Much like horror, Jackass attracts a very specific audience. The franchise has earned its infamy by way of stunts ranging from the scatological to the sadistic. Scenes of grown men quite literally eating horse shit are positioned next to scenes of grown men quite literally torturing one another – all accompanied by a chorus of gleeful giggles. It’s undeniably the ultimate exercise in bad taste (you know, as long as we’re forgetting about Nekromantik).
For some, Jackass is impossible to stomach. Others, however, see a series that elevates the juvenile to the realm of high art. Others still just like watching dudes get hit in the nuts. All of these viewpoints are valid.
One angle of Jackass that is painfully under-explored, however, is just how terrifying it is. Yes, it’s hilarious (for the right viewers), but it also leaves even the biggest gorehounds shuddering in their seats. Make no mistake: their stunts are never faked, and viewing a Jackass movie is akin to watching a lighthearted snuff film.
This all raises an important question. Does the gristly nature of Jackass qualify it as horror cinema? Let’s talk about it.
Offended Parents of the MTV Generation
One of the major points in Jackass’ favor in terms of being considered horror is the parental reaction. When the Jackass TV series was first deployed onto MTV in the year 2000, it was an immediate sensation. Part of its popularity came from the immense amount of outrage that it garnered. The show developed a reputation for encouraging young people to treat their bodies like ragdolls in bone-breaking stunts. Parents everywhere were disturbed and campaigned against the program.
The peak of the crusade against the jackassery of Jackass came in 2001 when then-Senator Joe Lieberman sent MTV a strongly-penned letter telling them, in so many words, to cut that shit out. This eventually resulted in MTV trying to disconnect itself from the franchise entirely. The pathetic attempt at government censorship only encouraged the cast to launch their own movie series filled with larger, grosser, and more dangerous stunts.
This, of course, is a story as old as time in the world of horror. Many early horror movies were viewed as depraved. Following this, the slasher era ushered in a period of moral panic and a general call for “decency” in cinema. As slashers gave way to torture porn and other more extreme genres of horror, the demand for censorship in horror only increased. Movies like the Hostel series developed a cult of outrage around themselves, and legendary films like The Human Centipede only further stratified the armies of critics.
Does this definitively prove that Jackass is horror? Not exactly – but it shows that it exists in a very similar universe to many iconic movies that have come to define the genre.
Imagining a “Horror Jackass”
To get at the bloody center of this problem, let’s employ a thought experiment. Imagine, for a moment, that there is an iteration of the franchise that is a “Horror Jackass.” Rather than sitting in the raunchy comedy section, Jackass now is set alongside giants like Friday the 13th and The Conjuring.
What, exactly, is different about “Horror Jackass” compared to the original?
If you ask me, very little would change. Sure, some of the skits focused mostly on poop and farts would need to be cut. Some of the surprisingly wholesome scenes of the guys palling around would only exist as behind-the-scenes features. Other than that, though, much of the footage would remain. (Many of Bam Margera’s finest outfits would make the “horror” cut, too – some of those fits were downright terrifying.) The general concept for most of the skits are scary enough, and a few are quintessential horror.
Some tweaks would be necessary, to be sure. The soundtrack would need to shift from energetic to brooding and tense. The lighting would need to be toned down. The friendly dialogue and the good-natured laughs would be cut. But the essence of most Jackass stunts are pure horror.
What, you don’t believe me?
The Most Horrific Jackass Stunts
Before you write me off, let me prove my point with a quick glance at some of the most horrific, soul crushing stunts from Jackass. Naturally, my list will be different from yours, as every skit plays upon a different phobia. But, in my eyes, these scenes belong as part of the “Horror Jackass” canon.
Let’s start with “Paper Cuts.” A choice selection from the first movie, it features several cast members sitting around and giving themselves paper cuts in gut-churning areas of their body. The spaces between the fingers and toes are given particular attention. At one moment, Steve-O bravely slices the space between his upper and lower lip. Watch this scene once, and then watch it again while imagining the dialogue and the laughs cut out. “Paper Cuts” quickly turns from an eye-rolling moment of “boys will be boys” to a disturbing scene of torture with this one fix.
Another one that leaves me speechless every time is “The Flaming Gauntlet.” A deep cut from Jackass 3.5, this skit hardly attempts to be anything but pure violence. Steve-O walks on a tiny balance beam above burning coals while his buddies toss burning balls at him. He gets reasonably far, but he succumbs to gravity and topples down right onto the coals… which also happen to be sitting on a bed of quickly-melting metal. Naturally, he’s burned within an inch of his life. Somehow, it garners laughs… but those laughs may just be a way of coping with the terror of the scene.
Finally, let’s talk about a scene from the new installment, Jackass Forever. Dubbed “The Spider Helmet Scene,” it features two cast members who are pitted against each other in a test of mental endurance. Each man has his head in a plastic orb, and each orb is connected by a tube. In the center of the tube is a massive tarantula. They watch in horror as the tarantula decides which direction to walk, and they’re helpless as it advances directly towards their faces. The contraption is a bit rinky-dink, but it’s also something that wouldn’t be out of place in a Saw film.
It’s Scary… and It’s Funny
There are countless other scenes that exemplify just how scary and dark Jackass can get. However, even the franchise’s most sadistic moments are resolved with laughter and high spirits. Were they presented only slightly differently, though, the audience wouldn’t be laughing along.
To me, this shows the very narrow separation between horror and comedy. Both genres are meant to evoke strong reactions from us – they try to really get at what makes us tick. Fear is, in many ways, really funny. When was the last time you went to a haunted house without falling into hysterical laughter after each scare?
Jackass may not quite be a horror series, but that’s fine. It elicits the same bodily reaction that horror fans love: the rising adrenaline, the thumping heartbeat, the undeniable feeling of excitement. That’s enough to make it an honorary addition to the genre.
Last Updated on May 31, 2022.