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Why horror? Introduction to The Horror Essay Series

Posted Jan 03 2010 1:47pm

Picture by zilinskyi
As a horror fan, writer, and student, I find that people tend to have a very marked reaction to the horror genre (films, books, comics). They either love it or hate it, with no room for ambivalence. I think that is due to the material that it covers. I'm not just talking man-made monsters, like Frankenstein or supernatural ones, like Dracula. I'm going beyond the slashers, like Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees. I'm moving past the places where evil works, like cemeteries, dreams, or Miskatonic University. I am going to the very heart of it: horror is created in the land of metaphor and subconscious. We need horror, since it functions as a way for us to handle and explore harsh realities, taboos, and the shadow self as the monster within.

Horror allows us to face harsh realities. By making the real fictional, we disengage and are better able to deal with it. We can place a distance between "us" and "it" or "the other." For example, we can explore and understand the horrors of torture, like what occurred in Guantanamo Bay, in the Hostel movies. In Hostel, young people are lured to an Eastern European hostel and reformed warehouse. There, powerful, rich executives pay to torture their prey in anyway they see fit, without repercussions. In Guantanamo, we saw soldiers treat the incarcerated as if they were less than people. They treated with without respect to their life or any dignity. They were tortured physically, mentally, and sexually, much like the prey in the Hostel movie.

Horror allows us to explore the taboo in a way that is social acceptable. It gives us permission to act out taboos in our minds and fantasies. In this case, we look to Hellraiser. One of the themes of Hellraiser is sadomasochism and going beyond everyday sensations, like skin being ripped off of muscle and sinew. Through the actions of the characters, like Frank, we can experience S&M through arresting images and the sight of blood dripping from hook-pierced flesh. Our society sees sex as a very dirty act, best left locked away. Through, Hellraiser, we can "open the box" when Frank does, seeking pleasure and the excitement of untold pleasures that are not "discussed in polite society."

Horror also allows us for a time to pretend that we are monsters, the things we delegate to the darkness and underground. We become "the other" without having to actually suffer the consequences. We become vampires, filled with a desperate, passionate nature, a desire to drink human blood, and power linked to supernatural abilities. We become The Phantom of the Opera walking triumphantly down the stairs as "The Red Death" to expose the hypocrisies of the crowd. We become werewolves, reaching in to our wild, base natures in time with the full moon. We become zombies, without any thoughts but the need to eat live, human flesh. We become Cenobites, Dream Demons, Cold-hearted Killers, and the Things that Go Bump in the Night.

In this once a month series, I will (tentatively) discuss the following movies/books:
Saw: The Sacrifices We Must Make to Live
Dexter: The Monster Lives Next Door
Hostel: Why Do Torture and Politics Come Together
The Phantom of the Opera: Love, Desperation, and Unveiling the Truth
American Pyscho: Sociopathic Societies
Nightmare on Elm Street: The Demons in our Dreams and Unconscious
Night of the Living Dead: The Social Mores and Everyday Prejudices We Allow
The Omen: Fighting the Evil We Birth
Hellraiser: Going Beyond the Limits
Seven: Judging Sin and Choosing the Punishments
Final Destination: Trying to Defying Death
It: The Fear We Grow Up With
Friday the 13th the Series: The Ends to Which We Will Go

I hope you all liked my small introduction to The Horror Essay Series I am working on. Once a month, I plan to take key horror films/books listed above and explore some of their themes and meanings in today's world. I will most likely edit and revise them, but I will post the first drafts here for you all to read and enjoy. I hope you like my upcoming analysis and will post your thoughts and reactions.

And if you get scared, just remember, "It's only fiction."
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