What the Hell is horror anyway? Vampire, Zombie, Slasher, Gore Fest, Suspense?
What is Horror: Hitchcock’s “Psycho” – is it Horror? “Andy Warhol’s Dracula”? “The Changeling” with George C. Scott (not the Angelina Jolie film of same name), are any of these “Horror” films? Now the “Changeling”, that’s horror. Why, because of a ghost? I once thought that the horror of a horror film was where the hero/heroine had to change and become like the killer to survive. Classic movie story – introduction, conflict, change and growth. Except what makes it horror is instead of growing in a positive way, the hero/heroine is now a violent killer. Just think of “Friday the 13th” and “Halloween”– gentle and meek females who survive by becoming self dependent and violent. Gee that also applies to “The Terminator” as well doesn’t it.
I suppose you could point to the socio/psycho element of watching in a dark theater surrounded by strangers – see The Magic that happens between the Frames – I have, but that doesn’t explain why when I watched “The Ring” – with 3 other people in a well lit room on a TV, we each ran out of the room at different times, or why my wife started pounding me on the shoulder screaming at me “Why did you think it would be a good idea for me to watch this?” While watching “The Changeling” (Again George C. Scott and Melvin Douglass) one X-mas vacation night. Or watching “The Others” alone on DVD on a television, one hand on the light switch. Terrifying all. But……
“The Ring” doesn’t scare me anymore, neither “The Others”, “The Changeling” well I first saw it in a theater and I ended up doing a back-flip into the row behind me I was so tense and scared, but now, not quite the same. Still “The Exorcist” has some chills in it. So what is it? What makes a “Horror” Film scary? Or are they scary any more?
Let’s look at one of the most terrifying films of all time – “Jaws”. It was scary, scary enough to keep people out of the water for a summer. Scary enough to have lines around the block, because we want that fear, that feeling of being alive – pretty much the dead aren’t afraid of anything. Scary because the rules that we lived by, were completely turned heels over head in that film. While in the theater “Shark eating Man” – as opposed to “Man eating Shark” was the way of the world. In many ways Jaws was about overcoming fear – Roy Scheider’s character has to overcome his fear of water, and at the end he has, and we overcome our fear of the shark, order is restored and the world is how it was before – safe and understandable. So at the end of the film the world make sense, and so the world it isn’t that scary at the end of “Jaws”, and isn’t a “Horror” Film.
Now Let’s look at two very popular TV shows – yes TV shows, I know, I know but I haven’t seen any of the “Twilight” movies, And the Paranormal boring movies (1 and 2) just aren’t doing it for me. So the shows – “Supernatural” and “The Walking Dead”. NEITHER show is scary AT ALL. Not one bit. what they are is interesting, captivating, and really just dramas set against a “Horror” Theme. What makes them a drama? The characters struggle in an exceptional situation. Ordinary person in an extraordinary circumstance – that is why we root for them. However in the case of both of these shows the characters in a world that is normal to them. In the walking dead there really isn’t terror associated with Zombies, you just take precautions – don’t shoot unless you have to – the zombies follow the noise – use hand weapons or crossbows, don’t get bit, etc. etc. In fact if you follow the show, we’ve come to learn that there is some kind of virus animating the dead bodies. In Night of the Living Dead I believe it was radioactivity that caused the animation. In dawn of the dead I think the bite would infect you. So it isn’t a supernatural horror in “The Walking Dead.” In this case it is more of a no way out, how do you escape the situation of being killed by a mob? Granted it is a slowly moving mob, which actually adds to the DRAMA
So with “Supernatural” as it is in “The Walking Dead” – the characters exist in a world with rules – it is a different world than ours, the rules are different, but in the show the characters have learned these rules, and exist in them. There are no shocking surprises that these people just can’t endure. I suppose that could be the horror – perhaps the horror of war (The Horror, The Horror), trying to exist/survive in a world that is so different than what you know that there is just no chance. That no matter how much you survive, there is always going to be that ONE thing that you had no idea was coming, and no answer for. I guess that is why at the end of “horror” films these days there is always that last twist – Jason Voorhees popping out of the lake for example.
Although nowadays it seems as if the reason for this is lost, and it it has become part of the expected “formula” – Oh look – The Fisherman jumps through the mirror at the end of “I know what you did last summer”, “The vampire wakes up early once the blood has dripped into the coffin – “Underworld.” I’m sure you can think of many examples on your own. Now it seems that it is a teaser for what may be coming in the next film. It doesn’t go with every film of course and there are notable exclusions. “Carrie” for example – at the end Carrie’s hand does come out of the ground, but it is just a dream – Brian DePalma did that at the end of “Dressed to Kill” – so perhaps that is his take on the “Horror Genre”
I think we are not scared by “Horror” anymore – Once while watching movies we were still connected to our fears of what is just out of sight in the dark. Now we’ve lost that. We go to a movie, and it doesn’t scare us, not the way it used to. We don’t get immersed in it anymore. Now the audience needs to believe that it is somehow watching found recordings of actual events – “Blair Witch Project”, “Paranormal whatever movies.” We’ve lost the fear of the unknown, we are distant from our less sophisticated selves. Technology is no longer something to potentially be feared – except for Nuclear Armageddon of course but that is a different genre. It is what we have mastered the world with. We have learned how to cope with plagues and disease – we have learned the rules to exist in this world, Zombies, are they really as scary as Aids? The world has learned how to live with Aids (in a general sense that is), Zombies are easy – dead flesh, just destroy the brain and you are safe. of course the “real” zombie is a person who is under the mental control of another, and not some flesh eating thing. So we’ve mastered the big bad scary world around us, mastered technology – not a lot of technology run amok terror films out there anymore are there? Even the supernatural – that which we can’t explain – is explained – Zombies, Vampires, ghosts, all brought into the 21st century and put under the microscope. Supernatural made natural – Rules to follow and understand, a way to survive the night, the day and forward, and that just isn’t frightening anymore.
Thanks for reading, please feel free to comment and share.