Today of all days seems to bring out the people who suddenly have a lot more than usual to say about horror and what it ‘means’. The main word they throw around in relation to horror is ‘evil’ – because in the West, it seems, that’s all this rather broad term means to people.
It’s a genre in literature and film that carries with it this inherently negative connotation. I’ve heard people say they think horror films are literally evil. They don’t specify exactly which ones, or what type of horror film they’re referring to. Horror itself is just branded ‘evil’ and in their mind, that’s simply all there is to it.
Now to a certain extent, in a manner of speaking, I might be willing to agree, if we were judging the genre exclusively by what Hollywood regurgitates with its generic production line studio movies released year-on-year. People like to be scared, and audiences in the West, much to my disdain, seem to prefer demonic jump scares over other types of horror.
Yes, there are other types, you know. Horror is bigger than ‘demons’ and ‘monsters’; indeed often the most monstrous elements of some of the best horror films or literature have little or nothing to do with the supernatural – at least not overtly. There is such a thing as subtlety, after all.
Not that I’m saying there is any problem with art portraying the supernatural. It’s been overdone in horror, especially in the Christian-dominated West, but there is no problem with one enjoying it. A film portraying the image of a demon does not make that demon real, even if you otherwise believe they are so. It is a story – even if based on a ‘true’ account (and take such a claim with a pinch of salt, especially when it’s Hollywood doing the claiming), it is still merely a portrayal of something put together to provide some kind of entertainment. You may not find entertainment in it personally. That’s fine – when it comes to a lot of stuff Hollywood does, nor do I.
Someone else will, and someone else does. You know why? Because we’re different; we have different tastes and opinions, and someone who doesn’t share your own does not necessarily fall into the default ‘evil’ category.
I have always enjoyed horror from a young age. I kind of enjoy the feeling of being unsettled; of being on the edge of my seat; of smiling in satisfaction when a film or book is suitably frightening. A lot of people won’t quite understand that – if they say they do they’d usually say so in a somewhat condescending fashion – and I have no problem with that. I’ve never expected nor particularly wanted everyone else to share my tastes or opinions, because these are things that are personal to each of us. To spend your time trying to force them onto others is, in the end, to rob yourself of your own individuality. If everyone was like you, you wouldn’t quite be you any more.
My next film essay will focus on one of my favourite films of 2014, and what has become quite possibly my favourite horror movie of all time: The Babadook. I love this movie for many more reasons than its genre, yet its genre is central to its power as a film and the story it tells.
There is a monster in The Babadook – as its title states – though it is not your typical supernatural fare. It is instead very much a ‘psychological’ horror movie; one in which the true monster is suppressed feelings such as guilt, anger, grief, depression… These things are all very real, intrinsic in most of us, and yet they are things many of us do not like facing or even acknowledging. We go through life thinking we can ‘get by’ without truly dealing with certain issues because it may be too painful to do so. The Babadook, if nothing else (though there is a lot more to it), is a film about facing up to these things, and you know what? To do so is scary. It can be extremely frightening in fact. But in facing up to them, you’ll most likely come out the other side stronger; more comfortable and confident in yourself.
That is a side of horror that I think is often neglected. So yes, though Halloween was not really the central point of me writing this short piece, I for one hope the tradition continues for many generations to come. I hope horror in general continues to make people confront things they feel uncomfortable with. I hope we never get to a point where we’d rather brush it all under the carpet and walk around with sugar-coated smiles as we celebrate how blissfully ignorant we all are. Not on my watch.
The horror genre is, for me, the most raw, the most emotional of all genres. If more people gave it a chance I think it would help them learn a little more about themselves than they knew beforehand. But hey, if you’d still say it’s just not your thing, that’s cool. If you don’t have the same tastes as I do, I get it. Though at least now, having taken the time to glance through this, I’d like to think you won’t simply categorise me as someone who likes ‘celebrating evil’ or something.
That kind of dogma is the very thing good horror exposes, actually. Perhaps, deep down, that’s why they fear it.