Thursday, January 18, 2018

you don’t know what death is

...and I like the gore. But, I will get to that. First, the promised list, films released between Halloween and Halloween II that fit the "slasher" bill (even if they were likely not called that at the time; more likely, they were marketed as "splatter" films or "thrillers" depending on the intended audience. The films are:

Driller Killer, Savage Weekend, Tourist Trap, The Hollywood Strangler Meets the Skid Row Slasher--

(How have I 1) never heard of this one, because that title is so amazingly evocative and on-the-nose as to a brilliant piece of art regardless of the film itself (and, it is worth noting, Friday the 13th was marketed based on the title alone, before a script had even been written), and 2) never seen it? Hell, too many of the movies on this list I have not seen. Also, since I am interrupting, a few of the films on this list push the definition of "slasher" a bit, but I was trying to be as complete as I could. And, I'm sure some were still missed. Anyway, back to the list:)

--Giallo a Venezia, The Demon, Prom Night, Maniac, Terror Train, Friday the 13th, He Knows You’re Alone, Christmas Evil--

(These next three have amazing titles, as well, and I may or may not have seen all three. Sometimes, low-budget horror films blend together a little if you see too many. But, really, that is true of any genre. Anyway...)

--Don’t Answer the Phone, Don’t Go in the House, Don’t Go in the Woods, New Year’s Evil, Silent Scream, To All a Goodnight, Schizoid, My Bloody Valentine, The Burning, The Prowler, Happy Birthday to Me, Friday the 13 Part 2, Final Exam, The Funhouse--

(That last one is interesting for me because it had a novelization written by Dean Koontz, and I remember reading in an interview once that he deliberately put far more backstory for the killer into the novel than the movie made any attempt to have. Also, speaking of novelizations, purportedly today's title line, which Loomis says to the MacKenzie's neighbor just before the opening titles of Halloween II, actually comes from the novelization of the original Halloween. Novelizations of films (rather than films based on novels) intrigue me, because of how they might differ from the film, add backstory, add details not explained (for example, Piers Anthony's novelization of Total Recall (itself based on a short story by Philip K. Dick) added a lot of detail regarding aliens and radioactive rods meant to creat the atmosphere, which mostly happens offscreen at the end of the film. Similarly, Orson Scott Card's novelization for The Abyss explains details on how the aliens communication, which one might only infer from the film. But, there's more:)

--Graduation Day, Madman, Night School, Eyes of a Stranger, Bloody Birthday, Madhouse, Bloody Moon, Student Bodies, Nightmare, Home Sweet Home, Hospital Massacre, and Scream.

Making that list last night, after finishing yesterday's blog entry, I couldn't help but wish I had seen (and remembered) every one of the films on that list. But, I was still just five years old when Halloween II came out. I was not hunting down obscure slasher films and watching them in my spare time; that would happen in my teens and twenties. I wasn't even entirely in charge of my spare time. Through the 80s, I would see plenty of obscure films, many that are probably still not on my IMDb "seen it" list because I don't know the titles. We frequented the Wherehouse in Hastings Ranch and would rent popular movies and obscure little things regularly.

My thing, regarding gore in horror films, may come from seeing far too many horror films. Done well--and that is an important caveat (and a distinction that might get lost on a more casual viewer)--gore does two very different things: It makes you turn away, and it draws you in to look closer. Citing scoiologist Margee Kerr, Crystal Ponti, writing for SYFY Wire calls this "the tension between attraction and repulsion" and goes on to cite a passage from Plato's Republic--

(But, I have to interrupt myself here because Deputy Gary Hunt's (Hunter von Leer) delivery when he tells Sheriff Brackett that Annie was found dead is already hilarious--he is trying so hard to act but not quite getting there--but it occurred to me last night that it's also amazing how focused the character of Hunt is. I mean, there is a police car crashed into a van, and a person on fire just a handful of feet away, and I swear he doesn't even look at the fire. He gets out of his patrol car, runs right over to the Sheriff, tells him about the bodies, and they leave. That is impressive.)

--in which Leontius, son of Aglaion, passes by recently executed corpses and

He had an appetite to look at them but at the same time he was disgusted and turned away. For a time he struggled with himself and covered his face, but, finally overpowered by the appetite, he pushed his eyes wide open and rushed towards the corpses, saying, "Look for yourselves, you evil wretches, take your fill of the beautiful sight."

Ponti cites filmmaker Dan Sellers regarding "blood and gore hav[ing] an attraction that's fairly primal." Sellers gets at something like the opposite of sympathy; he says:

Perhaps seeing mangled limbs, decomposing body parts, and blood baths in that controlled movie-going experience provides some weird level of comfort, disguised as excitement." Ponti goes on to describe excitation transfer theory, suggesting psychological arousal from horror that lingers after the film. Essentially, in a controlled situation, we can feel our fight-or-flight response without having to act on it. I haven't done any studies myself--though I have read plenty that suggest as much--but the titillation from fear in a more "psychological" horror film can produce much the same feeling afterward that disgust can in a more "splatter"-oriented horror film can, or that the nudity and sex in either one can. In fact, the juxtaposition of sex and violence is not just a result of the inherently conservative bent of slasher films--those who have sex are usually the ones to die and the virginal final girl survives--but also a deliberate positioning of similar human feelings next to one another because they work wonderfully together. Even if you are devoutly religious and horrified by the sex, that is still a state of arousal. And, if you find the sex and nudity appealing, again, arousal. Then comes the bloodshed, and that is exciting, especially because, in that moment, as I suggested above, because of whatever opposite of sympathy (and I don't mean apathy) is; an even more twisted form of schadenfreude--in that instant, you feel more alive because the danger is up there, controlled, contained. The horror film allows us to feel sublimated urges that society deems unacceptable but which psychiatrist Gail Saltz (cited by Ponti) suggests "is a normal part of human character [i.e.] to have both sadistic and, the other side of the coin, masochistic interests." Or, coming back to Clover (1987, and probably 1992, but I have yet to figure out who I lent my copy of Men, Women, and Chain Saws, nor have I sucked it up and bought a new copy), horror (and pornography) is "specifically devoted to the arousal of bodily sensation... Exist[ing] solely to horrify and stimulate" (p. 189). "[I]n horror-film circles," Clover argues, "'good' means scary, specifically in a bodily way (ads promise shivers, chills, shudders, tingling of the spine...)"

Early in Halloween II, there is a series of short scenes unrelated to the larger plot. A mother brings her son to the same hospital where Laurie will later come because the boy has a razor blade stuck in his tongue.

The one shot of the blade is graphic but hardly titillating. So, what is the point? On the one hand, it is a thematic echo of the original film in its connection to urban legend--the original's phone calls remind the viewer of "the man upstairs", of a babysitter beset upon by a madman in the house, here you're reminded (and far more directly) of the yearly warnings about checking your child's treats from trick-or-treating (despite a serious lack of evidence that strangers regularly (or ever) poison Halloween candy or embed razors within it. But, separate from that reminder of what likely doesn't happen, you are offered a much more real-world depiction of injury and pain. The razor blade is not titillating, but it does provide a stepping stone into the higher levels of gore to come. We might not imagine hammers hitting skulls, or needles stuck into eyes, but the media puts that razor blade idea into our heads every year, so that sequence positions the film to come closer to our reality. As John Squires, writing for Bloody Disgusting, puts it, “His appearance, it seems, exists only to show that Michael isn’t the only threat on Halloween night.” Even then, the fake blood, like so much of the blood later in the film, is unrealistically bright, easier to see in the dark, easier to focus our vision on injury so we can be overpowered by our appetites, and take our fill of the beautiful sight, to paraphrase Plato.

INSERT: me, five years old. I haven't seen that many horror films just yet. I will. I will see a lot of them. Well before many might think I should. Already, that excitement is drawing me toward more of the same. And not just in horror films. Look at the explosions and death in action films like Rambo, especially those arrows; like Commando, especially those saw blades; the gunshots and bruises of Lethal Weapon or Die Hard, of The Terminator or any of the Rocky films (well, no gunshots, but definitely bruises and blood), and so many other films. As Clover puts it, horror films exist "solely to horrify and stimulate" whereas one could argue that action films, especially jingoistic, hypermasculine, 80s action films, have something else going on, so it is easier to ignore the violence, and especially the gore. Additionally, the horror audience tends to be younger, so an implicit defensive stance comes into play, because "what about the children?!" and all that.

Of course, maybe everything I say in defense of such films, of the use of gore, the use of violence and sex and nudity, is proof that such films do mess with kids. Alter us inside. Make us keep seeking that same fix of fear and arousal...

Or maybe that's just life.

No comments:

Post a Comment