Cheap E-Gut Shots: Part 1

I hate cheap e-gut shots. What, you ask, is a cheap e-gut shot? Basically, anytime you are set up by a writer to have a emotional moment (typically negative) by using obvious or easy short cuts. This is lazy writing / designing and I abhor it with a passion, whether it happens in a book, a movie, a video game, or what-have-you.


Just about any horror / slasher flick ever made is chalk full of these. You put a character in a “dark and scary” place, you lower the volume on the creepy music, and after artificially wratcheding up the tension, out leaps the killer as the volume spikes! The audience jumps in horror!

No, actually – the audience jumped ’cause they got cheap e-gut shot. They’re startled, not actually frightened. Big, BIG difference.

Another standard cheap e-gut shot – any character introduced with the specific purpose of being likable / sympathetic, so that the audience will feel bad when he/she gets killed later on. This has a major caveat though – if a character serves a number of other purposes, e.g. the character is fully realized as a character, not as a one-note-dead-man-walking you are being suckered into liking, then while you may have been gut shot, it wasn’t cheap.

Great example off the top of my head: Aliens. Our introduction to the Colonial Marines is flawless in its execution, we get the feel for a number of different characters and though we know, we know, that most of them are going to die horribly, we still get to liking a number of them and feel bad as they fall one by one. He even introduces a little girl, normally a harbinger of easy sympathy and she turns out to be an awesome character, as well as part of Ripley’s character arc in yearning for the daughter she lost… Not cheap, masterful.

Admittedly, Cameron drew a bit on genre conventions and archetypes, but when you’ve only got two hours (approx) you’ve got to make every one count – which is why I tend to give movies more of a pass then books, or television, or video games, all of which have far more time in which to explore character nuance.

Published in: on February 19, 2011 at 10:44 PM  Leave a Comment  

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