Tuesday, February 22, 2005

In Response

Spurred on by the creation of my new blog and our viewing of The Grudge this weekend, Eleven decided to post on why he's not a fan of horror movies. His post follows.

Eleven's post:

I'm not a big fan of horror movies. I found this out for certain this weekend when L. and I watched a movie called The Grudge. Now, she found the movie perfectly unscary. She reviewed it, gave it a D, and moved on with her life. I, though, found the movie eerily unsettling, not necessarily because of its plot or general theme, but because I am just plain freaked out by ghosts, zombies, spirits, the undead, monsters, and anything else designed for fright. This particular movie had some particularly creepy ghost-head-hair things that had these hollow eyes that just freaked me out. Now, I don't necessarily know where this deep fear of such things comes from, but I have had it my entire life. And, well, when I do think about it, I always come back to the same general idea: that I am someone who takes death very seriously. I don't want to get into any philosophical discussion here on the nature of death, the afterlife, what life means, or anything else up that stream. I just want it to be enough to say that I take the ending of life to be a particularly delicate and sad thing (in fact, it factors into the reasons I am a vegetarian), so I take more seriously than others, perhaps, the representation of the undead in a particularly uneasy light.

Now, there are some "ghosty" kinds of stories with which I am ok. Take, for example, Toni Morrison's Beloved. Beloved is, I guess, a ghost. The house in which the family lives is haunted. There is a general theme of “spirit” in the novel. But, I rest easily with this novel more than I do other representations of ghosts. And maybe this is why: I think that, somehow someway, I feel it a bit disrespectful to death to make a mockery of it by representing the undead, the dead, ghosts and so on, in a fashion that is designed to make fun out of it. We watch horror movies because it is fun to be scared. We read scary stories because it is fun to be scared. But, going back to Beloved, Morrison's story is about respect for the dead, treating it in a serious manner that gives us pause about the importance of life. The novel isn't designed to scare for delight but to make us thing about the preciousness of life itself.

Now, this reflection, of course, doesn't explain why exactly I am afraid of scary things. I think I may have some plain ol' childish fear still residing in my heart. But what it does explain, maybe, is part of the reason why I am not a huge fan of the genre itself.

And, I think for right now I will leave it at that. I don't want to spawn an argument or debate about the value of horror movies. I don't be-grudge (pardon the pun) horror movies. I don't think people who like them are bad people, wrong people, or anything like that. I don't think we should stop making horror movies or scary stories or anything like that. What I am saying is something from my particular, and completely relative, point of view. The genre as it stands is probably a good thing--something to be lauded. It's just that I can't get into it the way others so easily and happily can.

posted by Eleven at 6:01 PM | 0 comments


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My thoughts:

The basest and most disconcerting of all the fears we must face on a daily basis is death. It opens the door to so many questions--Is there an afterlife? Is death the end of everything we are? What does death feel like?

What is so intriguing and attractive about horror movies is how they dredge up and play on these fears. They force us to acknowledge and respond to them in a base and completely visceral sort of way.

Eleven states that "...I don't necessarily know where this deep fear of such things [zombies, monsters, etc.] comes from, but I have had it my entire life. And, well, when I do think about it, I always come back to the same general idea: that I am someone who takes death very seriously." This is key--where does the commonly held fear of monsters come from? I think Eleven dances around this without ever really realizing himself that he is answering his own question--fear of such monsters comes from the fact that death is something to be taking seriously, something that scares most of us to our very core.

Eleven identifies something threatening that many people recognize in horror movies, that "the ending of life [can] be a particularly delicate and sad thing..." and "take[s] more seriously than others, perhaps, the representation of the undead in a particularly uneasy light." The thing is, death is not always a particularly delicate and sad thing--sometime it's terrible and horrific, and sometimes it's slow and painful, and sometimes it's a beautiful beautiful moment of love. But his words represent something that is hunched down terrified in the corners of all of us--fear of this unknown.

That's what is so attractive about horror movies--they play on this fear of death that pulses through most of our veins. Zombies and monsters and werewolves represent an in-your-face confrontation of that thing we fear the most--an abrupt, unplanned, and painful removal from this life. They are the unknown and stand in for exactly that which we don't quite understand about death.

But why do we watch them? Why do we like to be reminded of these fears? Many of us fear death, but not all of those who fear death like horror movies. So why is that some of us do?

Many people (such as Leon Rappoport, professor of psychology at Kansas State University), believe "it is the same thing that attracts people to amusement parks to ride roller coasters.

"It goes all the way back to sitting around the camp fire telling ghost stories and folk tales," Rappoport said. "It's a very prevalent, deep-seated, human characteristic to explore the boundaries where they can tolerate fear and anxiety, and then master that fear and anxiety by working through it."

...

"The more civilized we get the more we repress our sort of uncivilized nature," Rappoport said. "And one way to release that is through festival occasions, vicariously enjoying horror movies and all sorts of related things.""

I think the key here is this: some of us like to "explore the boundaries where they can tolerate fear and anxiety, and then master that fear and anxiety by working through it." Some of us do not. I think this is where the horror movie fan comes in--we like to step to the edge of the precipice and wobble there precariously with our hearts in our throat. We find it exhilerating. We like to be reminded of the fact that things are unstable, that life can leap out of your hands at any second. Many of us (though maybe not all) like to be confronted with this reminder of the unknown, this silent threat that's always lurking in the shadows.

Maybe a bit too philosophical, yes.

Maybe we just like to watch these things for sheer entertainment.

But there is no doubt that our bodies respond to horror movies in a completely visceral way, in a way that we don't respond to most movies (jumping in our seats, screaming out in fear), and to me, it is hard not to see our love of horror movies as an obvious confrontation of this one thing that scares us the most.

And now I shall quote The Shining twins (blatant symbol of death and the unknown) once more in support of my argument:

"Come play with us, Eleven. Forever... and ever... and ever..."

6 Comments:

At 9:00 AM, Anonymous harvey said...

What you say might sort of explain why I don't like horror movies either. The Fear of Death and Respect for Death/the Dead don't really fit in my ways of thinking. I am not afraid of death because it is something that is inevitable, to me fearing death is the equivalent of fearing anything that might happen in the future, even something as mundane as whether or not I'll eat lunch. Expecting Death or Lunch [even though it is sitting two feet from me] seems foolish. You can still plan on things happening in the future, but don't plan on success.

As for the Respect for Death/the Dead; I see the point, sorta. Where Fear of Death is focused on the future, Respect for Death/the Dead is obsessed with the past. So I try to respect and celebrate [and mourning is a type of celebration] the Life of the Dead, but I don't dwell on the Death or the Dead. I'm not saying doing those things are good or bad, but that I do all I can to remain focused on The Present which is always another now, than worrying about things that are now only concepts in the past, or expectations for the future.

So I don't like horror movies because I don't "get them".

damn i'm philosophical today.

 
At 9:29 AM, Blogger Genevieve said...

I'm sure you all know this, but the twins in the Shining were based on the photography of Diane Arbus - specifically this one.

 
At 9:33 AM, Anonymous Lauren said...

Actually, I totally did not know that and (since I've actually seen that picture before) that's really cool!

 
At 10:12 AM, Blogger Patrick said...

I think it's a bit of oversimplification to say that horror movies are simply about Death. I mean, most horror movie filmmakers are not intending to make something so deep and meaningful and 99% of horror movie watchers aren't looking for it. In most movies, the treatment of the subject is soo flippant as to be laughable. (Need I remind you of the "black guy" in Attack of the Giant Shrews). I think that a majority of films could equally be thought of as an exploration of humanity's fear of the unknown. From sea monsters at the edge of the earth to empty hotels in the middle of nowhere.

But, really, I think some people don't like horror movies for much more obvious and blatant reasons. A huge % of horror movies are simply *bad*. The acting is awful, the fx leave something to be desired and the plotlines meander and then fall of a cliff somewhere. The movies that are good, like the Shining, can be appreciated and enjoyed by people outside of the typical "horror fan" group, because they are good movies, regardless of genre. The same can be said for Kung-Fu movies, Spagetti Westerns, etc. I, personally, like horror movies because I like monsters. I was raised on a steady diet of Godzilla movies and Big Chuck and Little John (the ungodly laugh track still rings through my head) and, as I grew up, I continued to like them. Normal, in movies or otherwise, never did it for me. Bizarre is always more my style and that fits well with your average horror flick (good or bad).

 
At 10:41 AM, Anonymous Lauren said...

Yeah, I hear ya. A fat lot of horror movies ARE bad (unfortunately).

But there are plenty of people who won't even watch the GOOD ones b/c they don't like being scared.

And I guess I was thinking more of why people like WATCHING them rather than why people MAKE them. I don't think most people make them b/c they are trying to comment on death--but I think a lot of people like WATCHING them in the HOPES that they will be brought to the brink with their viewing. I think we sorta enjoy watching them b/c we like being frightened and we like to be scared by the unknown... And we're willing to sit through crap oftentimes in the hopes that we MAY find little gems that scare the crap outta us.

All of this is just speculation though, I suppose. =)

 
At 11:49 AM, Blogger Patrick said...

Hey, I *like* the bad with the good :) To me, it's all entertainment and, if I get that from a genuine spine-tingle or from laughing at a guy in a rubber mask (or dogs made up to look like giant shrews), it just depends in my mood. Through, for the bad movies, I like a certain time period. 50's through early 70's, maybe even a little dash of 80's (I've seen almost all of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies....more than once..) 90's to modern "bad" movies tend just to be bad. They're campy, but it's a different sort, which I don't like as much. Maybe they just have too much money to blow and the cheese seemed riper when you knew the movie cost $20.00 and featured the director's best friends.

 

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