“People love horror movies because all they are sold these days is you’re going to be beautiful, thin, live forever – horror says, maybe not buckaroo.”
Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger), Chiller13 documentary
There is so much to love about the horror genre, I barely know where to start. Horror films, novels, increasingly games, all of them are great in their own way. As soon as I try to articulate why I love it, ten points try to leave my mouth at once and it ends up a jumble of nonsense.
So, in my first love letter to horror, I want to focus on one of the key elements – death, destruction and how the characters handle it! Cheery stuff, I’ll elaborate.
We often like to see people suffer in horror movies. If they are unlikable characters then it feeds into the deep sense of karma a lot of us have, even if we don’t necessarily call it that. Bad people do bad things and then are punished for this. If we care for sympathetic main characters, seeing them trying to overcome the challenges and survive keep us hooked. Either way though we still expect a struggle, that in order to survive, they will have to fight tooth and nail. No one in the horror genre gives you an easy way out.
There is something about seeing the best laid plans fall apart that is almost cathartic, nothing wrong in admitting that. Whether it is a group prepared to go on a luxurious holiday and the resort is attacked by a serial killer or a labs careful experiment go wrong and releasing a monster. It is an important lesson to learn, no matter how much planning we have, something can come along and smash it to one side. At times the world can seem almost boringly ordered, horror reminds how easily that can slip away and then we will bag to return to that humdrum normalcy. Yes, our day to day lives are exhausting, we spend so much time constructing it all, our homes, our relationships, our careers. We can wish for something exciting to happen. Horror is a subtle reminder, be careful what you wish for.
Ah, if only I could see things I have never seen before. To come face to face with a villain and try to save the day.
Wakes up in leatherface’s chop shop.
Yeah, not quite what I had in mind.
Creating and following through with plans is a part of life we can all recognise. When it all goes wrong, disaster strikes, seeing how people react is fascinating. I am a big believer in the idea that when the pressure is on, people reveal their true character. I see this in real life, where in my work people are often under great deals of stress. When things are going your way, it is easy to be positive, encouraging, tackle challenges. What about though when you are getting put through the wringer? What kind of person shows their face?
So I like seeing the suave leader become a nervous wreck, the shy loner rise to the occasion. When it all goes wrong, when your plans are destroyed, either you buckle down and try to survive or you fall apart. The results aren’t always what you expect, the inner strength of some people is so impressive. People who don’t scream natural leader suddenly find themselves in a command position and do a pretty good job. The boss sobbing under the table while one of the workers takes charge is a pretty common trope in horror.
This doesn’t always happen and it doesn’t need to. Sometimes the person in charge is a good leader. I’ve always thought a key difference between a leader and a boss is that a leader takes charge and leads from the front, a boss sits back and gives people orders. Sometimes the nervous wreck, stays a nervous wreck. That can work as well because the viewer/reader will be wanting them to rise to the occasion and bungle it or run away. The Saw movies are quite good for that, characters who can’t overcome their own shortcomings and pay the price for it.
Horror has extreme stakes as well. If you fail, death is usually the result. This makes the story easy to appreciate, if the team mess up, they will die. The tension is cranked to the max. I don’t necessarily need a huge body count in my horror but there does have the be the constant threat of death. Some of the best horror movies are one or two people in an awful situation, it doesn’t always have to be a dozen dead teens at camp crystal lake (although that can work as well!). Look at the Shinning for a good example of this.
Seeing how people handle the situations that arise in horror is one of the main attractions to the genre for me.