Crossing Over: “CHEAP THRILLS”Fearful Features,Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
Welcome, FANGORIA Readers, to CROSSING OVER, a column that highlights the films, series and content out there outside of horror that is fashioned towards or pays tribute to our beloved genre. By shining a light onto these projects, FANGORIA hopes to open a world of entertainment perfect for fright fans that lies just beyond the borders of the horror community. So without further ado…
Back in 2014, there was a healthy- if prolonged- debate between the FANGORIA staffers towards the end of the year about whether or not CHEAP THRILLS counted as a horror film. There was no denying that the film had impressed all of us; in fact, the conversation was pertaining to potential Chainsaw Award nominations. But despite the violence, the atmosphere, the participation of genre performers and the twisted contributions of those behind the camera, we couldn’t quite place our thumb on categorizing CHEAP THRILLS as a horror film. In fact, categorizing CHEAP THRILLS at all is a double-edged sword, as the film is far too many things to be fit to one label, and yet that same element is perhaps why the film isn’t as well known as it should be.
In essence, CHEAP THRILLS fits in a grey area of genre, akin to the works of Paul Schrader, Walter Hill or, perhaps more appropriately fitting, Paul Thomas Anderson. It’s a film that’s inherently (and, at times, hysterically) funny, but not so enough to be described as a comedy, as well as being grim and intense, perhaps too intense to be labeled as a drama and yet not invasive enough to be horror. If anything, CHEAP THRILLS is a thriller in disguise of the darkest of dark comedies, taking enjoyable, recognizable characters and sending them down a rabbit hole of self-debasement that would give Job a run for his money. And, of course, CHEAP THRILLS has an even deeper, more biting message at its core, speaking to the value of money as opposed to the value of life.
However, if a horror fan were to stumble upon CHEAP THRILLS, they’d be more than satisfied as the film does frequently dip into the genre waters. From the brash displays of bloody violence to stomach-turning eating contests to a genuinely disturbing sex act that could arguably be defined as a rape scene, CHEAP THRILLS is less of a “horror comedy” and more of an “exploitation” comedy with its willingness to indulge depravity. And, for the most part, CHEAP THRILLS is as likely to horrify as it is to draw out laughter, especially considering that the film plays most of its nastiness straightforward and with an appropriate amount of emotional blowback.
At the same time, CHEAP THRILLS is much more fun than your standard body horror affair; in fact, part of the reason the film doesn’t descend into utter despair is the fact that you enjoy spending time with these characters. Pat Healy is so naturally fantastic as the film’s underdog that his journey from down-and-out loser to self-mutilating sociopath is both heartbreaking and hilarious. Meanwhile, Ethan Embry effortlessly goes from old-friend to savage bully, and watching him play off of Healy and Co. with indignation, enthusiasm and vulnerability is acting at its finest. But the film truly wouldn’t work as well as it does without its villains- and they are villains- as David Koechner and Sara Paxton play against type as rich hyenas, watching their prey dress themselves and each other down for their own sick amusement.
But perhaps what works best about CHEAP THRILLS is the fact that it’s so damn unconventional, and in being so, it’s a film worth talking about. The fact that it’s far too graphic for a typical drama, too damn funny for a typical horror film and too damn intense for your typical comedy is something worth noting and discussing, as complacency in cinema is far too common of a feeling. CHEAP THRILLS makes you feel something, whether it’s queasy, conflicted or legitimately twisted, and that’s a damn fine reason as any to give it your valuable time.