Monday, December 14, 2009

Horror Business Part One: The Outsider

When discussing the idea of Genre in fiction, Horror could be called the black sheep of the family – or, perhaps more appropriately, the creepy little kid that you don’t want to turn your back on. The very idea of the horror story – a piece of fiction designed to elicit fear, terror, and other altogether unpleasant emotions – has always been a bit of a tough sell. With a rare few exceptions, you don’t see horror novels climbing the bestseller lists (unless they’re by Steven King) and you don’t see horror movies grabbing Oscars (unless its Silence of the Lambs). Good horror should be distressing on a very basic level. Horror has always been the outsider’s genre, and most people simply don’t want to hear about it. And when a horror story is put on film, with all the grisly details coming to life on celluloid, it becomes that much more powerful.

For these reasons, the horror film often comes under a lot of scrutiny. This can be seen a lot in the period from the late ‘70s to the mid ‘80s, from Siskel and Ebert’s furious televised tirade against the Friday the 13th series to the utterly hilarious parent-teacher protests of the infamous Santa slasher, Silent Night, Deadly Night. But, as with any form of art, telling people they shouldn’t see it is just going to make them want to even more, and it’s often the horror films with the least semblance of moral value that are able to take over the box offices.

All of this taken together has led me to the belief that no genre in film can tell you more about the culture producing it than the horror movie. Through its dark, subversive nature, the horror film reveals things that other genres can’t – or won’t – acknowledge. If Drama is classical and Romantic-Comedy is pop, Horror is punk-fucking-rock – and like punk rock, though it may attract protest and condemnation from many, it exposes some truths that are hard to deny.

In this series, I’ll be looking at the relation between the Horror film and society with a specific focus on the past ten years. All narrative genres have a tendency to be cyclical though, so I’ll also be taking a look at how the horror films of the 21st century mirror what came before.

In the next installment, I’ll be taking a look at the resurgence of the 1970s exploitation style of horror filmmaking, or what I like to call The Viet Nam Aesthetic.

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