Ever since I was a blossoming adolescent (translate that sentiment however you wish) I have harboured an interminable fondness for the satisfying labours of the horror film. In the beginning I was merely innocent and unaware of the outlandish possibilities of the human imagination; though, if I remember correctly, the child’s mind is as susceptible to nightmares as that of an adult – picture those dark spaces in your bedroom that looked an awful lot like creeping voids. Spooky.
Anyway, after the throes of teenage angst, here I stand as a testament to the sophisticated influence of the fear factor. In fact, my humble brain itself is home to a curious complex that I lovingly refer to as the fear factory, which furtively generates jolt after jolt of fresh teasers when the stimuli on the outside push me from my comfort zone. These stimuli can range from the quietest creak of a loose floorboard to the fleeting glimpse of a gaunt silhouette out of the corner of my eye. Sometimes what is usually considered to be a case of a hyperactive fear factory can appear to be a state of complete, consuming terror, like my absurd childhood phobia of the local swimming pool’s deep end, which was the murky lair of a monstrous great white shark at the time – now it’s just a place where you occasionally do bomb dives or practise underwater endurance.
Being a media freak, albeit a mild one, my most visited fear stimulus would have to be the horror film. Back when I first started experimenting with horror films there was so much to expect, so many ways I might have my socks knocked off and the cage of my constitution rattled. As I understand it there is a 3-stage evolution in genres, at least for the average horror fan. Firstly you make the genre move from cartoon to action. Soon after, you upgrade action to thriller. Once thriller is reached you begin to delve into the realm of the horror picture, which is the crowning glory of the genre evolution. Comedies are generally kept close to the heart throughout, and porn is discretely developed as a concept, as well as a genre. After my genre taste had matured to horror I was keen to discover the superlative level of fear. I wanted to scare myself crazy like Jack Torrance in The Shining. I wanted to trigger the rapid scare sweats like Ellen Ripley in Alien. I wanted to unleash the voracity of the human subconscious upon myself like George Romero’s zombie hoards in the …Of The Dead franchise. Before I knew what I was getting myself into, I was gone, addicted to the desire to test my limits and scare myself s**tless. It’s the thrill of experiencing fear without the consequences, I guess.
Horror is the most significant fear stimulus in my life. I crave a hearty horror session every so often and won’t hesitate to feed the craving. Originally I was a devout follower of the American fright fest, but as I adjusted to this bittersweet addiction my fear factory abounded with more than just American horror institutions like The Exorcist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. My single greatest shift in interests in this genre was when I entered into a new fascination with J-Horror. Japanese psychological horror is beyond creepy; The Ring, The Grudge and Pulse alone have got to be in the world’s top 10 scariest films. Ironically I came to resent American horror after a few impotent studios decided to remake these transcendent brainbenders for simpler audiences who preferred not to read subtitles – too busy unwrapping dozens of Hershey bars to bother registering five seconds worth of text-based dialogue perhaps?
But despite being complicit in the sullying of hard-hitting, honest horror, those who remake classics into banal piles of mediocre slush (there are exceptions, with the Hills Have Eyes being a big contender) are neither the most frequent nor the worst offenders when it comes to slipping standards in the realm of the horror picture. In the overrated quest for the biggest quantity of shocks and most extreme gross-out moments, which commonly rub off like DIY gags from a Monty Python sketch, the so-called slasher style reigns supreme. Like a tactically inept tyrant it constantly dumps on audiences formulaic plots that involve variations on the fabled kitchen knife, senseless murdering (usually of teenagers) and a shrouded serial killer(s) who will always end up getting plot-bo**ocked (beaten at his own game basically).
The most frightening aspect of your typical slasher gore-fest, as opposed to the former artistic psychological fear-fest, is the fact that countless brain-dead individuals still insist this is watchable. I’m sorry, but if you want to satisfy the gruesome gore gremlin inside of you, look no further than Day of the Dead (THE ORIGINAL!!!) – Captain Rhodes’ infamous “choke on ‘em” scene should fulfil all your sickening pleas for blood-spattering and the devouring of human intestines. I’m not saying gore is bad; gore is good, but in less frequent, more abrupt doses. I just saw Robert Rodriguez’s Predators and, in spite of a cycle of lame dialogue, thoroughly enjoyed two hours of evisceration and obliteration – it’s what belongs in a Predator film (and yes, I know it’s sci-fi, but it’s still valid).
The nicest thing that could happen to the run-of-the-mill slasher/gore filmt – a perfect example of stylistic abandonment – would be for it to be spoofed. Oh wait, it was. Wes Craven’s Scream should have been the answer to all the slippery stabbing and dialogue gone awry that perpetuates in the slasher style, but soon after it was realised this spoof had itself been spoofed by Scary Movie, and then another shameful series of cock-ups was born. Wassup all right.
In all fairness I can’t complain about the existence of this style of horror to the millionth degree. There are a few of this type of film I revel in replaying, such as the original (and only) Saw and the incomparable Switchblade Romance (psycho freak out much?). What I would appreciate immensely would be the discrimination of slasher/gore from the horror genre because, let’s face it, they’re not the kind of films that inspire fear. And in contrast to genre commitment, a film that is not technically horror can be twice as horrifying as one that is. Take Deer Hunter for example. From the moment the lead characters are captured and forced to play God with each other in a game of Russian roulette, you know you’re watching something profoundly horrific. Also, you won’t find a film that plays out scenes from the holocaust that fails to send the purest chill up your spine.
If there is a category of film in which slasher/gore belongs, it’s probably comedy. Through the process of desensitisation you will be rendered unresponsive to even the most ugly scene of torture conceived of by some secret sadomasochist in the director’s chair – Eli Roth’s Hostel might as well have been an episode of Sesame Street in a dungeon somewhere in Slovakia. Come to think of it, I swear I saw The Count tickling one of the torture victims as you’re shown the corridor of ‘pleasures’ in the film. Whatever the resting place is for this sham of a style, it isn’t going to be horror. There’s no way I’d allow The Human Centipede to stand opposite Rec on this genre’s shelves in HMV, that’s for sure.