The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
– “The Sounds of Silence”
I was asked by REBEAT Magazine about my favorite horror film-
OK, why would they ask me? Part of that comes from having started doing some work with them; I’ve already had a piece published with them about looking at The Prisoner today in the wake of the establishment of the surveillance state, and I’ve got another piece they’re considering. If something happens with that one, I’ll let you know.
In any event, I ended up getting asked to contribute to a pick of John Lennon solo songs, and I guess I didn’t make that bad an appearance there, hence the new offer.
Truth is, I like a lot of horror films.
I happen more so to like the genre as a whole.
Why? It’s not so much the conventions of the form that keep me coming back. There are certain things you need to make a horror film, and once you have seen enough of them you start noting the seams the way a tailor judges a suit:
Victims: check; division between the ones going to make it to the end versus the expendables, set. Threat: good, that’s in place. Category, we, got that; and setting, yeah, let’s go back and look… Ooo-kay, this should work…
And it’s easy to get jaded about what you could find in the genre. There can seem to be a lot of bloat in the field, much like you find in SF, and can easily find in mysteries, Westerns, Rom Coms…
So what’s the draw? How about the fact that we can use horror to approach a subject at an angle that we either can’t yet or never could look at head-on?
Had there been more room to go on, the article could have brought up how Dracula was the perfect embodiment of our fears of the other, especially an other that represented the rich as the Depression deepened. We couldn’t root for bankers to be killed on screen, but this foreigner buying ruins just next door, well… Likewise, out of the main source, Stoker couldn’t discuss feminine self-determination or the rise of foreign challenges to the Empire without the Count to wrap his cape over the points.
With more room, attention could be given to the Frankenstein monster, our fear of science getting out of hand, realized with pieces of corpses butchered so soon after the carnage of the First World War cost millions their limbs. Whale’s version of Shelly’s tale shared many of the same concerns, especially the dangers of not keep track of your soul as you pursue ultimate knowledge.
Going on, there would have been discussions of vampires in general being the evil we invite to come for us, whether we’re weak or just easily flattered. The lycanthrope, and whether that werewolf we could become is as easily kept at bay as we imagine, or if the line between human and beast is not that strong after all. The kaiju rising up to destroy our cities, making us pay for our nuclear proliferation and environmental mismanagement. And if the big monster doesn’t come after us because we can’t clean up the environment, there’s that zombie horde over the hill. And maybe our inability to connect with each other in a meaningful manner, our lack of humanity, makes us deserve the slasher in a mask with a chainsaw waiting for us.
Even the Hostel films offer their observations; when we see college kids being slaughtered by the highest bidder, we get to confront our xenophobia and feelings about rendition as part of the War on Terror getting together like two drunk guests at a Halloween party getting locked in the closet, getting it on hot and heavy. And the Purge series gives us a chance to imagine economic inequity taken to levels Fritz Lang only hinted at in Metropolis.
In the end, we scare ourselves, or allow ourselves to be scared, because that’s actually a more comforting place to deal with the deeper flaws of our existence than reality allows. We need to be in fear because we otherwise might never allow ourselves to be aware of what’s wrong.
And unfortunately, we put down the book, leave the theater, shut off the TV/iPad, and allow ourselves to leave the state of awareness we’re in, and instead of doing something to address what scared us, let it build up again. Maybe it resolves itself, or it resolves us; more often than not we just adjust and await the next threat to metastasize, let it become enough of a worry to take the form of a monster in the next horror.
And it’s that, the ability to just shut it off after we finish looking at and poking what it is that scares us; that’s the part that actually scares me…