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kaminoshiyo

Horror, Fiction, and Humanity

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The unsettling nature of a good horror movie is something that seems almost like the Holy Grail of movies- extremely rare and extremely rewarding. To date, I can't remember any movie that really ticked the horror box for me. The last one I could remember that was genuinely terrifying to me was "The Exorcist".

But horror and fiction? Now that's a lovely pair.

I like Stephen Kings work. I like the fact that he's not necessarily flamboyant with his horror. His horror and fiction present a minor intrusion into an ordinary world. The only thing I don't like deals with a sensibility I grew as I continued to read fiction. In most horror books dealing with fictional foes, it is often a human being against something non-human. To me this is a really cool setup because you wonder how the abilities of these two things would pair against each other. How does a human being defeat a ghost? But then it gets ruined by things like God-magic (crosses and prayers), magic items, and the like. While its entertaining, it's also a bit deflating because in essence the human being doesn't win. God, the magic item, or something metaphysical like "the power of love" wins for them. Human beings are dependent on other things outside of themselves to solve the problems they are presented with.

I do like those stories that make the humans remain human and do not give them any buffs and stuff to aid them against these supernatural foes because then its much more interesting. It's like the Dark Souls game in a small way- a game known for putting the player in very challenging situations and forcing you to find a way past it- even if you must die repeatedly to figure it out. In fiction, the vampire is often introduced and built up as the very powerful predator gifted with physical power, magic powers, and a piercing understanding of human psychology. These vampires are often depicted as very cunning killers- very intelligent. And yet the way these creatures are often dispatched in movies is entertaining, but not really convincing. I always wondered...what if the movie was about these fools trying to challenge a supernatural entity such as this with such a ridiculous plan as walking up and driving a stake through it's heart and failing utterly? And then at the end of the movie it shows the rest of the villagers that manage to flee and among them a child not related to one of the hunters (end the tropes, please) who looks on. This child who realizes that you can't fight these things that way. That instead of praying for a miracle or seeking out some magic item he's going to have to think of a way within a humans ability to solve this problem and the clocks ticking because this thing is going to keep killing and killing until he figures it out.

The thing I don't like is that all too often we abandon our humanity to accomplish a goal in fiction. To me, a good deal of the horror is dependent on how vulnerable you are. As human beings we are very vulnerable. I can't drop more then ten feet without my feet stinging. If something hits me toe, time stops. So how would I fair against a werewolf with preternatural speed and power and a body density that would allow it to soak up a lot of bullets on it's way to tearing me to pieces? Werewolves, though, have a manageable failing. They aren't as intelligent as they are instinctual and driven by a sort of frenzy and they have a significant window of vulnerability when they revert to human form. The caveat would be that according to their fiction they can reproduce in the unlikely event they wound rather than kill another human and so you could be dealing with more than one threat.

As with most things in writing, it all comes back to the human condition. Horror can be about our achievement over the most terrifying developments in life, or our extreme and fatal vulnerability to it. But to me the real weight of such a story depends on the human character remaining human. It's a choice of style, I know, and I'm not saying that this is what should be the definition of horror for everyone, but I do feel it would help the horror genre out a lot when they make movies. They depend on the externals too much. You don't even need monsters to have a horror movie. It's our vulnerability the monster exposes that brings the real horror. Our vulnerability that is exposed when faced with the unknown or the uncertain. Our vulnerability when our logical minds are presented with aggressive madness.

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  1. Smith's Avatar
    I agree with much of what you said. One thing I might add though is that I don't think the aspects of faith or love are "outside" of us. In my opinion they're within us, and greater than driving a stake through the heart of the monster. To me it's saying at an abstract, meta level, love conquers fear. Faith conquers fear. I don't mean faith as in religion, but faith as part of the human condition. Hope is another good example, although not necessarily the same as faith.

    To literally interpret the tangible symbols of faith and love (ex. the cross, as you mention), choosing to view them as cop-outs is to miss the point, unless you're watching a B-rated low-budget film in which case the literal interpretation actually might have been the intent of the writers.

    Before starting to read this blog post I hit control+f and looked for "Lovecraft" but surprisingly didn't find it. I don't know how familiar you are with his work but I have a complete collection of his fiction. Oftentimes the horror is not dealt with at the end of the story. Sometimes the characters do defeat it in a practical way.

    One last thing that I think is really worth mentioning, is that the ghost and demon are - in some ways - from the 'outside'. The whole point is that they can't be dealt with purely in the means of our own realm. They are manifesting themselves in our world, yes, but they are from Hell, or another plane of existence. And so we must become greater than we are and transcend in order to deal with the problem.

    Anyway, I think the reason why the 28 Days Later movie was so appealing to me was because it's tangible, like the original Jaws. It was horrifying, yes, but it wasn't obscure demonic possession. It was a virus. And the means of surviving were made practical due to the nature of the threat, just like Jaws.
    Updated October 11th, 2018 at 08:23 PM by Smith
  2. kaminoshiyo's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Smith
    I agree with much of what you said. One thing I might add though is that I don't think the aspects of faith or love are "outside" of us. In my opinion they're within us, and greater than driving a stake through the heart of the monster. To me it's saying at an abstract, meta level, love conquers fear. Faith conquers fear. I don't mean faith as in religion, but faith as part of the human condition. Hope is another good example, although not necessarily the same as faith.

    To literally interpret the tangible symbols of faith and love (ex. the cross, as you mention), choosing to view them as cop-outs is to miss the point, unless you're watching a B-rated low-budget film in which case the literal interpretation actually might have been the intent of the writers.

    Before starting to read this blog post I hit control+f and looked for "Lovecraft" but surprisingly didn't find it. I don't know how familiar you are with his work but I have a complete collection of his fiction. Oftentimes the horror is not dealt with at the end of the story. Sometimes the characters do defeat it in a practical way.

    One last thing that I think is really worth mentioning, is that the ghost and demon are - in some ways - from the 'outside'. The whole point is that they can't be dealt with purely in the means of our own realm. They are manifesting themselves in our world, yes, but they are from Hell, or another plane of existence. And so we must become greater than we are and transcend in order to deal with the problem.

    Anyway, I think the reason why the 28 Days Later movie was so appealing to me was because it's tangible, like the original Jaws. It was horrifying, yes, but it wasn't obscure demonic possession. It was a virus. And the means of surviving were made practical due to the nature of the threat, just like Jaws.
    I really like the 28 Days movies. I love the first one the most, though. The only zombie movie I think I've seen where the zombies are credible threats. (I really don't see what people see in The Walking Dead that makes it "soooo good").

    I think I see what you mean about love and such as a metaphor. It works, except it transforms the movie a little- takes it away from horror to a sort of moral-story because then the monster ceases to become a thing in and of itself and the whole movie must then become a metaphor for something else. It becomes about the self rather than people dealing with a situation. (imagine if the aliens from "Alien" were killed off with the power of love, how that would pretty much transform the aesthetic of the whole movie)

    Lovecraft does present a similar point of view, but he centers more on utter hopelessness- of completely stripping humanity of it's assurances in their own sense of reason, understanding, and/or agency, making us extremely impotent and vulnerable. And in terms of things like ghosts and such, while they are from another existence they may not be that far beyond us that we can't fight them without resorting to something beyond ourselves. It's just that it might be extremely difficult. However, from a Lovecraftian perspective, if ghosts prove to be something beyond us, than rather than simply growing into something super-human or appealing to something extraordinary, we have to deal with that fact and, perhaps, find a way around it if possible. That there are things that we cannot overcome.
  3. Smith's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by kaminoshiyo
    I really like the 28 Days movies. I love the first one the most, though. The only zombie movie I think I've seen where the zombies are credible threats. (I really don't see what people see in The Walking Dead that makes it "soooo good").

    I think I see what you mean about love and such as a metaphor. It works, except it transforms the movie a little- takes it away from horror to a sort of moral-story because then the monster ceases to become a thing in and of itself and the whole movie must then become a metaphor for something else. It becomes about the self rather than people dealing with a situation. (imagine if the aliens from "Alien" were killed off with the power of love, how that would pretty much transform the aesthetic of the whole movie)

    Lovecraft does present a similar point of view, but he centers more on utter hopelessness- of completely stripping humanity of it's assurances in their own sense of reason, understanding, and/or agency, making us extremely impotent and vulnerable. And in terms of things like ghosts and such, while they are from another existence they may not be that far beyond us that we can't fight them without resorting to something beyond ourselves. It's just that it might be extremely difficult. However, from a Lovecraftian perspective, if ghosts prove to be something beyond us, than rather than simply growing into something super-human or appealing to something extraordinary, we have to deal with that fact and, perhaps, find a way around it if possible. That there are things that we cannot overcome.
    I feel the same way about The Walking Dead.

    Regarding Alien, I don't think it would be bad if, say, the main character's love for another character who was still alive was part of their driving motivation to kill the aliens and escape the ship (or whatever; it's been a long time since I've seen the movie). The aliens would still be scary. It would still be about survival. It just has the added layer of sacrificing oneself for those that they love. And depending on how it's executed, that additional layer doesn't even have to take up the most screen-time or whatever. If done right I think it would fit with the primal, pseudo-venery aesthetic, the phallic symbolism of the Alien itself, and the subtle theme of "reproduction".

    I remember a lot of edgy kids made fun of Interstellar for weaving in the narrative of love. To each their own, but I honestly didn't think the scene where what's-her-face was saying that "love is something that can transcend space and time" was cheesy at all. I'm not saying it couldn't have been better, but I thought it was a powerful moment in the movie and a powerful message.

    Of course, that's not a horror movie, so I'm getting off-topic here.

    That's a very good description of Lovecraft. You seemingly understand him better than myself; you can summarize his work better than me, anyway. But yeah, there are times where the main character deals with the horror in a practical way, although sometimes they pay the price for it with their own sanity, which then brings the truth of the tale into question. His writing is really rich and complex. Very underappreciated.
  4. Kevin's Avatar
    The thing about TWD is not the zombies. It's more about a complete breakdown of society and a return to a state of pre-civilization. The zombies are basically now just part of the landscape- a very dangerous indigenous wild animal -extremely dangerous in large 'herds', but the most dangerous thing are the other live humans. Thats what the show is about. They've all formed tribes. It's like the jungles of New Gunea, or the Amazon, only it's the woods of Georgia after a worldwide catastrophic event has nearly wiped out humanity.
  5. kaminoshiyo's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin
    The thing about TWD is not the zombies. It's more about a complete breakdown of society and a return to a state of pre-civilization. The zombies are basically now just part of the landscape- a very dangerous indigenous wild animal -extremely dangerous in large 'herds', but the most dangerous thing are the other live humans. Thats what the show is about. They've all formed tribes. It's like the jungles of New Gunea, or the Amazon, only it's the woods of Georgia after a worldwide catastrophic event has nearly wiped out humanity.
    That's my gripe. I get what your saying, but 28 Days later and TWD are like The Lord of the Flies. They put humanity in pressured, stressful situations in order to peel back the veneer of civility and expose the core. The real test of survival is seeing if we can survive each other. The problem with TWD for me is that there is no real pressure. Their whole situation is not believable to me because the zombies in that movie don't present the kind of threat that would force humanity into the situation its in. At least not the television version of it... Never read the books/comics.
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