My favorite genre of film is horror. I would like to believe that I do not have a particular category as I am always willing to watch movies about zombies, stalkers, home invasions, paranormal activities, cults, psychological thrillers, creature-features, extra-terrestrials, serial killers, foreign horror, pandemics, and my list goes on and on. I am open to watching most of it, but I have a particular aversion to the B-rated stuff. I am talking about terrible plot lines, poor storytelling, too many jump-scares, overuse of CGI, and bad acting. I wasn’t always the person who liked this genre. It wasn’t until 17 years ago when one horror movie made me reevaluate my stance. I started thinking more about scriptwriting elements, special effects, the camera work, and what it took to tell an effective scary story that evokes strong emotions. This one movie, although not my favorite, caused me to grow an affinity towards horror movies.
I must insert here that I didn’t grow up in a country that celebrated Halloween in any way. In fact, it was known as the devil’s holiday, and any participation was equated to witchcraft. Basically, Halloween was looked down upon and shunned by the majority Christian population on my island. Horror movies were highly restricted and viewed as a type of adult movie that kids should never watch. While overzealous Christians claimed these movies to be sinister, it was no surprise that I didn’t grow up hearing anyone proclaim their love for this genre.
I watched an endless amount of cheesy older horror movies ranging from Stephen King’s classics to Critters during my childhood. I didn’t particularly like any of these movies, as I found them disturbing or just corny. When I entered my teenage years in the late 90s, I started seeing a new crop of movies. Around 1996 to 1999, the Craft, Scream, Event Horizon, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Faculty, Urban Legend, Species, and Blair Witch Project reinvigorated the genre. But, it still took a couple more years before I could recognize horror as more than just mindless brutality being acted out.
I know we are not in October yet, but I felt compelled to blog about my favorite horror movie. Before I aimlessly dish out a list, I wanted to take a more in-depth look into what scary movies really mean to the people and societies that curate them. As well as how these nightmarish flicks seem to remain culturally relevant in storytelling.
In searching the internet, I found an excerpt from a study that looked at how horror movies and scary stories make us feel. According to what I uncovered, watching horror movies or listening to scary tales increases adrenaline, which helps relieve anxiety. I studied psychology, so I have some understanding of how various internal and external stimuli can excite us in ways that may be beneficial or not so helpful. But this still didn’t tell me why we tell scary stories? Pulled together from different sources, I came up with 4 main ideas.
The Cautionary Tale – This form of storytelling is a unique way of dishing out warnings about certain life aspects. It warns us of danger, things we must never do, and describes what could happen if we break those rules.
Control – I have come to the conclusion that an element of these types of stories is control. It’s much easier to create the idea of danger surrounding something taboo because if we fear it, we avoid it, and build up walls to lock it out. The church was notorious at incorporating fear in various moral lessons.
Resolving Issues – Scary tales can also assist in allowing us to work out our guilt and other issues that haunt us. In some cases, entire societies can share in unresolved issues passing on scary tales from one generation to the next until they have come to terms with it.
Coping Mechanism – While it may not seem too obvious, these types of stories help us cope. Where else would we get to see someone else having the worse life or day than us? For some, just seeing someone else, even if it’s a fictional character, overcome problems, provide a sense of relief, and the idea that they too can move past difficulties in their own life.
I am familiar with some of the tropes in many of these stories. There are tales of survival, conquering demons, bravery, or looking deep into the unknown to overcome fear. I tend to think when society is going through a hard time, whether that be a recession, social unrest, uncomfortable changes, war, or a pandemic; the scariest stories based on those same truths helps them to cope. Perhaps I have no real proof of this, but hard times has inspired creativity that seems to ooze from the mundane. Scary stories are the scariest when they are wrapped in normality. If we go back at least 4 decades, we may be able to link certain sub-genres of horror with the way in which society saw themselves, how they felt at the time, and what they were experiencing collectively. For all we know, a slasher film like Friday the 13th could be more about women’s liberation, sexual repression, or was simply a way to deal with fear metaphorically. The possibilities for scary tales to help artfully translate our collective fear is endless.
Take a look at the horror movie franchise the Purge, which came out in 2013, detailing a dystopian future set in 2022. I will clearly say this is only my opinion, but the Purge then seems to echo something that was perhaps brewing deep within western societies. Between 2013 and 2020, the bubbling of chaos has caused purge like events to hit the streets in many big cities. What about the 2008 remake of a Spanish film known as Quarantine. This movie showed people being forced into their apartment complex by the military, who were ordered to shoot anyone who tried to leave to stop the spread of a virus. Of course, this quarantine seemed over-exaggerated, but it was on a list of fears that many people possess about the government, pandemics, and each other. In 2020, we have something similar in reality; we are forced to quarantine, there are mass protests on the streets, and random acts of violence.
To Be Continued…