Even a man who is pure in heart, and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf, when the wolfsbane blooms, and the autumn moon is bright.
When I was very young, my father made the decision to let me watch horror movies with him. This was an idea my mother would disagree with, vehemently, but in the end, my father got his way.
This was how I was first introduced to the Universal Monster catalog; Frankenstein, The Mummy, Dracula, and my favorite, The Wolf Man. This was also the impetus of a life long love of horror, be it films or literature.
One of my favorite aspects of the horror film genre is the many facets of entertainment one can derive from films. Horror remains, in my opinion, the only genre of film that adheres to the pizza/sex theory of even when it’s bad, it’s still kinda good.
If a comedy film fails, it means it’s not funny. If an action film fails, it means it’s boring. But if a horror film fails, yes it means it’s not scary, but often times the film is so far from scary or indeed even remotely good, it can still be quite entertaining.
There are many horror movies that fall into this “so bad it’s good” gray area. Too many to list, some would argue. Then again, the presence of arguments and disagreements would already be assured, given the topic. Art of all kinds is, at its core, subjective. A film that Person A absolutely hated, could have utterly and positively changed the life of Person B forever. We just never know for sure.
The history of horror gives us so many psychological parallels, often manifesting physically in the form of terrible and vicious monsters, to spend hours of ones life dissecting. We simply must understand why we all tend to form a sincere bond to at least one of these examples.
Let’s start with the one that actually scares me the most. Yes, I love zombie movies. I love how mainstream pop culture zombies have become. But just the general idea of zombies terrifies me. Slow walking Romero zombies, sprinting/climbing/wall building zombies of World War Z, it makes no difference.
What it boils down to for me is this: of all the terrible and unspeakable ways one can die (burning alive, drowning, being crushed, etc.), none strikes more fear into me than being eaten alive. The notion of watching something (wolf, bear, shark, or in this case, zombie) tear you apart and eat you while you’re still alive to see it and feel it, has given me repeated nightmares in my life.
Couple that with the concept of your loved ones dying and then the empty shell of what they once were trying to kill and eat you, and you have the absolute worst possible scenario for me. The only way that could be worse is if they were half zombie, half spider. Good god.
Going now to my favorite movie monster of all time, the werewolf. Of course, werewolves also fall into the category of large angry thing with big teeth and sharp claws that would very much like to eat you alive, but the notion of a werewolf is so deliciously complex and yet so deceptively simple, that I can’t help but grant it a pass.
Of course, one cannot talk of werewolves without also talking about the great duality of humanity. Inside every one of us, there sleeps a savage remnant of our primordial beginnings. This little shadow of rage makes itself known in situations like someone cutting you off on the freeway, or stating an incorrect opinion on the internet.
There’s a running joke between my wife and I that states if I should ever cross paths with a werewolf, I would attempt to facilitate a little bite so that I, too, would be a werewolf. I’m not sure how accurate the version of me in that joke is, to be honest. I believe the aforementioned deep rooted fear of general mauling would prevent me from such risks.
Arguably the most romantic of the monstrous movie creatures, the vampire has been expertly portrayed as a multifaceted being by a number of talented filmmakers. Whether you prefer the ramped up sex appeal of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Anne Rice’s Interview With a Vampire, or the visceral blood beasts of Steve Niles’ 30 Days of Night or Chuck Hogan/Guillermo del Toro’s The Strain, there are endless different takes on vampire lore, in both the realms of prose and film/TV.
So many wonderful vampire movies, so many awful vampire movies. So much memorable literature, so much forgettable drivel. Pop culture powerhouses like Twilight or Buffy the Vampire Slayer have branched out into the lives of tweens and teens. Forever linked to the concept of romance and sex appeal, the sense of sexual tension, the ancient balance of our fiery passions as human beings. Blood and sex and living the life eternal.
I have been truly blessed in that every encounter with someone who has identified as a witch I have ever had, has been one of warm tidings. Some of the very best people I have ever met identify as witches.
But the witches in horror films are not the nice variety of witch. These witches are often lighting black candles and kidnapping small children for use in horrible satanic rituals. These are the cartoon villain version of a very real community of people who have feelings and happen to identify as witches. Whether or not you believe in their gifts, they often mean you no harm, unless you cross a loved one.
The scary lesson we get from the horror movie witch, comes in the form of a single question: If you had infinite power and got a taste for the dark side, how would you handle it? Not unlike the question: If you woke up tomorrow with super powers, would you use them for good or evil? How does one truly cope with the sudden acquisition of real power?
Ghosts/Haunted House/Demonic Possession
The wonderful thing about ghost stories is that everyone has one. Every single person, believer of the paranormal or not, has a story from some point in their life about some odd occurrences they couldn’t explain. Doors opening or closing on their own, chairs skidding across the kitchen floor unprompted, channels changing on your television until you politely asked that they please stop doing that (this happened to me as a child).
I am a firm believer that bad energies do find their way to latch onto people, places, and things. I’ve been to places that suck the soul from your body and make you hate the world. I’ve met people so miserable that it simply had to be supernaturally sourced in some capacity. So these kinds of haunted house/cursed people stories will often put me on edge.
Being raised in a mostly Irish Catholic house as a child, the fear of demons is pretty deep rooted in me to this day. The thought of losing control of your mind and body, or seeing something evil wearing the face of someone you know and love, chills me to the bone.
There are, of course, countless other movie monsters that I’m missing here.
Name a genre with that range, with that sort of bang for your buck, the only one that comes close is science fiction, but there you have so many areas of the venn diagram filling in, as so often the genres of horror and science fiction are intertwined with one another.
Horror in general has become a happy place for me, over the years. Both due to my connection with my father, and now my connection with my wife. Horror has become one of the things we share with each other, many cozy evenings snuggling on the couch watching horror movies. Horror can help form that kind of strong bond.
As we begin October, viewed by many as literally an entire month of Halloween, my eye turns once more to the spooky and the macabre, the dark and the twisted. I’ll be talking more about horror movies, in specifics, all month long. I’ll delve a little deeper into horror and its effects on pop culture.