I love movies-good movies, bad movies, blockbusters, cult, obscure, obscene, they’re all great for their own very specific (and sometimes unintended) attributes. The horror genre is no exception, and a good horror flick can often reveal uncomfortable aspects of being a conscious, mortal human. Some of the best horror seems to tap into our collective dark, primordial, subconscious fears and conflicts. From Eldritch abominations whose forms and mere existence shatters our protagonists’ reality (In The Mouth of Madness, Cabin in the Woods), to unstoppable, malevolent supernatural entities (It Follows, The Ring), to classic monsters and warped, violent humans alike (Friday the 13th series, The Devil’s Rejects, Hostel), what makes horror films so horrific is that it plays upon the vast, vast (vast!) variety of possible things that can kill us all and destroy everything we know-which is really the basic fear of being alive and conscious.
The aesthetic of horror films, too, tends toward an overt, specific semiotic arrangements that inform the visual rhetoric of macabre cinema: the overall art direction of most horror films take great care to create an ominous, bleak backdrop for the horror-show unfolding. Basic arrangement of characters, motives/causes for the horror to occur, and an inversion of the classic 3-act structure that emphasizes a balanced resolution is also upended, a rarity for most fiction, and nearly unheard of in cinema. It is for these, and many more reasons, that I view horror as a revolutionary lens in genre film-making, one that cannot easily be repeated or transferred to other genres (could you imagine a comedy that tries to overlay the warped story-line and plot structure of horror onto it? For starters, there wouldn’t be enough characters around in the third act for any sort of happy resolution). Horror as a genre strives to challenge the viewer’s basic assumptions of order and justice over the course of its presentation, providing impossible premises and depicting literally horrific events, much to the overall ruin of the protagonists. The wholesale loss of family, children, friends, a sense of normalcy and safety, and severe bodily harm the average horror protagonist suffers throughout a film is ultimately rewarded with barely surviving the ordeal, and often without any meaningful, balanced reconciliation for the heavy losses the protagonist has suffered.
But why would we enjoy watching such strange entertainment as this? I submit that it is in watching these wild tragedies unfold that we try to reconcile something within ourselves, and that something is the chaotic, terrifying unknown that we can never truly know until we meet it-and even worse, if we never meet it, at least we can get that worry out of our head (“Well, at least I’ll know what to expect if a supernatural masked killer tries to stab me to death while I’m at camp!”). We watch horror to bear witness to the things we wouldn’t face on our own. We watch horror to become prepared for the inevitable.
This is all to say that I’m going to watch a horror movie every day in October 2016 and write my thoughts about the film on this blog, heavily leaning on semiotic theory, cultural anthropology, and visual rhetoric. Join us, won’t you?
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