“The true weird tale has something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains according to rule. A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain–a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.”–H.P. Lovecraft. “Supernatural Horror in Literature.” 1927.
I didn’t plan to write more about horror movies, but this post set me thinking about it. Well, this, coupled with the fact that it’s October, and for years I’ve wanted nothing better than to see a good, solid, terrifying movie during Halloween month.
But I can’t, because what passes for a horror film these days is mindless ultra-violence. None of the horror films of today are remotely frightening. They are, at most, grotesque. Which is not at all the same thing as frightening, and it’s a sign of how very pathetic the whole genre has become that they continue to profit.
Audiences nowadays are seemingly only capable of viewing a film on a visceral level. There is no wish, it seems, for a kind of intellectual horror–which is the only kind that really interests me, at least in a film or book. (There are a few video games where pure shock and grotesqueness can work.)
Actually, though, video games are more intellectual than the idiocies which are committed by alleged horror filmmakers. Doom 3, flawed though it was by the bad melodrama of arch-villain Dr. Betruger, at least actually did introduce “outer, unknown forces”, as Lovecraft described. Indeed, most video gamers have read some Lovecraft somewhere down the line, and hence have (probably inadvertently) picked up a few principles of cosmic horror.
(It’s revealing that when they made a movie based on the Doom series, they had to change the whole story to make the monsters not the supernatural legions of Hell, but rather mere genetic mutations. Scientific explanation of the monsters ruins horror of said monsters.)
This is the second, related flaw I see in modern horror films: when everyone isn’t being gruesomely terrorized, they are explaining the origin, physical properties, and, if possible, psychological profile of whatever the monsters are.
I assume this is some sort of attempt to make the story intellectually engaging, but it invariably ruins any conceivable fear that it is to be had from the story. (Also, the state of writing being what it is in horror films, it’s generally painful whenever anyone says anything, so the less said, the better.)
Finally, since the idea of “horror” is increasingly synonymous with “violence”, filmmakers are ceasing to make their monsters monsters, and instead making them merely insane criminals. Well, I suppose that’s scary enough in its way, but nothing that couldn’t be remedied with a better police force, better prisons, and perhaps a shotgun.
(As an aside, why is more gun ownership the implicit moral of many of these supposedly “Liberal Hollywood” movies? Do they not realize it?)
Horror movies are in a state of severe decline and appear to have a crippling lack of originality and inventiveness. Violence is a basic and ancient human activity, and therefore requires no imagination to throw into a film. The over-explanation of everything serves to make the films more mundane still. Criminality is, again, a fact of life which requires no imagination to think up, only access to a police blotter.
Imagination, then, is what the horror filmmakers of today lack. They have no ability, it seems, to think outside the natural laws of the everyday world and seize upon some truly unsettling idea of incomprehensible forces, preferring instead to let their lazy minds settle on whatever base emotion they happen to have.
I prefer the way the Greeks did theater, where the violence was off stage. For horror to truly terrify it has to let your mind scare you not your eyes.