It’s Spooktober kids! That means everybody is picking their Halloween costumes, candy companies are getting ready for an almighty rush of business and horror movies have become America’s favourite pass time. There’s lots of frustration levelled at Horror movies, especially from those who believe that they promote violence and are unnecessary gore fests that serve no purpose other than to desensitize the public. Though this is not exactly a false statement, there is a much deeper appeal to the horror genre that is worth exploring.
To find the value of the horror flick we must look at the evolution of the genre. The origin of the American horror movie goes all the way back to the silent era with such horrific masterpieces as Nosferatu (1922) and Frankenstein (1931). Such “monster movies” were so deeply powerful to their respective audiences because people were afraid of the natural world. The world was still a mysterious dark place being torn apart by the battle between science and religion so what struck the deepest chord was the monsters that come out of the forest and the monsters that are made on a scientists table.
Then World War II changed all of that. The horror of the destruction the atomic bomb and the images of the concentration camps skewed what the American public was afraid of. Suddenly horror became a more personal thing with films like Night of the Living Dead and The Last House on the Left people were no longer afraid of the natural world but the very people around them. World War II showed the absolute worst that people could do to each other and the growing threat of the Cold War showed people that the most dangerous thing was not a monster, but other people.
Horror can be a deeply cathartic enterprise. To dive into what really scares us can help us deal with those fears in a way that other political forms of theatre. Though there are great merits to doing an overtly political play there is also great merits to doing a horror allegory that taps into fears in a way that people don’t expect. This goes back to the fact that when people go to see something that they know will be political they can prepare and work to not be affected whereas when someone walks into a horror flick they may not be ready for it and therefore have a deeper realization about the issues the piece might be dealing with. In short, it is unfair to reduce horror to a simple gore fest for young audiences. The genre can awaken our deepest fears in a way that other genres cannot and force us to face those demons head on.