more stars than in the heavens

not in our stars, but in ourselves

Do you think I’m Spooky?

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It’s Halloween time, readers, and you know what that means: horror, horror, everywhere.  Little local theatres, like the Coolidge and the Somerville here in my neck of the woods, are playing horror classics (Dracula and The Masque of the Red Death, respectively).  Big studios release their slasher flicks and demonic possession flicks and their plain old torture porn around this time, every year.  Cable channels, whether basic or premium, fill their schedules with either would-be or genuinely frightening movies from all through time and space.  Comedy shows reliably put out a Halloween episode – all in the vein of The Simpsons‘ “Treehouse of Horror” segments, with all the tropes of the horror genre and (they hope) all the laughs of their usual episodes.

You get the idea.  Lots of creepy stuff.  I personally tend to be a big ‘fraidy cat when it comes to horror films, as I think I’ve mentioned numerous times.  Ghost stories don’t have much of an effect on me, nor do demonic possessions or extraterrestrials or anything else in the realm of the supernatural or the paranormal.  Serial killers, home invasions, brutal rapes – those are the things that don’t sit well with me.  They could happen.  They do happen.

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However, both by virtue of its being the time of year that it is, and by virtue of being involved in filmy stuff, I haven’t been able to avoid some contact with the horror genre.  I work within a film studies department at a university, and because these crazy times are what they are, I keep our department’s social media as up-to-date and full of interesting content as I can.  Rather than just post a bunch of reminders about registration deadlines (borrrring), I poke around for articles, reviews, thinkpieces – anything I can find, really – about various goings-on in the film world.  This month, it’s been all horror, all the time.

Here’s the thing that’s always made me wonder: as difficult as it is for me to watch these things, I do find them interesting to read about.  For instance, here’s a selection of posts I’ve put on my work Facebook over the past few weeks:

  • Children in Horror Films: The Kids Are Not Alright – from Rosemary’s misbegotten baby to Damien, from the little girls at the Overlook Hotel to Regan/Pazuzu, if you see a child in a horror movie, that child is probably not innocent at all; it’s the manifestation of your greatest, deepest, darkest fears about procreating.
  • For Whom Would Your Favorite Horror Movie Vote? – based on a left/right, authoritarian/libertarian matrix, this infographic plots and explains how 50 horror movies would cast their ballot.  Is it a silly idea?  Well, maybe, I guess.  Is it interesting?  Does it effectively explain what’s really going on under all the gore and grand guignols?  You bet.
  • Natural Born Thrillers: 18 Directors Who Haven’t Made a Horror Movie, But Should – most of these directors have made thrillers, at the very least, and some would argue for their films to be included in the horror category.  But based on those disconcerting almost-horror efforts, the author of this piece argues that the horror genre needs the kind of genuine talent and vision that these hot-shit film directors possess.
  • Horror Movies Directed by Women – horror films often seem to be a boys’ game, but women are at the helm of these 50 films (some of which you’ve actually heard of! promise!).  Because it’s just a listicle, as many of these posts are, it doesn’t go into too much depth about gender politics in film (horror especially).  It’s easy to take this as a diving-off point to talk about the many and varied issues of womanhood in horror movies, however: final girls, female ghosts, teenagers experiencing the onset of sexual maturity as demon possession, and so on.  Theorists like Linda Williams and Carol Cleveland (I think) also call attention to the Freudian implications of the phallic knife carving vagina-like gashes into the killer’s victims.  Food for thought.
  • The Best 11 Horror Film Scores to Haunt You This Halloween – whether it’s the shrieking strings during poor Marion Crane’s shower at the Bates Motel, the eerie synth-piano accompaniment to Mike Myers’s killing sprees, or the whirring chainsaws of Leatherface’s rampage, you can bet that horror films are using their soundscapes to scare the bejeezus out of you.  And what of films with hardly any music at all?  The example that springs to mind is I Spit on Your Grave (1978), the infamous rape-revenge movie (and it is split about exactly in half, just so: first half, horrifying gang rape; second half, gruesome and bloody revenge).  There’s no score.  There’s nothing to guide you, to direct you, to turn to.  You have to watch, and you have to listen to the events unfolding, almost as if you were there.  Let me tell you, reader: seeing it once was more than enough for me.

There was also a rather interesting post on Rolling Stone‘s website, a listicle of the 20 Scariest Horror Movies You’ve Never Seen; but (a) I figure one person can stand only so many listicles, and (b) I have heard enough about those 20 movies that I know I can’t handle seeing any of them, and so I won’t tempt anyone else to seek them out.  Except you, you bitter old spambots and basement dwellers.

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What’s my point here?  I don’t know.  Even if I weren’t seeking these things out for quasi-work purposes, I would probably be reading these anyway.  I really am a wuss about horror movies.  I was notorious (though anonymously so, thank heaven) for fainting during a screening of In My Skin.  The very concept of the Saw franchise gives me the willies.  The one time I accidentally watched most of The Descent, I swore there and then never to set foot in a cave ever, for any reason, and you can’t make me, so leave me alone.  But I can’t stop reading about them.  I can’t stop thinking about them.  I can’t stop feeling myself tempted to go to The Babadook and watch it from behind my fingers.  And, I mean, I absolutely love a select few horror movies, though they’re mild by aficionado standards (you know: PsychoNosferatuThe Silence of the Lambs, The Shining, maybe some others but that will do for now). Are these movies just better at exploring the sides of human nature that other genres don’t dare to touch?  Are they a way for us to understand each other, even if it’s only to understand how terrible we all are?  Do we want to scare ourselves artificially so we can be prepared to be brave in reality?

Oh, reader, what would Freud say?

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This entry was posted on October 30, 2014 by and tagged , , , , .
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