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Film & Television


Why we love horror!

Why we love horror!

Skip Ford

From earlier childhood, we have either gained a love/hate affection with horror in film or written prose. Horror forces us to dig deep into our inner fears and imaginations and reveal what truly scares us. Horror can take on many forms may it be myths passed down in history or sadistic tales from the minds that attempt to touch our innermost senses of fear. Many times these horrors can be from the world of reality or those made up the minds of those that place no boundaries on the ideas or concepts of ideas that we fear sometimes breaking the barriers of what we deem normal. Long ago while the American film industry faced the cutting room floor from pressure from rating associations and John or Jane Doe that failed to have control of what they wished to allow others to view. Let’s look at the facts as to when you go to a movie house you decide to buy the ticket and walk through the doors and never just dragged off the street and chained and shackled to view a movie you do not deem fit to watch. This was true of many of the porn film theatres that were closed because of outside influences. It's more a prohibition of the viewer's pleasure as to enter is your choice and yours alone. I tend to believe that much was due to the fact of the lack of responsibility as a parent that could not control their own offspring and looked for society to place the blame on. Just as I would never just hand a bottle of scotch to a child, I would not allow viewing films I did not deem presentable to their age.

As an adult I loved horror and, in that respect, love each form may it be the mild representations of saying the early B & W presentations all the way to the overly grotesque films of many of the foreign markets that never saw the rating restrictions the American producers had to face. During my time many of these films were classified as underground films and were a small closed market where you could purchase them. Now let me point to facts here as in reflection to this I do not profess to endorse what they classified as “snuff films” as that is against the law and actually present no horror factor as horror presents “what could be” and not what is reality. These forms of films are on the same plane as child pornography and should be outlawed and those involved charged for their actions. When I speak of these underground films, I mean well-known directors that used the basis of low budgets to produce a great scare by presenting something that posed no limitations, American films presented the illusion of what had happened while the foreign films showed you what happened. Every year we see it closer and closer in American film as directors attempt to break the barriers.

So, the question is why we love to face the things we fear and are afraid of. Could it be the tense feeling we get when we are placed in a fearful situation? Possibly it is the fact that fear and horror step out of the bounds of what society seems natural and what is acceptable. Every day we roll out our beds and place our feet on the floor and the daily schedule falls in a preplanned format. Sure, the day’s events may change somewhat but in general, we follow the same pattern as we return to our beds and lift our feet back off the floor and place them between the sheets and fall asleep. Horror takes us out of that safe environment and places us in situations we normally are not aware of or use to. We all know that there are those out there around us every day that have the ability and lust to commit horrible things on mankind, however, it is limited and not a constant event. It may be that horror allows us to be placed among those that have faced the horrors of reality. Stephen King once wrote, "If movies are the dreams of the mass culture....horror movies are the nightmares." One of the reasons I love King’s writing so much is that in his writing he seeks to make us comfortable in the real world and then slaps us in the face with the reality of horror.

Ever since the birth of horror, we have been given the option to explore the dark side. The side of the forbidden in modern culture from our youth all the way up to adulthood. Horror movies allow us to take an issue and place it into a realm that scares the hell out of us and presents an issue within the medium. As generations unfold horror movies seem to take on more intense aspects to provide the fear that is required to satisfy the audience.

One of the facts we must come to terms with is how horror scares us. The first thing we must agree on is that not all horror scares us. We all have our levels of fear based on gender, age, and personal reflections of what actually frightens us. I have been to many haunted attractions, read many books, and watched many films and have never felt what I called really scared. The best could be described as a surprise that quickly subsided. Maybe because I tend to try and analyze the effect of the scare rather than the scare itself. I tend to believe the more relaxed you can make one feel the better the achievement of the scare. It could be the possibility that the sense of scare has its boundaries, and when one knows how far those boundaries go it becomes hard to achieve the goal of creating the scare. I find more entertainment in the technique and how it is applied rather than achieving the scare gratification. In reality, not many books and movies have scared me but rather trying to see how the horror factor fit in. I can say that one movie scene I had relived over, and over which gave me a few nightmares was “The Night of the Living Dead” which I am referring to as the original B & W version. The scene in the cellar with the little girl stabbing her mother with a trowel had become sort of embedded in my horror mind as the house I lived in had a cellar that looked like it was used in the set.

Horror tends to refer to the things that scare us as it fills us with fright, fear, terror, and the ultimate ending that “I may die!” This is the goal of creating horror. Although the goal is to create fear the true goal is, yes horror. To achieve this the world of horror must exceed the bounds of the natural and sane world. It must stretch the limits of our own sanity as what so grotesque and vile limits we will go to as to be able to touch the senses of those that love the scare.

A true artist of horror can blend the sense of laughter into horror whenever they want. Horror is meant to take you from your world of security and place you into a realm where you feel vulnerable. It wants to create an emotional element within your darkest side and places the viewer in the mode of self-preservation. A good horror will be subtle and not just outright gross or gruesome. The idea to create the emotion of “what if “and make the viewer think that “what if or what could be.” It is meant to place us in a state of imbalance and make us feel uncomfortable. When we are quickly frightened the initial shock wears off quickly whereas fear tends to stay with us until we feel safe again. When walking down a dimly lit street and hear footsteps and as we turn to see no one it leads us into fear mode. Sure the serial killer could jump from the hedges and cut our throat but then we would be just left with the initial shock and we would feel safe soon. However, never seeing the person behind the constant footsteps or bushes rustling places us into constant fear until the final climax. The sense of fear keeps the viewer on the edge of the seat which makes all the better horror. We will not feel safe until we reach our doorstep and inside the house. But then again are we completely safe?

As with any horror, there must be a back story that makes the horror viable. When we hear that an escaped convict is in the area we tend to go into our protection mode and be on the lookout knowing there may be danger lurking. When we learn that he is a serial killer and has killed many women this raises the bar. Maybe they were all types but then maybe he just killed blondes. How the horror is presented set the bar on who will fear the most from the horror. Again this makes it valid. Tell me a killer is on the loose that is from Mars and my fear level never leaves zero as it’s not believable. Fear is created by creating a real situation with a true-to-life character that can be used to plant the sense of fear into you. How many feared the old man in “Home Alone” not knowing the reason for his seclusion until it was revealed and then we no longer feared him. We do not fear horror but rather we fear what the horror creates. The horror prepares us for what will happen which then places the fear into us. It is our own imagination that creates fear in us. The horror is how we developed the imagination. This fear in turn created what we call the scare. Again, this is how the world reaches to cross boundaries to achieve the scare.

Everyone knows the movies featuring Jason from Friday the 13th and Freddy from Nightmare on Elm St. I never feared Jason as he was not believable as he always seems to come back from the dead. Now Freddy on the other hand created a better fear as he was in our minds and appeared when we slept taking us to our inner fear of the realm outside that only we experience in our sleep called “nightmares.” When they did the Freddy vs. Jason film I said before I even saw the film that Freddy or Jason could not die as one always seems to be able to come back and Freddy is just in the dream world which can not exist and geez, I was right!

So maybe the real question might be is why does horror even scare us? The truth is that this resides in the person themselves. Not all of us are scared in the same way. As I stated I have been to many horror conventions, read many books, and been to some well-produced haunted attractions and witnessed screaming women and those that were affected medically but myself I just failed to be scared. Do not get me wrong as I was entertained just not scared. I tend to find humor in horror and maybe I use it to avoid the scare. Maybe I analyze it too much to be scared and only the real reason rests in my brain just as it does with everyone else. We went to the Headless Horseman attraction in upstate New York and as I walked into this hotel this young female ghoul was presenting food which was a dead cat on a platter. I could not resist telling her “Nothing like a little dead pussy!” Again my sick humor even made her crack a smile.

Horror intends to break that security that you place around you. When that breaks down the scare becomes easier. We can see the same system used in the system of law as to when they can place the scare into those, they believe committed a crime the wall breaks down and the guilty many times will confess as they fear the worse will happen if they keep the wall up. Many questions the humor in horror as it is right and yes as the two are closely related and form a common reaction. The nightmare was famous for the humor with the one-liners that were used by Freddy just as he killed his victims. O(one that stuck with me was Freddy vs. Jason as they were fighting and Freddy was bouncing Jason off the pipes as if playing pinball and say “now I am playing with power!” Humor is the fastest way to bring down the wall which allows the scare to be more intense.

In horror, the aim is to attack emotions, especially the dark ones. The emotions will place the viewer into survival mode. The difference between good and great horror is when you target the dark emotions and rise them from their sleep and making them stir about waiting for the most opportune time to strike. This becomes more disturbing to you than the brutal killing itself. When this emotional disturbance is broken out the feeling of being safe and secure is also broken. Although the shock of it passes quickly the fear continues to linger and we fear what lies out there.

We can be told about a person who may kill us but we never actually fear it as it has not been verified and you never feel threatened. However, if we add in verifiable evidence that leads up to such a person that is a killer, we soon start to build this wall of fear that we feel will protect us. Then as we proceed, we are forced to be placed in an environment that leads us to be vulnerable the wall starts to collapse, and we soon are open to being scared. The scare is not what is around us but rather what is inside of all of us. A famous phrase can be used to see just how much it takes to bring out the scare and that is called “pushing the buttons” which signals just how much a person can take before the scare sets in. In the written world the words must invoke action to bring out the scare as we must present a visual. In the film world, we must use the best possible time to bring out the visual aspects to invoke the scare. No matter what, to fully bring in the scare aspect there must be a proper presentation to bring out the scare.

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