Every generation has a new R-rated movie to sneak into
By Angela Frye, Contributor
In order to avert controversy, a rating board will suggest edits for a more lenient rating and studios, knowing that a PG can garner more summer movie dollars than an R-rating will comply.
When my mother was a teenager, she saw a movie called The Beast with Five Fingers. I know this because it scared her so much that she never stopped talking about it as my siblings and I grew up. When I was a teenager, I saw Halloween starring Jamie Lee Curtis and it scared me so much that I hated walking alone at night. I was permanently convinced there was a man with a knife following me. Now, my son is a teenager who has seen a lot of horror films and does not seem to be fearful at all. It seems that we all have followed the time-honored tradition of sneaking into an R-rated movie while young.
Long ago, there was the Hollywood Hays Code which strictly dictated “proper” movie etiquette, such as women having at least one foot on the floor in love scenes. After the Hays Code came the modern grade codes, and these offered more freedom to the studios—and some guidance for parents. This rating system was put in place November 1, 1968 (the day after Halloween I might add) by the Motion Picture Association of America. This was done to control the growing artistic and moral risks taken by directors as the studio system fell apart. In order to avert controversy, a rating board will suggest edits for a more lenient rating and studios, knowing that a PG can garner more summer movie dollars than an R-rating will comply. Some films have famously gone ahead with the director’s vision. Last Tango in Paris earned a controversial X-rating initially (it was reclassified as NC-17 in 1997) and The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover starring the future dame Helen Mirren, stands at an NC-17, disregarding any suggestions that may have been offered.
Obviously, it isn’t just sex and nudity that makes for an R-rating, violence and horror are big contributors as well. But not all horror is created equal. The pre-rating The Beast of Five Fingers may have been petrifying in the 1940s but is only melodramatic now. And while I have been thrilled with certain films, like Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner or Alien and shocked by Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, I wouldn’t recommend them to everyone seeing as they certainly deserved their R-ratings. These ratings do well to act as a guideline for parents and to begin a discussion about appropriateness (Get Out, yes; Zombieland, maybe not) but they have never been a replacement for actual parental discretion nor have they discouraged a person from sneaking into a movie underage. Unfortunately, they can’t predict how scary they will be to the viewer. For instance, I saw the rated PG Jaws in the theatres when I was a kid and am still scared to this day.