Film enthusiast Elliot Slade explores why “medically accurate” media will endure.
“100 per cent medically accurate”- a claim that can market and sell almost anything. You’ll see it thrown about in all wakes of life, be it vitamins, yoghurt advertisements, even in discussion surrounding ‘The Human Centipede’.
This claim is the first thing you’ll see on the trailers for the ‘The Human Centipede’ or in any informational source regarding the film. In fact, one could speculate that this claim is what gave this horror its cult following.
It’s an interesting trend that so often medically related films tend to lean towards the horror or thriller genre. Perhaps such cinematic creations stoke our morbid curiosity for the more dangerous and gruesome aspects of the field: from ‘Re-Animator’ (the dead brought to life by a crazed doctor with, as always, disastrous results), to ‘Awake’ (a convoluted film about “anesthesia awareness” and a team of doctors who are plotting to murder).
And then there’s, ‘The Autopsy of Jane Doe’, where a pathologist and his father open up a woman, only to discover that she is an evil witch. Yes, that’s right. This is what people come up with and, what’s more, what we as an audience flock to see. It would appear that the general public, or at least a portion of it, has an infatuation with the macabre.
There exists a class of medical horror releases that aim mostly to “gross out” their audience, using such claims of medical accuracy, as if to incite the fear that this could one day happen to you, the audience member. To be fair, it seems to work.
Or maybe viewers are drawn to these medical stamps of approval with the aim of challenging the “realism” that they claim to portray. If this is the case, then do we hope that the film is unrealistic so that our innermost fears are abated? Or is facing one’s fears, whatever the outcome, the lure?
If you are unaware of what ‘The Human Centipede’ entails, take my advice and be prepared to look away in disgust should you ever choose to give it a watch. I can’t even begin to describe what goes on in this film (nor would I want to spoil the surprise) but, hey, the director consulted a Dutch surgeon so it must be accurate, right?
This medical obsession isn’t isolated to cinema either; programmes of a similar ilk – Grey’s Anatomy, House, Casualty, Holby City, ER, etc- have had us transfixed to the small screen on a weekly basis (or in one large binge-watching session, thanks to the likes of Netflix) for years. We love our medical dramas: the same show wrapped up in different costumes, all following the foolproof formula; strange illness, misdiagnosis and then big reveal. Oh, and throw in some doctor relationship drama and a sprinkling of deaths every few season and you’re on your way to an Emmy.
Drama, thriller, horror; regardless of genre, the reason behind the attraction of medicine lies in its resilience as a subject matter. The formats may stay the same but what prevents them from appearing tired or stale is the kiss of life that the dynamic and ever-changing medical field can breathe into them.
It’s a sheer playground for production companies; whether you want to write about strange illnesses, bizarre patients or tragic circumstances, you have everything you need in one field. Necrosis? Make a horror out of it. Dying grandparent? Make a drama out of it. Doctor? Explore their humanity or chuck in a love triangle and make a soap out of it. It’s the perfect platform to experiment with.
What’s more, its realism lends itself to its popularity because the audience can relate to it, even if you’re not a doctor or a nurse, at some stage in our lives, we’re all going to be a patient. It is possible that we watch simply to see whether our story will be told because a part of the endurance of this genre is that it leaves no one out.
So reader, as you conclude this article to continue about your day, don’t be surprised to hear the announcement of a new “medically accurate” film, or that Grey’s Anatomy has been signed for another 68 seasons. As long as life support machines keep singing and doctors keep researching, they won’t be running out of ideas just yet.