Saturday, July 16, 2011

Horror movies

My longstanding friend Phlegmmy posted an article on her blog today about a horror movie. She said, at one point:

I think if you are a horror film fan and/or 70s cinema in general, you should definitely watch Suspiria at least once. As for the gore-level, there were a few truly grisly scenes, but I also saw the film described as having one of the most gruesome murder scenes in all of film and I have to say that whoever said that had clearly not seen Hostel. I think this film is a bit of a missing link between the churning, burning suspense and angst of the (beloved!) Hammer Films era to that of the modern horror fest.

There's more at the link.

That started me thinking . . . rather sadly, at that. You see, I can't watch a horror movie. Any horror movie. I literally have to get up and walk out, rather than sit there and endure it. Oh, I can enjoy 'spoof' horror movies like Young Frankenstein, Love At First Bite or The Rocky Horror Picture Show; but there one knows the 'horror' is intended for humorous rather than hideous effect.

I think it stems from my many years of exposure to civil strife in South Africa, from the Soweto uprisings of 1976 to the advent of democracy and the end of apartheid in 1994, plus similar horrors in a few other African nations. To give you just one example, there's a Pulitzer-prize-winning photograph by Greg Marinovich titled 'Lindsaye Tshabalala’s Fiery Death'. I'm not going to reproduce it here - it's far too gruesome for that! - but if you have the stomach for it, click on that link to see the picture. Be warned; you're looking at a man dying one of the most agonizing deaths I can imagine! It's not for the faint-hearted.

I was there that day. I saw Lindsaye Tshabalala's body. Worse than the sight, I smelt his body. Imagine a combination of gasoline, badly burnt pork, voided bowels, and burning car tires. Those were the odors there, that day. I smelt them many times during the years of violence, and I've never forgotten them. In fact, right now, sitting in front of my computer and typing these words, I can't get the stench out of my nostrils.

That was one of Heaven knows how many incidents like that over eighteen years. I lost count of them . . . the number of dead bodies, the hideous ways they died, the shattering effects of their deaths on their survivors. On more than a few occasions, I came close to dying like that myself, and I bear the scars of some of those encounters to this day.

That's why I can't watch horror movies. I've experienced horror too often. In fact, I don't understand how long-serving EMS personnel, or police, or military veterans, can watch it either. Surely they've seen the same things I have? Am I just weird, that such sights have affected me in this way? Are others more psychologically balanced, that they're able to put aside what they've seen and experienced, and watch a horror movie as simple entertainment, rather than a reminder of the reality of what horror really is?

I'd like to hear from readers in this regard, particularly those of you who've 'been there and done that'. How do you manage to deal with this sort of thing?



LawDog said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
phlegmfatale said...

I really don't think it's strange that you can't watch this stuff. I was inspired to watch Suspiria for its time-capsule qualities as much as anything. I admit I'm not a big horror film fan in general, and the really hardcore stuff is too much, even for me. OTOH, I'm amazed by thrill rides in amusement parks and how some people can't get enough of that-- especially the free-fall ones. I suppose these tendencies underscore the adrenaline void in our modern, safe existences.

Sorry for badly-mangling the reference, but I think it was Plato who said something to the effect that things like murder might be hideous to deal with in real life, but could be cathartic to consider in the abstraction of the theatre or literature, or somesuch?

FWIW - I don't think I know any LEO or EMS personnel who find horror films an enjoyable entertainment, understandably so. Maybe the question is what is wrong with modern Western life that such things are ever deemed a pleasureable diversion? We are very spoiled, indeed.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you. I don't (can't) watch horror movies anymore. I, like youself, have seen far too much of the real deal.

Anyone who gets their jollies watching a Hollywood made-up blood-bath should spend a week-end night in an ER in a big city.

If they still lust for horror movies afterwards it's time they're evaluated by a psycharist.

Gaffer said...

I agree that most public protection people don't watch horror movies since it brings back memories best forgotten.
I'm a mediator now and what I'm seeing is a generation that accepts horror films/books and has shifted those attitudes to their personal lives. It brings me lots of work, but the social cost is staggering.

skidmark said...

I've "seen the elephant". I do not like watching horror movies - and am somewhat ashamed to admit that one of the biggest reasons is because I find the unrealistic. Yes, even today's CGI SFX magic does not impress me. Maybe because, for me now that I think about it, there needs to be a sense of smell involved. Blood and brains and bowels all give off a distinct odor. Meat left too long on the grill does [u]not[/u] smell like burning human flesh because those components are not there. That and the "oily" component of fat turning into flame.

But I can watch scenes from horror movies, or war movies, or the basic nightly TV news, because I have figured out how to turn off a huge portion of myself. The facts of the scene register, but there is no emotional component taking place. Sometimes I can turn that part of me back on and have an emotional response. Sometimes it turns back on whether or not I want it to. But mostly I can choose to turn it off and keep it off.

I have no idea if any of this applies to anybody else. Even when folks sit down to talk about stuff like this with others that have been through similar things it does not get kicked around much. Instead, the discussion is about understanding why and figuring out how to cope. I gave up long ago reading about what the shrinks and academics had to say, as most of it was either wrong or biased against those who they were studying.

stay safe.

Anonymous said...

I've brushed the edges of violence and gore (by the time I saw them, things had been tidied up a bit, usually) and I don't care for horror films. First, I have too much imagination, thank you, and don't need things coming back in my sleep any more than they already do. Second, I've been on the receiving end of sadism and feel no need to watch it inflicted on others. I can read historical accounts or limited horror in fiction (if it is a necessary part of the plot) but no films for me, thanks. Evil is not something to be played with.

doghousedan said...

Peter, you are correct, and there may be no correct answers or responses. Being able to verbalize as you are doing in your post helps. The trick is finding a listener capable of taking the insult of secondhand exposure, whether because they love you and realize your need, or have been there, or just can't get away. A person can carry only so much around with them because it modifies them, differently, for each of us.

Captain Tightpants said...

Peter -
I can't enjoy or tolerate the blood&gore which passes for horror these days, for much the same reason. Just like I can watch the "cartoon/over the top" style of war movies but certain overly realistic ones I just don't enjoy.

On the other hand a psychological horror (which is rare these days) such as Lovecraft and others is more than fine with me when done right.

Anonymous said...

I'm inclined to believe the coming everyday reality could eclipse the examples given.

Old NFO said...

I don't either... And the one thing they cannot or will not reproduce is the smell.

LabRat said...

To call back to what Rita was saying about Plato and catharsis, Stephen King's gone into analyzing what appeals about horror as fiction. He used the catharsis idea, and his metaphor for it was what a horror story/movie/whatever does for people is give them a basket of abstract, imaginary fears to exchange/purge a real anxiety like debt, the fear of accidental death, or (insert other mundane anxiety everyone has to deal with).

In the case of someone who's experienced real violence, it's no longer an abstract or imaginary fear being offered, it's a very real one, and there is no emotional exchange/catharsis.

If this model correctly explains the appeal of fictional horror to a majority of the population that has never had to deal with that sort of real horrors, I see it more as a good thing than a bad one... we could overall use less real horror in the world.

Anonymous said...

A lot of these movies are aimed at teenagers (no matter what the ratings are), and teens enjoy having their endocrine system pushed to the max. I've never enjoyed most of them because most of them never exceed the formula. "Alien" was one of the exceptions.

But I don't blame you at all, Peter.

Firehand said...

I think there's good reason somebody started referring to some of these movies as 'torture porn'.

Anonymous said...

Drink a little and bend a sympathetic ear. Repeat as needed. I thought I was uber-tough, but a bloody CPR mask proved me wrong.

I don't /can't watch those abominable movies.

A reason to watch horror flicks: an attempt to access repressed feelings in order to expose and deal with 'em.