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
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
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
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!