In a past You Suck! post, I complained about a blogger giving a glowing review for shady reasons. I didn’t know that post would resonate down the line, but it came back to mind today. Earlier in the day, I got involved in a debate on social media about, of all things, free screeners of horror flicks. And though I was well aware of underhanded business when it came to some sites’ reviews, it enlightened me on just how widespread a problem this was, and just how deep it ran.
Here’s how the screener thing is supposed to work. Releasing companies have product they want the public to buy. They send free copies of (or in today’s world, sometimes links to) a flick to all sorts of sites big and small. From there, bloggers watch and review the flick and post their thoughts. It’s a simple process.
The end goal is simple, too. People will read the reviews. The more eyes on the reviews, the wider exposure to the product, the bigger potential to rope in viewers. If the flick gets a bad review or two, it goes with the territory. If it gets a metric ton of bad reviews, it’s likely not very good, for reasons the reviewers will explain.
On the reviewer end, the blogger gets the nicety of a free flick. At best, it can open up a viewer to an experience he otherwise might have avoided (such as when I saw BLOOD PUNCH and loved it). At worst, if the flick is awful, the blogger only had to invest 90 minutes or so. He also gets the joy of people reading his perspectives on a flick.
That’s how it works in a perfect world. In the real world, in the words of Ice Cube, everythang’s corrupt.
False positives are where the problems begin. At my old gig, I started off free to be honest with my reviews. My editor disagreed with my opinions frequently, but he always supported my work. A few years later, when I was editor-in-chief, we clashed about content because he didn’t want to upset his Hollywood “friends.” I ended up leaving the site over a review, one I didn’t even write but supported. Which is why you’re reading this at Death Ensemble, and not reading it over there.
This line of corruption is pervasive throughout the net. The bigger sites kowtow to the corporate machinery all the time. They heap article after article in praise of product from companies that share a bed with them. This is why you’ll see blurbs from Deadhead Central or Gory-Disgusting on the back of Blu-Ray boxes, and never one from my site. They get access sometimes months before guys like me, with reason: they’ve been bought off to drop to their knees. Everything comes at a price.
Some of the mom and pop websites have created another problem. Without the access the big guys have, they write reviews from torrents. Some of the guys in that debate this afternoon said bloggers will acknowledge the act, which is about as dumb as you can get. The internet is called the “world wide web” because it’s open to all 6 billion of us. Anyone can see what you post. Torrent sites are illegal. These guys are admitting to criminal acts, acts which not only the law but releasing companies and studios can see. They might as well walk into the police station like John Doe from SEVEN, with their hands behind their heads.
Cut off from the action the big boys get, these smaller guys decided for themselves to cheat a flawed system. But the catch is, they’re only making it further flawed. Watching torrents is a moral question for each person to answer individually; blogging reviews off torrents is bad business for everybody. When a blogger cops to it, he’s encouraging stealing.
Bloggers aren’t the only ones playing dirty. Quite the opposite, for some of them who give honest appraisals of screeners. If the fat cats don’t like what they’re getting for supplying freebies, the corporate machine may cut off bloggers in retaliation. Say a blogger gives a review that’s negative, or perhaps just not so glowing. The powers-that-be may have a lot invested in the film, and want a big release. They don’t appreciate that the blogger isn’t more positive, and so they banish him. They may send him some vague excuse about how they’ve “changed criteria for sending review copies,” but read between the lines and the meaning is clear: no more screeners.
If I’m to believe the other participants in todays debate (and one of them I know personally, and don’t believe he has any reason to lie), it’s not just the smaller outlets who are guilty. Mega-conglomerates such as Warner Bros. are in on the dirty pool as well. They don’t want honest reviews, they want happy yes-men who will shill for them. If you have the backbone to say, “No!” in thunder, then you’ll find yourself blacklisted.
This whole problem boils down to a matter of integrity vs. compromise. Before I founded Death Ensemble, I had options to go to one of those Gory-Disgusting type sites. One reason I passed was that I didn’t want to be beholden to pushing views I do not actually support. I wasn’t willing to trade off my integrity for exposure; and believe me my exposure would have been infinitely larger writing for Deadhead Central than starting DE from scratch. My self respect, though… that would have been infinitely smaller. Better to answer to my conscience as a master.
Every time I sit down and write a review, I make a promise to anyone who reads it, that the reader will get an honest review, unbiased by any factors but my own perspective. That vow is crucial to me. I created Death Ensemble in my own image, and I do everything to ensure its integrity. “Your vital source for interesting perspectives on horror” is our motto, and I stand by it. You can trust us to stand by it every time you read a review here. This much, I continue to promise you.
If movie studios and releasing companies spent more time making and distributing great movies, they not only wouldn’t worry about reviews; they wouldn’t need them. Conversely, if bloggers didn’t go grubbing for handouts, they might write honest reviews. Until that happens, the system will continue to be corrupt. And that sucks anyway you look at, worst of all for the trusting people who read reviews.