Sunday, June 08, 2008

Horror Films

This is a coffee bean kind of post.

I don't like to watch horror movies. When I was young, they gave me nightmares. Nowadays, they create an unsettling feeling in my mind, which seems to linger on for days at times. So I try to avoid them. But it is not often easy. There is a certain magnetic quality to horror films. Once I start watching, having stumbled upon such a specimen on my cable travels, I find it is difficult to detach, change the channel.

The initial situations, which are set up, before the actual horror is manifested, are very enthralling. Always we start with a normal environment, normal people, acting confidently in broad daylight, sometimes cockily arrogant, as though signalling that their comeuppance is soon arriving. And the tension in the movie builds up as the filmmaker to begin to have a queasy feeling in our gut manipulates us. Something is not right! Usually the suspicion of evil is much stronger medicine than when the evil starts manifesting itself in its actual grotesqueries, by the time they start happening, if I stay that long, I am back in my comfort zone, fully aware of the theatricality. Usually I'm strong enough to switch the channel at that point. But my curiosity is such that I will want to know how it ends.

So even if, as a rule, I never watch horror movies, I do get to watch one or two, usually in instalments, which can take years to end!

More recently, I watched the second halves of two horrors I avoided: "1408", and "The Wicker Man". In each of these films there is a depressed man, who is unaware of his own vulnerability and proneness to making unfettered choices, which leads him into direct confrontation with human, or supernatural, evil. Always the protagonist is complicit in his own doom. He refuses to understand.

"The Wicker Man" is much more disturbing because it is about the depth and power of human evil. In 1408 the evil is a supernatural sadistic power which seems to be unleashed against our hero for no reason at all except that he is a weak link in the human chain upon which destruction can be worked.

I found "Wicker Man" a lot more effective in its horror.

I've become somewhat interested in the horror film, enough to write about it, because I made two discoveries that are probably well known to those who are fond of the genre: One, it always involves a person who is at a transition phase in his life, depressed, having suffered a loss, which is usually when ordinary people are at their most susceptible. The second is that horror films, rarely, if ever, have a "happy" ending. They end with evil triumphant.

In Hollywood, where the happy ending is a jealously preserved convention, this genre with its bitter ends seems unusual. Why? What is the meaning of that satisfaction which the viewer gets from either a neat happy end, or a neat evil end? Is it the neatness of the solution? Is it a need to be able to watch radical evil wreak its havoc completely, upon one person's life? Is the viewer of "The Wicker Man", in that respect, somewhat complicit in the final ritual of human sacrifice, together with the crazed mob that enacts it?


At 3:19 PM EDT, Blogger Bald Headed Geek said...

I hate horror movies. Won't even watch 'em. To me, laughter is the ultimate medicine for the soul, hence my love of comedies.


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