Saturday, July 2, 2011

Why Horror?

Occasionally I use this blog to veer off topic into intellectual aspects of Friday the 13th or horror in general. This is one of those times.

I was thinking today, having begun a new job in the non-profit world with a bunch of people who are, well, not devout horror fans like myself and would probably raise an eyebrow if they knew I have been painting hockey masks for the past two years. Not that their opinion matters of course, but it made me consider... how would I explain it? What is the appeal of horror, one, for those of us who adore it so, and two, for the rest of culture?

I've never really read any good articles on the topic, but I can say, without equivocation, that the Jason mask is globally iconic symbol. Looking at google stats, my blog viewers here (you guys) are not just in the U.S. and Canada, but in Japan, UK, Norway, Finland, Germany, Chile, Turkey, Australia, New Zealand etc. The iconic hockey mask has a global appeal, a fact which many non-horror fans find puzzling and sometimes... disturbing. Why do all these people love a fictional killer so much?

I find horror an incredibly fascinating genre, always have, always will. I don't just love contemporary horror, I even watch the early stuff, like the primitive but incredible Expressionist film Nosferatu (1922) and recently watched the earliest filmed version of Frankenstein from 1910. While somewhat challenging to sit through at times, these early experiments in horror, lacking even basic technologies like color and sound, were forced to get creative in order to convey the terror they were trying to get across. Hence, Graf Orlock's grotesque and innovative appearance and some killer scenes that are to this day among the most iconic in the genre.

Horror has evolved quite a bit since then, but I think its the only genre of film that explores, and by necessity, pushes the boundaries of what society considers acceptable forms of celluloid entertainment. Over the past 100 years it has explored and woven together mysticism and occultism, ancient folklore and modern urban legends, the depths of human depravity, mental illness and self-righteous retribution. It can often tell cautionary tales, as with Friday the 13th, about being too fancy free in your teen years, or just gross you out (like "Hatchet"), but its guaranteed to get Roger Ebert's blood boiling. Ebert hated the original Friday the 13th, incredibly tame by modern standards, so much he posted Betsy Palmer's contact info on his TV show so his viewers could send her hate mail! What a fuck nut.

Having been a part of the slasher/horror community for over two years now, it seems to me that artists are attracted to horror, which is part of what has made it so comfortable for me. Horror and sci-fi definitely have some of the best visuals and creature designs in film, some of the most innovative and instantly recognizable characters (from Dracula to Freddy and Pinhead) and there always seems to be a lot of mysteries to unlock (like Pinhead's little box, for example). The best horror is about what it doesn't show you, what it leaves to your imagination. Watching Paranormal Activity for the first time today, I can say the writer really understands horror. The villain is never seen but only implied, and some of the most terrifying moments take place off-camera. Horror is a genre for thinkers and explorers as well as artists, as well as nearly anyone who can appreciate the darker realities of our existence.

Horror is often about gore as well, which has been one of the sticking points that ruffles the feathers of the world's soccer moms and evangelical preachers who have tried to clamp down on horror in the past for fear it taint their "culture" or their "children" or whatever they try to tell us. Like rock and roll, hip hop and other edgy genres, horror isn't doing its job if someone isn't pissed off, calling up the MPAA or their congressmen to get some exploitation film banned in the U.S., thereby ensuring cult status. Sean Cunningham's "Last House on the Left", probably his greatest work next to Friday the 13th, showed people their own grisly reality. No monsters, no demons or witches, just vicious murdering rapists. Real life horror as entertainment raises all kinds of issues for censors and soccer moms that they don't like to admit exist and don't want to deal with, and there is something incredibly real in that. "Halloween" for example is about latent evil beneath the veneer of peace in 20th century American suburbia. Not something your average middle class family likes to hear about.

The intense, visceral experience most people can't help but feel during their first viewing of "Last House on the Left" is something you don't get from watching "The Ten Commandments" or even "The Godfather." Horror stands alone in providing that experience. Other genres try to make people feel inspired or entertained, but horror really challenges people, really gets adrenaline and testosterone circulating, and can leave you drained or feeling... changed. If you don't believe me, go watch "Salo" (1975) and tell me it didn't make you ill. Now try to name a film from a more "acceptable" mainstream genre that provided that intense of an experience. "Titanic" maybe? Haha. By the way, people in Italy were so horrified by "Salo" they lynched the director, even though he merely presented a film version of literature written by the Marquis de Sade in the seventeenth century. Intense.

I think that's what I really like about it. Like with music, I don't think its really worth much if it isn't drawing you in and turning your brain into hamburger it isn't horror. It may not be enlightening or have a positive message, but who wants to listen to that shit anyway?

No comments:

Post a Comment