Thursday, October 31, 2013

Why Horror Films Matter

Why Horror Films Matter
Happy Halloween everyone.

As this month begins to quickly come to a close, the kids will go home with bags full of candy, the aisles in stores will take down their Halloween stuff and add Christmas stuff, the prices for fun-size candy will drop below 50% and next September, it will start all over again. One of the main draws to Halloween, is the scary stuff. People love the sensation of getting scared. Why, well for me its all about the thrill. In many different ways, I love having fun in any form it comes in, and I have always been drawn to scary things. That means horror films, and I know I am not the only one. There are many horror movie buffs out there. 

Despite the popularity of the genre, horror films seldom ever make a dent at the award season. Horror films rarely crack a top ten list at the end of each year by major film critics. Why is that? Some could say that a great horror film hasn't been made in some odd years. Fair enough. I guess it has been awhile since something resembling "The Exorcist" came out. Even the great horror films coming out now, like the recent "The Conjuring" do not really compare to the great ones, like "Psycho" and "Rosemary's Baby." But even when great horror films were coming in the 1930's, 1960's and 1970's, those are barely registered as classics. So if we know there are some great horror films and the genre is popular, why does the cinematic world largely ignore it? I certainly don't ignore it, because horror films matter. They matter for a lot of reasons, and on this Halloween, I am going to discuss why they matter.

First of all, people have been passing down dark stories for ages, literally ages. Look at mythology, I can't even look up a picture of Hades without getting the shivers. Monsters, death, incest...all creepy stuff, all shaped the way we tell stories. Have any of you heard a fairy tale. I am not talking about the Disney, "happy ever after" versions of them, I mean the tales written in the years they were published. The first version of "The Three Little Pigs" had the big bad wolf blowing down the straw house and the stick house of two unsuspecting pigs, but in the original version, he ate them. When the wolf got to the brick house, he tries to bring it down and he fails. Passed out on the road, the last pig drags him into his house. He then proceeds to kill, cook and eat the wolf. When you think about it, not only did the last pig eat the wolf, but he ate his two brothers. In the original "Little Red Riding Hood," the wolf ate the Hood's grandmother, waited for Hood to get there, then ate her too. When Hood's brother came with an ax, he killed the wolf, and the guts of his family spilling out on the floor. Not how you remember the tales? Original fairy tales were graphic, and what's really disturbing is that they were meant to be children's stories. This is all my way of saying that the "horror" genre is in our blood. As much as storytellers embraced the light, they embraced the dark as well. That embrace is etched into our psyche and will possibly be there forever.

Second of all, the horror genre is nearly identical to the sci/fi genre, the best of the genres have something to say about us. They make social commentaries, they are affected by the world around them. Take the classic Universal monster era of the 1930's. They all revolve around a monster feared by the rest of the world. This reflects how the world change after the first World War. G.I.'s were coming home missing limbs, looking completely disfigured, nearly shunned by the rest of society. Our world has feared things it doesn't understand and that couldn't be more clear in those early horror films. As the 1940's and 1950's settled in, horror meshed with science fiction. The thought of a weapon decimating a whole city, a third world war to end all world wars, and communism were all great fear of those years. That is a film like "Them!," a horror movie about giant ants born from radiation was so scary. That is why films about alien invasion were popular during these decades. The audience switched aliens for communists in their minds and that created a world of fear. That fear was only heightened as our nation moved into Vietnam. As America moved into the 1960's and 1970's, America had grown panicked and stern. Economic collapse, proxy wars, the Cold War getting worse, people literally thought we were reaching world's end. So its understandable to see why "Rosemary's Baby," "The Omen" and "The Exorcist" made such reactions to audiences. The Antichrist is the very definition of Armageddon and that was where people thought we were headed.

Horror films say a lot about what is happening in our culture even today, even if we realized it or not. Looking back at 2004, 2005 and 2006, those were the years Hollywood looked at how much America had changed. The film industry thought about 9/11, it thought about it, picked at it and there were glaring results. Take Eli Roth's "Hostel" for example. That movie is more than a slasher film featuring shrowd business men. It paints a picture of an unsafe foreign world, it tells us to stay in our homes, it begs us to bury our head in the sand, it tells us the only people we can trust are our own countrymen. "Hostel" is a very xenophobic film and that ignorant feeling is what makes "Hostel" scary.

Lets think about even more recent years, why is the found footage genre so popular? The answer might be coupled with why Youtube is so popular. Did you know that when tragic events happen around us, the average person is more willing to record the event rather than help people it affects? If you channel surf on a given evening, you will likely find many shows that resemble "World's Most Shocking Events" or "World's Most Dangerous Police Chases" or the like. Facebook has created a world entirely on the internet, giving people access to showcase their entire lives for billions of people to see. We live in a world without privacy now, and when I see an image of a suburban American couple being stalked on a recorder by a demonic entity they can't see, I can't help but see the parallels to our own world. Found footage is a reaction to our digital age and it couldn't make more disturbing comments.

The bottom line is this, this genre is built to last for many reasons. Horror has evolved into more than just monsters, graphic killings and lots of blood. The best of the genre holds a mirror to who we are as a culture and a society. The best horror films also dig deep into our psyche and tells us what our true anxieties are. But most of all, for me personally, beyond the death and macabre of most horror films, they teach me the meaning of life and how precious it truly is. 

What do horror films mean to you? I hope this article opens a conversation about you think about the genre, what yo take from it and how it effects your life. I have also added some highlights below from Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments, my favorite thing to watch every October. Yes, the channel has much more to offer besides real housewives and millionaire matchmakers. The entire series isn't on Youtube, but most of it is and I posted the best. I hope you enjoy the videos and I hope you enjoyed the article.

Here's Part I

Here's Part II

Here they talk about Audition!

Here They talk about The Exorcist!

number 30 was "Blair Witch Project"

Number 1 was Jaws!

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