Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Itchy & Scratchy Effect

Mike over at You Talking To Me? recently wrote a great piece on “Where’s The Airship Movies” These are films that really serve no other purpose than to have as many explosions as possible on the screen. The article is a follow up to his commentary on “Chocolate Bar Movies,” films that satisfy for a while but are quickly forgotten.

If you would permit me to piggyback on Mike’s piece for a moment, I would like to throw in my own personal phrase into the ”Filmic Measures” lexicon: “The Itchy & Scratchy Effect.” This when you have a character, by all indications is a normal human being, who refuse to die no matter what you do to them. The characters always lives long enough for the hero, or heroine, to utter some sort of ”Hasta La Vista”-style line, though not as good as Arnold’s catchphrase, before they strike the final blow.

Now this is by no means a new trend these types of scenes play out all the time and could easily qualify under Mike’s “Chocolate Bar Movies” heading. Yet the reason I call it “The Itchy & Scratchy Effect” is because I am always reminded the “Itchy and Scratchy Land” episode of television show The Simpsons. The episode is a spoof of Jurassic Park and action films in general. Though I use the terminology more in relation to thrillers and horror flicks but I digress. In the episode two distinct moments standout, the first being a conversation below that Marge has with a local park guard.  The discussion is in regards to the absurdity of the violence and how the characters unrealistically manage to survive:

Guard: Here at Itchy and Scratchy Land, we're just as concerned with violence as you are. That's why we're always careful to show the consequences of deadly mayhem, so that we may educate as well as horrify.

Marge: When do you show the consequences? On TV, that mouse pulled out that cat's lungs and played them like a bagpipe, but in the next scene, the cat was breathing comfortably.

Guard: Just like in real life.

The second point that I always remember, and often quote, comes when Bart destroys the robotic mouse, Itchy. Bart uses the flash on his camera to disrupt the robot’s circuits. Before killing the mouse Bart states “Hey, mouse. Say, ‘Cheese’ ” The line is brilliantly followed up with Bart commenting on the fact that “With a dry, cool with like that, I could be an action hero.” Seconds later Homer is saying the exact same thing. Showing how the final strike always needs to be added by some defining comment.

Having recently watched both The Stepfather and Orphan I was again reminded by how often and, at times, how absurdly “The Itchy & Scratchy Effect” is used. The Stepfather is not a good movie but I had fun watching it. Part of the enjoyment came from the fact that my co-worker and I (the movie was shown at our office…long story) were playing the “is he dead yet game?” during the screening. Basically something would happen, say the evil stepfather getting stabbed in the neck, and I would joke that the movie is over knowing full well that my co-worker would say “not yet, the cut does not look deep enough”. We both knew that it would take at least more things that happen before the evil stepfather meets his doom… but you get the picture.

While I found Orphan to be light years better than The Stepfather it still falls victim to “The Itchy & Scratchy Effect” towards the end. Somehow disturbed little Esther, who is four foot nothing and maybe sixty pounds wet, miraculously survives various things in a way that can only happen in movies. The last twenty minutes of film build up to the moment where Vera Farmiga’s Kate can finally proclaim “I am not your [bleeping] Mother!”, thus completing “The Itchy & Scratchy Effect.”

As I mentioned before this is nothing new, “The Itchy and Scratchy Effect” has been around for ages and it will continue for many more years to come. It is something that I have come to expect from certain genres. I am sure everyone has their own individual phrase for it. Yet every time I see these types of scenes happen in a movie, I am fondly reminded of those two great satirical moments that The Simpson’s offered up.


  1. Glad to have inspired. You seem to be on to something here.

  2. @Mike - I once read an article in the Toronto Star were columnist Ben Rayner wrote that all aspects of life can be related back to The Simpsons.

  3. Mike said, you may be onto something.

  4. @Simon - I think we all have our own quirky phrases that we apply to particular movies.


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