So I was flicking through the rather extensive selection of film analysis channels I subscribe to on YouTube the other day – when a previously unnoticed commonality occurred to me. The proprietors of all these channels were horror movie fans. This seemed strange to me –I have certainly always felt that there were not a great many people passionate about Horror as a genre. My experience has always been that it was a struggle to find people to enjoy a good scary movie with. However my selection of YouTube channels seemed to suggest differently. Now at this stage I must stress I have never searched YouTube for horror specific content – not trailers not analysis nothing. All of my film analysis channels had been found on the back of their intellectual rigor – not on common interests at a genre level.
Now I don’t mean to create unnecessary sectarian thought in the world – but I don’t think it to be a particularly contentious thesis to forward the notion Horror is a largely underappreciated genre or at the very least still considered ‘niche’.
I wanted to spend some time today expounding upon my take on reasons you might like to try a Horror film if you have yet to do so.
1) They come from a moral history – Now despite appearances the history of the modern horror film actually is ne of teaching moral lessons. Much like the darker Grimm Fairy Tales of yore the re-emergent horror boom of the 70’s and 80’s, which began with the success of Halloween, was founded on traditionally Christian principles. In fact, within the Horror subculture rather a great deal of fun is poked at the fact that the sure-fire way to know who will die in a film of this era is to see who engages in recreational drug use or premarital sex. This tradition stretches as far forward as the 2013 remake of ‘The Evil Dead’ where the main character’s drug use is used to both literally and allegorically mask her possession by the devil. In traditional film and story telling we are expected to identify with the protagonist and inherit his/ her moral code. In Horror – we are meant to see the actions of the victims as cautionary tales of morals not to enact or inherit. This level of moral story telling is largely absent from modern film making – which is rather a shame given the rich history that cautionary tales have within the wider human culture. From The Little Mermaid’s feet feeling like walking on glass – to Santa beating you with a cane if you were naughty story telling in the modern era would lose a great deal if we sacrificed the horrific.
2) They are a test bed for new directors – Horror has survived into the modern era because it is very cost effective. I cannot overstate how cheap horror films can be to make by compassion to the goliath budgets of the summer blockbusters of The MCU. As a result of this directors that get brought on by studios with little experience are often given these smaller projects to helm and cut their teeth on. A perfect modern example of this is James Wan. Do you like the riveting return to form of Furious 7? Thanks James Wan’s excellent directorial skills for that. James started his studio film making career with the first three instalments of the Saw franchise. He continues with Insidious, Sinister and The Conjuring. All of these films were financial smash hits. So he was given the reigns of a much larger and weighty project – Furious 7. This is not an uncommon career trajectory. Sam Raimi made his name on the original Evil Dead franchise and was given the Toby Maguire Spider-Man run as a result of his successes. If you want to see great directors given the opportunity to shine – support the horror genre. Film is becoming increasingly expensive and studios are not willing to back unknown quantities. Increasingly consumers need to vote with their wallets and horror films provide us a way to taste test a director’s skill at low risk to the studios. If we start supporting this under-loved genre we may see a commensurate rise in great directors as we allow them more chances to show off their creative flair.
3) They help develop a health relationship with fear – Horror films are primarily about making the audience feel as disempowered as the victim characters. Their success relies, largely, on the audience buying in to the narrative stakes of the script enough to feel genuine fear for these characters on screen – or even – fear at the possibility that the reality they are seeing might be one with that which they are living. This sits in stark contrast with the norm within the modern film industry. All too commonly films are about creating false fantasies of empowerment within the audience. Without sometimes being reminded of the stark contrast between these empowerment fantasies and how genuinely disempowering reality can be it is easy to understand where anxiety and fear can creep into one’s psyche. The horrifying truth of modern life is largely one of disempowerment. We continually interact with corporations far larger than ourselves for most of the basic amenities of life and as anyone who has ever come afoul of such a corporate entity can tell you – being held to ransom for water or power by an uncaring unflinching corporation is genuinely disempowering. Horror helps us normalise these fear in the same way the ancient Greeks normalised failure through the tragic play. This historic tradition is again one we should seek in large part to preserve as it helps to normalise the more frightful and precarious parts of our existence.
These are just a small smattering of the reasons I think that horror should be given far more credit than it currently receives. I have been in love with the genre for the large majority of my life and I hope that if you haven’t that this piece has helped shed some light onto why some people choose to explore the darker side of things.