Monday, 7 December 2009
HORROR MOVIES: WHY WE LIKE THEM (alternate cut)
I've already been here once and the conclusions I came to were twofold: that we enjoy the frisson, the thrill, the moment the killer strikes, the shock as much as the violence itself, as catharsis; but also we are subconsciously confronting our deepest fear, the fear of dying, of death, and we are laughing at it, laughing in the face death, making it that much less frightening.
But I've been wondering about that and while I still hold it to be true, I've started to suspect that there might also be an uglier truth behind our love of horror movies and I'm beginning to believe that it might lie in my expanding taste in horror movies. Generally I prefer horror movies to have a monster as the threat rather than an ordinary (albeit highly resistant to damage) human -Dracula rather than Jason, things from outer space rather than evil twins, demons not the demented. Titles I can see from where I'm sitting include: The Evil Dead, Shaun of the Dead, Re-animator, Brain Dead, Zombie Strippers, Dog Soldiers, From Beyond, Demons, The Host. To have a human being as the monster brings it too close to home. I prefer my horror movie to be on the level of science fiction and fantasy. Obviously there have been exceptions but on the whole I've tender to avoid the slasher sub-genre which I've seen as a debased form of horror movie.
Recently I've started flirting with slasher movies. There's the Nightmare on Elm Street series, though I regard that as more fantasy horror. I really enjoyed Jason X (Friday13th in space) because of its sense of humour and the robotrix whose nipples kept dropping off and was later programmed to go mano a mano (if that's not the wrong expression) with Jason, so that despite the gore it only got a 15 rating. Obviously I highly rate the original, relatively bloodless, Halloween.
But in general I've regarded the slasher movie as a simplistic debased form of the horror movie that requires little talent or imagination. Isolate a bunch of teenagers, throw in some nudity, and have them gruesomely killed by a masked assailant. And to some extent this remains a pretty accurate description -one recent DVD I watched(courtesy of Amazon Vine was a slasher directed by George Romero's son pretty much fits the bill and was rubbish (see my Amazon review for details and boy am I glad I didn't waste any money on it).
Yet, for some reason, I've started getting some entertainment from this type of movie. It didn't begin with, but it's a good place to start, My Bloody Valentine and its 3-D remake (see a recent post on them). More recently I picked up a double bill on the Anchor Bay label of -well, here's a picture of the cover.
Checking up, The Initiation had a couple of good reviews and deservedly so. Although it ticks the usual slasher boxes -teenagers being stalked in an isolated spot (a department store at night), casual female nudity as college girls get showered and changed, the twist ending (which, annoyingly, is given away by one of the inlay's chapter titles and also by IMDB's character/cast list), it has a longish but never dull buildup to the stalking as the villain has a very good reason for doing what he/she/it does and it isn't because he/she/it likes stalking teenagers, but neither is it overly gory and generally comes under the good fun category and I'd rate it quite close to the original MBV in quality.
Mountaintop Motel Massacre, on the other hand, has a reputation as a stinker which, having watched it, I feel is a bit harsh. At the very least it deserves credit for having the killer being an unmasked 60+ psychotic woman. It's also even more of a literal slasher than the previous movie (where a couple of characters were offed by a bow and arrow) in that her weapon of choice is a rusty scythe -slash, slash. While I did speed up some of the talky bits and won't watch it again, it wasn't too bad and had a couple of good gore effects.
This is a Tobe Hooper movie from the early 80's and I remember seeing a gruesome picture of the killer on a magazine cover. Now I think the cover of this DVD is scarier. Again it ticks the usual slasher buttons: four teens spend the night in the funhouse (UK equivalent: ghost train) at a carnival, brief nudity, masked killer, gruesome deaths. Although I can't say I particularly cared for the film it did have its moments. The killer, who initially wears a Frankenstein monster costume, is retarded and in one scene pays a fortune teller, old enough to be his grandmother, for sex which, surprise, goes drastically wrong. Not long after that he is revealed as physically deformed. Despite his homicidal rages, his father isn't exactly sweetness and light either.
I have a few others on order from Amazon Marketplace: the original Prom Night (with Jamie Lee Curtis -seen 3 & 4 on a twofer DVD, one a horror-comedy, one just plain crap), House on Sorority Row (which has had some good reviews), Friday 13th 6: Jason Lives (possibly the best of the series with sympathetic characters), and The Burning (heavily cut by UK censors at the time, but now no more) which again is supposed to be one of the better 80's slashers. Hopefully this lot will satiate my desire for slasher movies.
But what worries me is that it won't.
What if another reason we watch them is because they provide a sinister vicarious pleasure that we are denied in our real lives. What if it actually is the gory killing of other people which gives us the pleasure. The movie becomes a vehicle for the pent-up violence within us, within even the most humanitarian of individuals with the highest ideals -and I obviously mean myself here as well all know that to just mention that description and the person with whom you are conversing will immediately venture, "Why of course, you're talking about Ian Williams, that most noble and humanitarian of individuals."
The catharsis doesn't come with the frisson, it comes with the killing and the killer is our surrogate. The slasher movie exposes the darkness within ourselves and we revel in it, in the destruction of another human being which, in our real life, we would never seriously consciously consider doing.
On the other hand, I've never identified with Jason, psychotic grannies, homicidal twin sisters, demented miners, or sexually frustrated freaks, so maybe not.