple click when you can have an empowering pump-pump? And I think part of the pump action's appeal is that it seems practical, even people who have no experience with guns can probably see themselves pumping a shotgun.
I see the shotgun's run going for another decade, but what will the next "it" firearm be? I'm holding out hope for the wrist-mounted mini crossbow.
Saturday, April 12, 2008
Filed Under Casual whimsy