Yes, I am a sicko. Some people wonder why I enjoy horror films so much. Some people fear me and some fear for my sanity. How could I dedicate my life to slashers, serial killers and the walking dead they ask? One of those people in particular is the love of my life Danielle. I’ve tried on numerous occasions to get her involved with my similar likes and dislikes, but she isn’t so easily adaptable into this genre. I must have started too fast by first allowing her to sit through Rob Zombie’s gory epic House of 1,000 Corpses. She made it through the first twenty minutes and that was it. Once she saw the blood shed and, in her opinion, “the senseless gore and violence” she ran out of the theater. If by some chance Rob Zombie is reading this article, kudos to him for causing that mental fear within her.
There is just something about film that it does to people. Whether scaring the life out of them like my girlfriend or making them laugh like us sickos. I myself personally came to know the mental effects of what film can do to you. To this day I easily can not enter bodies of water because of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. But besides the mental effects, I’ve always had a love of film. Growing up in the 1980’s Horror was my bread and butter on the tv set. I lived during the time of the renowned Slasher films of Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Hellraiser, Halloween and all of their countless sequels and imitators. But due to my background and my girlfriend’s, I wondered why she couldn’t enjoy the film as much as I did. I had to find out why us Horror fans enjoy so much violence, gore and disgusting acts of bodily dismemberment to the point we will see it again and again.
My quest for knowledge continued. I examined all groups of people, including different ages and different sexes. The Baby Boom Generation does not understand the gruesome horror concept at all. You say horror film and the first thing that pops into their minds are black and white Universal monster films and the Roger Corman films of the 50’s. Which is to say they aren’t bad and do hold their own place within the horror genre, but not the same one that exploded after a freakish night in 1969. Radio advertisements and trailers warned about this film that was coming out. How it was one of the most frightening films out there. How certain audience members suffered heart attacks and fits of anxiety. But the film rolled on despite how many young kids it scared.
Night of the Living Dead exploded onto the silver screen and created a Horror Renaissance all across the world. It put George Romero on the map with his stylish black and white cinematography, bone tingling soundtrack and the chilling fact that “They’re coming to get you…” The film has stood the test of time and to this day hasn’t met its equal despite remakes and parodies. I wondered what could have made this film such a success. You can look at the fact that film was out during the end of the Vietnam War and there was enough violence on the news to choke a horse. Why would teenagers be interested on seeing the fake version of that and people chewing on pig parts?
Then it dawned on me. People love to be scared; the same as a thrill ride that pumps your heart and shocks your nervous system with chills. Think about watching a Horror film in a movie theater, or perhaps an action packed adventure film. Now, if you monitored you’re heart while watching the film, you’d probably notice your heart rate is at it’s highest during the climax of the film. Once you leave that theater you’re going to feel a number of things. If the film was action packed, you may be a little exhausted from all the stunts, eye candy and loud explosions. If the film was horror, you feel relieved that you just survived a killer chasing you.
People go to movies for escape. If you’re a movie fan your life is probably boring and you enjoy daydreaming through the actions of say, a swashbuckling pirate, a damsel in distress or maybe an under dog boxer- pick your cliche. So putting yourself within a horror film, you’re being subjugated to the same amount of scares, spills and chills. Like all of those loud banging sound effects for a cheap scare or perhaps some rather disgusting gore that will rot your mind. But if you want a great horror film, you’re not going to rely on cheap gags. You will be scared psychologically to a point where that constant scare thrives in you for the duration of the whole film. Such as, having an endless army of the undead trying to break into your house to eat you.
Ok, so I got that down now. People enjoy a good thrill now and then as much as they would from any other genre of film. But not all horror films can deliver that promise. Many of them are done so cheaply that lots of aspects are dropped. For years after NOTLD, many financial flops poured out to the theaters. They couldn’t get all the good points together for a horror film to make it successful. Sometimes they would just focus on a big celebrity to play the lead in a movie with some hoaky ass story that literally makes no sense (has anybody seen Frogs?) There were plenty of huge horror failures in the U.S. during the 70’s. A lot of it became cheap imports from Europe that got redubbed over here.
But then like an elevator door opening full of blood, a new age of horror films changed everything. Probably the two biggest advances were Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre and John Carpenter’s Halloween. Chainsaw had its very gritty 16mm look and a big fat lumbering guy chasing after you with a chainsaw. Halloween had a look to it that was a mixture of Hitchcock’s Psycho and the Italian Giallo films of Mario Bava and Dario Argento. Ok, so let’s look at these a little bit more in depth on what made them so successful, and more importantly- frightening.
Since Chainsaw premiered first back in 1974, it’ll be the first of this so-called cross examination. The film opens up with a scrolling text narration (read by John Laroquette himself), stating in the summer of 1973 a group of kids were murdered and one survived, this is their true story. The rest of the film is fairly graphic right afterwards. It’s all about the in your face, make you sit through grueling pain and agony of these characters getting mutilated type of shit. There is one scene in particular that is etched into horror fan’s minds forever. After the lead girl gets captured, she is forced to eat dinner with the homicidal psychopaths. The family insists that their grandfather relive his old slaughterhouse days and bash this bitch over the head with a hammer. The grandfather tries again and again with all his might, be he just slightly hits her. All the pinned down girl can do is scream louder in fear. That is horror ladies and gentleman.
Hooper actually stated that one of his most frightening things was a family. Think about all those terrible holiday meals you sat around the dinner table just wanting to escape. Well this scene plays on that concept but the moviegoer must sit through this near five minute scene of grandpa hitting a girl in the head with a hammer. The other thing that made this film so frightening was by saying it was based on a real crime. Well that is a little far fetched to a point. The film is actually based on America’s very first serial killer Ed Gein whose actions have also influenced Cowboy Bill’s character in the Silence of the Lambs- and plenty of other psychos out there. Think about all the films that were based on real occurrences that became financial flops. I’ll give you a second. You damn well know there was none, so point blank the weapon of choice in the movies for years became the chainsaw.
In 1978, Halloween slashed its ways into our hearts. Next to Psycho (which heavily influenced Carpenter for this production), Halloween became the first U.S. body count film. A body count film is basically where numerous amounts of characters that you care nothing about die in some of the most intriguing and entertaining ways. It’ll feature quite a bit of nudity, drug use and a big show down at the end between the killer and final victim. And to leave just enough space at the end to show a sequel can be made. Not to mention the other side of influence of this film from the Italian horror films, is where we get the masked killer who stalks his prey ever so stealthily.
Now that the vocabulary word is defined boys and girls, let’s get back to the basics of this article. One Halloween night, a young boy by the name of Michael Myers stabbed his older sister to death with a pair of scissors. He was put into a minimum security institution under the supervising care of the ever awesome Dr. Sam Loomis. On the day Myers turned twenty-one he would be transferred to a sanitarium. Even though Loomis, who is always right, was against it; the court went through and transferred the killer. Along the way Michael escaped and went back to his home town in Haddonfield.
That Halloween we were introduced to the cute quite girl next door Laurie Strode, played by the always beautiful Jamie Lee Curtis. Michael tried to find Laurie and ends up killing many of her friends along the way. Apparently after his first killing, Michael’s parents put his younger sister up for adoption to the Strodes. As the plot thickens we learn all about Sam Hain and Michael’s curse which is why Laurie must die. In the end Loomis puts six bullets in Michael and he falls out the window. When they go to look for the body- it’s gone.
Ooooooh, scary right? Well apparently audiences thought so, and releasing this film right around Halloween made it one of the must fun experiences in the 70’s. And I’m sure you were probably stoned if you did see it. The film had an awesome soundtrack to it that director John Carpenter did himself. The eerie theme of a constant tapping is like your heart ready to pop. The all white mask of Myers makes him look like a phantom lurking around in the shadows. Some of the great shots are him slowly rising up in the background as his victim takes a breather.
Ever since Halloween came out, it changed the way horror films appeared in the 80’s. It became the age of the Slashers, we got introduced to Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, Pinhead, Chucky and all other sorts. Directors such as Sam Raimi, who were influenced by Texas Chainsaw, made his own ultimate experience in grueling terror with Evil Dead. After the 80’s left, the high numbers of sequels on these films ran dry. There came a point when horror got looked at differently with more eye candy and emotion to it with such films as Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein.
Towards the end of the 90’s, a film came out that followed the format of Texas Chainsaw. It was a film that stated that a group of kids went into the woods and disappeared, all that was discovered of them was footage of their last days. The Blair Witch Project was so powerful because audiences were tricked and thought that these kids were actually killed. It scared the crap out of audiences all over the world and made it one of the hugest returns on a independent film with such a low budget. Along with the satirical horror film of Scream, they paved the way for the 21st Century.
Which brings us back to where I opened up on my discussion. Very graphic films like House of a 1,000 Corpses freaked out a bunch of kids. An 80’s style slasher flick of Wrong Turn had it’s place. A zombie flick with a different look and twist hailed from Britain in 28 Days Later. JeepersCreepers 2 thrives on the renowned killer as the main attraction. And we even got to see the two biggest slashers of all time cross-over into each other’s realms in Freddy vs. Jason, which was the box office hit on its opening week. And all these films came out in 2003 alone. Film studios are beginning to realize again that kids enjoy being scared and they are willing to put money up for it. And it’s no longer just two companies like Dimension and New Line Cinema, everyone wants a piece of the pie now. Even though some of them are turning into more thriller like Frailty than chiller like 1,000 Corpses.
So let us return to the statement of this article shall we? Why do we like horror films so much? I think it feels good to get the old blood pumping with a good old scare now and then. A horror film can give you just as much as going to a roller coaster. Basically think of what we’re scared of most- the dark and things popping up and surprising you perhaps. I’ve also learned that history will repeat itself. Real life situations are the scariest because the believability is there. Which means there’s a bigger chance it’ll happen to you. Beyond that a horror film is all about the willing suspension of disbelief. How far can you push something that a horror fan would speak his mind and contemplate while kids are getting killed? Finally, you are putting yourself into a victim’s shoes when you watch a horror film. You feel their anguish when you watch them die and you feel the over encompassing relief when you make it out of that theater as a survivor.