Why I Love Horror
"Is there someone inside you?" "Sometimes."
Horror, much like Noir, is about the rotten core at the bottom of humanity. Through confronting our fears, we become stronger and better able to deal with them. As a frequent sufferer of anxiety, I find it therapeutic to watch Horror movies. I am proud to say that I am now able to watch anything, no matter how violent or perverse. Horror is frequently trashed as a low brow genre. This is unfair and short sighted. As we shall see, Horror can be a useful educational tool, as well as a way for us to process all of the horrible things that happen to us through our lives. It is perhaps the purest use of our imagination that is to be found in art.
The Exorcist is my favourite Horror for many reasons but most of all for its vice like grip and otherwordly tension. I don't believe in God, but I believe in evil. It is a necessary word for something that we all encounter. I love how William Friedkin builds the story. Every reasonable thing is done. Doctors are called in, scans are done. Nothing can explain what is happening to Regan except old time religion. The Exorcist is perhaps the scariest film I have ever seen. It is a force of nature, sweeping you up in its story and landing you squarely in Hell. I think if I had to choose one film of the 1970s, I would choose The Exorcist. William Friedkin has such a firm handle on the thing. Every scare comes with a depth of feeling rarely seen. It is the confrontation of all the evil shit we have in us.
Let's talk about some of the more extreme examples of Horror. Thanks to my friend Chris Mather, I have been introduced to many movies that push things over the line. Perhaps my favourite extreme Horror is The Eyes of My Mother, a desperately sad story about a woman twisted by her parents and circumstances into something vicious and strange. It follows Francisca who loses her mother to a serial killer early on in the film. After subduing this killer, Francisca and her father keep him in a barn, his eyes and mouth sown shut. The film is a classic slow burner, ending up in pure carnage. Yes, it is a grisly affair but the characters are so well drawn, the sad, lonely and loveless life of Francisca so affecting, that nothing seems gratuitous. It is the opposite of something trashy and boring like Hostel.
Another extreme Horror I love is Martyrs, maybe the smartest torture film ever produced. Again, it is not for the faint hearted, but it is so damn insightful about the place that faith and suffering have in religion and in our daily lives, that it earns its right to violence. Again compare it to Hostel and see how lacking Eli Roth is in the meaning department. Where as Hostel tries to provoke shock and disgust through acts of savage violence, Martyrs wants you to face up to the understanding of why that violence is truly happening. That understanding is more terrifying than a dozen sliced ankles. It is also genuinely thought provoking, in a way that Hostel just can't muster.
A word has to be said about Takashi Miike, the director of many great Horror films. I especially love the grotesque and extremely perverse Gozu, which has perhaps the single most shocking scene in film history where a woman gives birth to a grown man. Miike is so adept at building an atmosphere that is oppressive and overwhelming, and pays off this suspense with triple A quality set-pieces. Audition is one of the best examples of the torture sub-genre, which weaves an incredible mystery into a supremely effective Horror film. Mystery, again like Noir, is a central component in any Horror movie. A good mystery goes a long way to giving the viewer a surprising and entertaining experience.
The best slasher film I've seen is Hush, directed by Mike Flanagan and starring Kate Siegel, both of whom wrote the script. It is so smart, so aware of the conventions of the genre, that it is able to twist and turn them into something that genuinely surprises where so many other Slasher films leave you irritated and cold. Siegel's character is deaf and is at a disadvantage from the off, but she does everything you could reasonably expect someone to do in such a situation. By the end of the movie, you are cheering, so successfully fooled by the film makers and so happy for the journey you have been taken on. I also highly recommend giving Oculus and Ouija: Origin of Evil a watch, both of which are excellent, scary films.
Horror can teach us important lessons. Think of the great Brian DePalma film Carrie. I don't think I've seen a better film about the dangers and evils of bullying. The film teaches us that regret is no replacement for compassion. The damage is done. You may cry about it and you may say you're sorry, but that's not enough. If someone ends up in the ground, there is nothing you can say or do that will make up for it. Another film that teaches us important life lessons is that gorgeous film about grief, The Babadook. A mother who loses her husband in a car crash tries to raise her son. He is a difficult child and frequently gets into bother. Here the Horror comes through what this supernatural force brings out in the mother. All of that resentment that she tries to bury deep inside her, comes out and she puts her child in danger. Deep down, she wishes that her son had died instead of her husband. The Babadook is about how we deal with these human feelings, instead of letting them fester. It is scary as all hell, sad, and supremely moving.
Another film in the same vein is the Irish film A Dark Song, written and directed by Liam Gavin. Much like The Babadook, it is the story of how someone overcomes grief and the desire to take revenge for the loss of a loved one. It is an intense and claustrophobic movie that ramps up tension and fear with an expert hand. The ending, like The Babadook is earned through and through and brings the audience relief and peace after such a horrifying ordeal. It is certainly the best Irish film I have seen in many years, and placed in a top position of new, exciting and heartfelt Horror. The real terror does not come from outside, but from within us. Our capacity for evil is what truly scares us, not the killer under the bed. I highly recommend purchasing this movie when it is released at the end of the month. It is just as good as any of the more famous movies mentioned here.
Horror makes me feel, somewhat paradoxically, safer and happier than I am otherwise. I have learned some important life lessons through the genre and I get a warm, happy feeling when I see an excellent Horror film. Don't believe the censorship crowd: depictions of violence and evil are good for us. They help us become better human beings, and they help us confront our own mortality. Those who watch Horror films are more aware of the problems we face in the world, and are better able to deal with them. Keep an eye on the darkness, it might just save your life.