________Lost Souls_______
Do You Like Scary Movies?
.

Drew Barrymore's character is asked if she likes scary movies, when she answers the phone at the beginning of Scream. She responds with a, 'Yes,' and goes on to be quizzed of her knowledge of the genre, just before getting slaughtered by the very same caller!

Do you like scary movies?

If your answer too, is, 'Yes,' don't worry, I'm not saying you'll end up with the same fate as our girl Drew. I'm just suggesting that we all like a good scary movie, and despite it's critics, the horror film is still a major drawing force at the box office for most of us. Whether we like to revel in some gore-fest, or wether we just like a good old-fashioned fright!

In recent years the horror movie has seen something of a revival. A few years back The Blair Witch Project hit the cinemas and everyone - moviegoers and critics alike - where hailing it the scariest movie ever. Talk turned to reigning scariest film, The Exorcist, and the debate was on: Blair Witch or The Exorcist?

The success of films such as Blair Witch and Scream led to an avalanche of horror films, such as: I Know What You Did Last Summer, Final Destination, Stir of Echoes and remakes of classics: The Haunting and The House on Haunted Hill. Even big names got in on the act such as Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense, and with this new renaisonce moviegoers rediscoverd their love of horror.

So where does our craving for horror come from and why are we scared witless again and again by the genre?

Everyone, apart from a squeamish few, likes to slow down at a traffic accident in the expectation of seeing something gory. We like to see blood (as long as its someone else's and not our own!) We like to read about the decapitated corpse that has been found in some grisly gangland killing or other crime. We like to hear true life horror stories of mutilations and murder; many of these stpries embellished as they're told and becoming urban myths. What a sick and depraved lot we are, you might think. I say not. It's human nature. As humans we are naturally inquisitive little souls!

Horror movies and literature have their roots in folklore and fairytales. For what's The Blair Witch Project if not an updated version of Hansel and Gretel! Ever read any Grimm tales? Or should that be grim? Those stories are dark, and have lots of staple horror ingredients. Hansel and Gretel is a charming little kiddies story about a witch that fattens up, cooks, and then eats children!

Even the Big Bad Wolf makes an appearance in horror, in the shape of Jack Nicholson, in The Shining. Who could forget the, 'Here's Johhhhnnnnnyy!' scene and his taunt of, 'Little pigs, little pigs ' And if you think about it, what is the werewolf if not the Big Bad Wolf (or perhaps a distant relative of Little Red Riding Hood's stand-in grandmother?) Neil Jordan's, Company of Wolves is basically a reading of Little Red with a dose of lycanthropy thrown in for good measure!

Some horror is inspired by real life events. Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Deranged and Silence Of The Lambs, all draw influences from the Ed Gein case. Gein was a real life ghoul, who robbed graves and made his own furniture and bric-a-brats from the skin and bones of the dead, and decorated his bedroom walls with death masks. All because his mummy didn't love him, apparently!

The Amityville Horror, The Exorcist and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer are all inspired by real-life - or so-called real-life - experiences.

For most of its life, horror has suffered from its own personal nightmare and that is the question of respect!

Try to tell film snobs that Bride Of Frankenstein, The Exorcist and Rosemary's Baby, are great film classics of cinematic art, and the response you'll probably get will not be a favourable one.

Horror has little respect. It is put down left, right and centre by some critics as mindless entertainment. It is not considered as artistic as other genres of film. But what seems to be forgotten is that - in amongst all the exploitation flicks - some great litery classics have been brought to the screen. I give you: Dr Jeckyll And Mr Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson), Dracula (Bram Stoker), Frankenstein (Mary Shelley), The Pit And the Pendulum and numerous others (Edgar Allan Poe) and The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde - no less!)

Some of the greatest, respected directors have covered horror: Hitchcock, Polanski, Speilberg, Coppola and even British costume drama maestro Kenneth Brannagh!

I'm not going to fall into the trap of saying that all critics of the horror film and video, should be hung, drawn and slaughtered or something; although, a face-to-face meeting with Leatherface et chainsaw from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre would serve as fitting punishment for some of them!

Horror movies over the years have been shat on from a great height, dismissed as rubbish, and blamed for influencing real-life horrors. We need only think back a few years to the James Bulger case and the accusations laid at the door of Child's Play 3; a film which was claimed the two boys had seen. True, the film could have put the idea in their heads, but can you really blame a piece of celluloid for people's murderous activities? My thoughts on the subject are that the intention is in them to start with and the film, merely, and very rarely it must be said, acts as a trigger. But if horror films or violent films make people go out and commit violent acts, why arent all moviegoers a bunch of murderous halfwits? I mean we've all seen at least some of these films. Why aren't there more cases of it occurring? After all these examples of life imitating horror, are few and far between.

I suggest, that the opposite is in fact true. Horror is great therapy, it makes us confront our fears and our personal demons (no pun intended!) meet them head-on, be immersed in them and come out the other end; like we've been on a rollercoaster ride that has just scared the living crap out of us! In horror films, you as the viewer always emerge at the other end, unharmed and, contrary to what its critics believe, undepraved.

Horror speaks the unspeakable!

People who love horror films are very often labelled sick, weird or - worse! 'How can you like all that blood, gore, killing, murder, torture ...? There must be something wrong with you!' So why isn't this said about people who love the western, or, the war film (what atrocities are contained within that non-violent genre?)

The same people who lambaste the horror film in such a way will then go on to say that their favourite scenes in horror films are, 'That bit in ... when ... happens! It's insane; a contradiction! People love horror movies even if they dont know it. Everyone has his or her favourites. Everyone can quote a line from a film.

The proof; if you need it is that, with what other genre of film do you get people talking about and discussing at such length? We hear about the latest shocker, the merits of an as yet un-seen film; whether its worth forking out to go see it, usually by word-of-mouth from friends who have already seen the movie; then its notoriety spreads like wildfire. Scenes become infamous even before you've been exposed to a single frame; before you've even entered the cinema! 'That bit where ...' or, 'There's a really good bit with blood, guts ... her head spins round ... they find a bloody severed nose,' etc. Sometimes you've heard so much about a film beforehand, that you get déjà vu when you sit there watching it; thinking youve viewed it before.

Of course horror has more than its fair share of sensationalism, gratuitous exploitation and downright trashiness; but don't you ever get bad films in other genres?

So what makes them scary?

Horror films play on your phobias, your fear of the dark, fear of things you don't understand and that biggest phobia of all - fear of death!

Fear of the dark is something of a primal fear, we have always been afraid of the dark. Mostly a fear of what might be out there in it lurking! The unknown. We fear alien things - and I'm not just talking about the things that spring from John Hurt's chest! We fear things that we haven't enough information on; just like our early ancestors the cavemen, who had limited knowledge about the world around them.

In many horror films; in fact in most of them, the nasty and supernatural stuff takes place at night, check out a few of the titles of classic horrors: Night of The Living Dead, Night of the Demon etc. You don't find any Day of the Demon or The Day the Zombies Ate My Brain, with the possible exception of Day of The Dead of course!

We fear lots of different things: our own body becoming ravaged with some terminal illness, sexually transmitted diseases, death, killers, thieves in the night ... horror movies have dealt with all these subjects and more over the years.

Immortality is also a recurring theme in the genre, man playing God is yet another; in fact the two very often exist side by side. Think of the mad scientists: Frankenstein, Dr Jeckyll, and Herbet West: Re-Animator who, produces a fluid which brings the dead back to life. But, as in Re-Animator, would you want eternal life if you had to carry your head round on a tray?

In sorting out the men from the boys of the truly scary movie, we have to analyse what makes these movies frightening. To achive this we must take a look at the psychology of the horror film: How they work on us, how they get to us, and how they make us squirm!

In general there are two different types of horror movie: there is the full-on shock/gore/blood type and then there is the more subtle, suspenseful horror; usually featuring some menace that for the most part of the film, if not all, remains unseen or just glimpsed occasionally.

Something is out there. Something is out there and it's going to get you. Sooner or later you don't know when or where but it's coming to get you (even if your name's not Barbara!)

This is the case with many films in the horror genre, such as: The Evil Dead, The Haunting and a whole host of similar chillers.

Sometimes it's not a what but a who is out there? You glimpse the person; usually a knife-wielding maniac such as in Halloween. You see him in shadows, or think you see him, but he's not real, it's just your imagination, or, is it? You can never be sure not really!

Cat and mouse is standard for a lot of horror films. The demons or killers are always a playful lot; they always seem to want to play games with their victims. They don't just get on with it and slaughter the nerdy American teens they're stalking - they arse around for a while first! Then the victims usually get it, when they're having sex, or doing something incredibly stupid, like going down to the cellar in the middle of the night to see what the strange noise is!

This sort of insane behaviour is analysed and sent up very cleverly in Scream.

Nevertheless without these idiotic actions there wouldn't be much suspense in horror movies. The moviemakers like to play tricks on you too sometimes. After building up the suspense, it's sometimes only the pet moggy that jumps out (looking suspiciously like someone has just thrown the poor thing into shot!)

In our real lives, in these sort of circumstances, our imagination is a sadistic bed-fellow (something else that is fond of games!) In fact: the whoever or whatever is out there in the films, could be seen as a metaphor for our imagination!

When, for instance, you hear a noise in the night: is it the house settling, or has a madman entered the house on his way, directly to you, to stick an axe in your head?

Sometimes, just sometimes, as we know from what we read in the papers, this is the case!

That's part of the fear. The fact that: you're never really sure!

And of course if you've just watched a really scary movie on TV, that doesn't help matters!

In Robert Wise's film, The Haunting, what in God's name is behind that door doing all that banging? We never actually see it. The fact that we never see it, is even worse than if we did see it. Because our imagination is running rampant - working overtime! The Haunting is probably one of the scariest movies of all time because of the games it plays with our imaination

The horror film genre has been through many phases, dictated by the trends and fears of the populas, and by studios and/or directors/filmmakers. From that Universal language of horror to the Hammer of the gods; from the sensationalism of William Castle's spine Tinglers about houses on haunted hills, to Clive Barker's Candymen and Hellraisers. From Corman to Cronnenberg, from Raimi to Craven, Argento to Fulci. From the living dead: dawn, day and night, to the horrors of Amityville parts 1,2,3 etc, etc!

Whether you care to admit it or not, you love a good fright, you love horror. It's healthy, it's therapeutic, it's good for you, trust me, I'm a mad doctor!

back to Contents