HORROR – Why dOeS IT sCarE us SO???????????

What the Hell is horror anyway? Vampire, Zombie, Slasher, Gore Fest, Suspense?

This question kind of came up in an Podcast of me and my co-writer Joe Randazzo – when Char Hardin interviewed of us about our Screenplay “Resurrection of Blake House”

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.


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7 Responses to HORROR – Why dOeS IT sCarE us SO???????????

  1. Char Hardin August 22, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    Finally someone has said something. You are right 100% Steven! Now when I ask friends to go to Horror movies they look at the trailer and and say,”Sure.” I like I had just asked them if they wanted a drink of water. Gone are the days, “Are you kidding…I don’t want to sit in the dark and watch THAT!” Now it’s nonchallant and when the movie starts…there is rarely a heightened sense of dread or that rush like a roller coaster ride of fear…something is missing but what is so blatant is PREDICTABILITY. Few minutes into the new horror movies…you already know what is going to happen and unfortunately how it will end. Horror has become a formula and screenwriters/filmmakers are just dropping new names and locations into the blanks adding boobage, foul language few bloody sequences, a lot of CGI and the monster/killer added is as scary as a ghost on Scooby Doo. Mainstream Horror has become lifeless.

    Everything is explained and nothing is left to the imagination. It’s like they are running out of ideas and then looking at the past they bring it back add a little modern technology to the look and repackage and sell to the audience. Getting off topic. Originality not so much what you are saying.

    The rules have changed and the best example for me is True Blood. You have a VAMPIRES, Weres and Demons who are supposed to scary because of their natures and how they exist off the life force of humans. In the series, they co-exist with humans. It’s like they “came out from under the beds and out of the closets” and we the humans aren’t as afraid of them. They are have a little, but as you said, they know what not to do to avoid getting bitten. They know what keeps them safe and that leads to boring for horror fans like me that don’t want to safely exist with vampires, weres, zombies…we want to be constantly on toes and not compliant.

    We (myself plus those who miss real horror) want that jolt to the heart, that unease looking around the corner…the unexplained…I miss that rush I would get when something scared me. I watched a short film not long ago and there was something in the house and this filmmaker did his homework and made it scary and for 15 minutes…I was on the edge of my seat gripping the armrests and squinting when walking around corners and down into the dark basement. Creepy and scary. I say throw the rules away and bring back the scary! -Char

    • sgladstone August 22, 2012 at 8:01 pm #

      At last, someone reads. Great point about predictability Char. With what you’ve seen, anything unpredictable – whew that must be next to impossible to nail – or is it staple. 😉

    • sgladstone August 24, 2012 at 7:19 pm #

      You know, not one person has mentioned anything about the links to the trailers. What was there only one or two gravely voiced guy doing the narration of horror film trailers back then?

  2. Amedar Consulting Group August 23, 2012 at 12:12 am #

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  3. JB August 27, 2012 at 4:48 pm #

    So much to think about, I’ll start at the end.

    I don’t know that it’s impossible for fiction to scare us anymore, we just have to find new ways. I really do think you are on to something with the issue of “the rules.” Our protagonists in the horror genre used to have to learn the rules as they went along, and fear of the unknown has always been one of the scariest. Over the last decade, so much has been done to make previous “monsters” normal – vampires and werewolves especially – that we feel right at home with them.

    Oddly, I think some of it has to do with our changing impression of women and sex.

    Men, who were long the more published and produced creators of horror, actually hid what they perceived as women’s greatest fear – for lack of a word, penetration – in most of their horror stories. Even the “Alien” series follows this pattern. The men usually get killed off quickly and with little emotion – and then they come, as they say, for the women.

    If we start with the old male premise – that women need men to protect them – then in theory, this should be the greatest fear for women – being defenseless; while also a great fear for men – their women being defenseless against other men.

    Gradually after WWII, and more rapidly from the early 70s on, you see the same premise, but the women rise to the challenge. It’s a new sensibility – they aren’t afraid of sex, and they don’t need men to defend them (though someone needs to inform Tea Partiers of this).

    After death and sex, what else can they take from us? Our souls? The growth of Eastern philosophy, in its many forms, has changed that fear that our “soul” can be taken from us, or can be “lost” or given away. Remember that life expectancy was shorter when much of gothic horror was written. Death happened all the time; but the Church was still able to keep you in its control by saying that if you weren’t careful, the much longer “eternity” would be taken from you as well.

    It’s much the same as those from our generation grew up looking to the skies. When did we stop watching space launches, anyway? The recent death of Neil Armstrong got me thinking about that – when did touching the heavens stop being fascinating? Witness the nonchalance about our landing on Mars.

    Still, there are primal fears, and someone will find a way to tap into them with something besides the (boring) “Paranormal” trend.

    Thanks for getting me thinking!

    • sgladstone August 27, 2012 at 8:48 pm #

      It is an interesting point about women and sex. While I’ve come to feel that the film Dracula – with Bela Lugosi was a statement on class values, I’ve felt that Bram Stoker’s book was about the “repressed” sexuality of the Victorian age. So the vampire and the biting, the blood spilled – very much deflowering of the virgin. Perhaps in a way, the death/liberation of the feminine ideal of the Victorian woman – demure, quiet, weak, meek and gentle to the vibrant, erotic female in the dark. In a way a revealing. By night the vampire is alive in a way no Victorian can be, by day again asleep. So the transformation to the vampire is is really an awakening, exposing of the real humanity. Perhaps that is the terror, or the horror, that inside of us is a sexual beast, and that it can be released.
      Of course then comes Madonna, and now there is no repressed sexuality anymore, or at least no need to fear our sexuality anymore.

  4. J Pitara Daemonica September 19, 2012 at 8:41 am #

    Hey sweet post. I love blogs like this. Anything related to technology, space or science is sweet. Definitely sharing this on Mixx.

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