Tantalizing Terror!

Posted on September 26, 2010 in Blog

I’ve long been fascinated by the way that books and movies manage to scare the living daylights out of us.  Our core fears as humans span time and distance effortlessly.  It seems to me that we are terrified by the same things the Victorians were scared of, and, I’d hazard a guess…even the Romans!  Us British quake at similar stuff to the Japanese, Germans and the rest of the world.  Fear of the dark, of being buried alive, of someone in the house when you’re alone…it’s all universal and timeless goosebump stuff.

The study of horror and its international appeal is fascinating.  It has been noted that, with horror movies in particular, the ‘type’ of horror that appeals to the masses is closely linked to both the political and cultural movements of the time.  For example, in his 1897 novel, Bram Stoker taps into colonial anxieties of the late nineteenth century.  A handsome man of foreign descent threatens to de-flower and corrupt the nation’s virgins, spreading his vile seed throughout the land.  No, I’m not referring to the latest unfaithful premiership footballer, I’m speaking of Stoker’s infamous protagonist, Count Dracula!  Those same anxieties could be argued to exist today, as in the universal fear of immigration, exploited by the media with headlines such as Immigrants take 1.4m new jobs (The Sun, Dec 2008). 

Science-fiction horror was popular in the 50’s, arguably reflecting the ‘oppositional politics’ of the Cold War.  ‘Slasher’ movies (a label meaning graphically-violent horror) became massively popular in the seventies and post-Vietnam war.  And the 2000’s brought a resurgence of the Zombie genre, identifying with social and political alienation in the consumer society. [Horror, Cherry, Brigid]

Horror at the cinema and on the page is cathartic, allowing us to act out and experience our anxieties safely and without consequence.  We may feel great anger toward society, even though we might be experiencing that anger indirectly through our financial circumstances or our job.  We can go to the cinema and see the controlling monstrous character being decimated on-screen.  It feels satisfying…it could be our boss!  This all happens on a subconscious level of course, but don’t worry, I’m not about to spout on about Freud and psychoanalysis.  I’ve got a Jeremy Kyle re-run to watch.  That makes me feel good about my life on a whole different level.

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