Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Do Horror Films help the American people cope with their own fears?

Confessions of a Film Junkie: Do Horror films help the American people cope with their own fears?

By: Brian Cotnoir

     I am very passionate about Horror films.  I have been watching them since I was a teenager.  When I was younger my parents forbade me from watching Horror films because they said they would give me nightmares.  I think that’s part of the reason why I was initially drawn to them; they were sort of a forbidden fruit, if you will.  As I got older, I was drawn to the mindless violence of Wes Craven’s “Nightmare on Elm Street” and the Rob Zombie Horror films because I began to just view them as entertaining.  For the longest time I thought Horror films were only there for entertainment, but then I began to look at them from a different perspective.  Could Horror films—films that are made with the intention of frightening and shocking audiences—actually help the American people cope with their own fears?                                                   
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So I was watching one of my favorite documentaries: “Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue: The Evolution of American Horror Films”, and I was noticing certain patterns with Horror films over time, a pattern in which American Films reflect what was going on in the country at the time. Let’s look at some examples:  From 1929 until the start of World War II the entire nation was in the grips of the Great Depression, the worst Economic crisis in the nation’s History.  It affected millions of people nationwide; banks and businesses were shut down, people lost their jobs and all their money, and people were struggling to find food to feed their families, it truly was a horrid time in American History.  It was also during this time that Universal Studios began to release a number of different Horror films (some based on great literary works of Horror), many of these films involved Horrific Monster creations. The masses were introduced to frightening creatures such as Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, White Zombie, the Mummy, and others.  The Universal Horror Monsters created a total diversion for the many victims of the Great Depression.  Not only did movies provide an distraction from the peoples troubles, but also gave them something else to be afraid of:  No longer was poverty the most frightening thing they could face when compared to the Horrors of being attacked by Count Dracula or encountering the Frankenstein’s Monster.  These Universal Movie Monsters would go on to frighten people throughout and to the end of World War II.         
    Then the Baby-Boomer Generation came to be; the country entered a new world of economic prosperity.  But with new way of life and success came a great new fear.  Communism, the Russians, Cold War, and Nuclear Holocaust became the new great fear in America.  Around the country people began constructing fallout shelters, preparing to go to War with Russia, and a Nuclear Armageddon.  The Cold War gave Americans an endless supply of things to fear.  So it should come as no surprise that many Horror films of that time reflect the fears of the time.  Films like “Them!” instilled the fear that Nuclear Testing could lead to genetic mutations in some creatures like ants and cause them to grow to gigantic sizes.  What is “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, but a Horror-Science-Fiction metaphor for the Red Scare and the fear a Communist Invasion in America?  There are dozens and dozens of Horror films from the 1950’s and 1960’s that have to deal with fear of nuclear annihilation and war with Russia.      
From late 1960’s through the 1970’s Horror films helped American’s cope with their fears like the War in Vietnam and the ever growing usage of narcotics like marijuana, cocaine, and hallucinogens like acid, and LSD.  The good, clean, and wholesome way of life started in the 1950’s was being replaced with a lifestyle that encouraged sex, drugs, and rock & roll and this was  major culture shock to those who grew up in the Baby Boomer Generation. Look at the John Carpenter’s 1979 classic “Halloween” one of the first films where it is made apparent that the good behaved teenager survives the psychotic killer while the teens that use drugs and have promiscuous sex are punished by the killer.  In a way it’s like a terrible “Scared Straight” program.  It’s almost like the filmmakers are saying, be sure to live a clean and courteous life or it could cost you your life.   This style of writing characters and plot in Horror films has become so cliché that it’s still in use to this very day! Those clichés were the basis for early Horror films in the 1980’s, where they were given unique twists due to the fear of the crack and AIDS epidemics, so to help American’s overcome these fears we were treated to creations like Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees: creations that only existed in in the most horrific nightmares.                    
   In the 90’s the technology boom provided a new way to frighten Horror film audiences.  As technology became bigger and bigger in the home and the work place it ushered in a new style and new way to tell a story in a Horror film.  With all the worlds information only a mouse click away, it quickly disproved many urban legends around the globe.  People were no longer interested in ghost stories; they wanted real stories with cold-hard facts.  It was here we got films like “The Blair Witch Project”, which was an early attempt at writing a Found Footage Horror film; story telling that gives the illusion that a film made with a home movie camcorder could pass as a Horror film.  Found Footage Horror films give off the illusion that what is transpiring on film could be real and that cast and crew could be in grave endanger.  This low-budget style of filmmaking continues to be popular to this day and has found success with films such as Oren Peli’s “Paranormal Activity” Franchise and the Vicious Brothers “Grave Encounters” Franchise.           
    Only one year into the new millennium and the United States suffered its Worst and Most Tragic attack of All-Time.  The attacks of September 11th and the scare of anthrax being sent through the mail led most of the nation in to a heightened xenophobia.  Never in the History of this great country was it more terrifying to be an American.  During this time we got films like Eli Roth’s “Hostel” a film that affirmed many American’s fears about being targets outside of the country. Many American’s feared that they would be kidnapped or killed if they travelled to a foreign country just for being Americans.       
    Whether they realize it or not, I do feel that there is a High Chance that many American’s go to see Horror films to help them cope with their own fears. Many people have their own fears in life—some rational other irrational—and so they seek refuge in the plot and characters of Horror films to help them cope with those fears, by giving them some, possibly, more frightening and terrifying to be afraid of.  What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. Quite the psych analysis, I now have a newfound respect for horror~