We rifled through his slide out VHS drawers and absorbed all the classics: Terminator, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Stand by Me, Mad Max - the list goes on. One afternoon as I was going through the massive collection of films, I pulled one out from the darkest corner of the shelf. The cover? A Chainsaw wielding madman; "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre".
Now, before I continue allow me to extend a slightly digressive preamble. I was a morbid child. Without any particular outside influences, my interests were involved in monster books, monster illustrations and monster folklore (anyone remember 'Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark' by Alvin Schwartz?). Furthermore, my father being an artist exposed me to all sorts of strange artsy things well before I was even able to comprehend how a spoon operated.
The earliest film experience in my memory is watching Koyaanisqatsi with my dad at around the age of 3. Strange things were a regular part of my brain diet - but viewing the cover of "Texas" and reading about its exploits on the back cover - I knew this was a different type of monster.
My little heart was pumping! "Let's watch this!" I squealed. Sam's face turned dark and said we couldn't. His parents wouldn't allow him to because "It was too scary". This only gave my interest momentum and I begged and pleaded to no avail. This begging would continue through some odd years and I always got the same response.
Some years later and after much anticipation, I finally got my viewing of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and it shattered my world view. It was gritty and mean. The final scenes were a true exercise in empathy. It scared the crap out of me and I loved it so much that from then on, horror films were my top shelf.
So, in my ever growing love of the genre and my ever growing library people often ask (quite nervously) why I enjoy horror movies so much. Let us consider then, that this article an end-all explanation as to why I respect horror both as the underdog of film and a legitimate medium in the world of film art.
1) Freedom of Expression: Because of horror's subject matter, it is rarely given the spotlight in terms of great cinema. The clandestine nature of taboo has given directors in the genre many freedoms in how their films are made. Little do most people know how radically horror movies have revolutionized devices in story telling (The Last Broadcast / The Blair Witch Project), Special FX (Tom Savini) and all other sorts of madcap ideas and phantasms that inspire some of the deepest creativeness of film makers.
Creativity go hand in hand specifically because you're dealing with subjects that are intended to defy reality. The sky is the limit when it comes to conceptualizing the creatures of the dark. Anything from creature, set and sound design in horror films constantly push the limits of every artist involved. Even more fun, horror films have invented more ways to "whack" people than can be comprehended.
2) Sociology / Psychology: Now I admit, many of the points illustrated above could be said for most genres of film. However, horror really does stand on its own in how these principles are applied strictly because of the subject matter.
The use of fear in common mythology and folklore goes back as far as speech itself. One could say that the myths, legends and creatures, celestial and corporal were all invented from multiple aspects of fear. From your common bridge troll to the mysterious Will 'O the Wisps, these inventions from 'round the fire have captivated us while also instilling in us a sense of caution and intrigue from all things outside of ordinary.
In many ways, viewing a well made horror film in a theater with an enthused audience is much like sitting around the camp fire. The darkness of the theater and the anonymity of the people around you, glowing and pulsing in and out of darkness as their eyes grow wide. The gasps and awes are just as fun as the screams and giggles.
3) Chosen Lords: A few horror movies really shine in the usage of metaphor. These really brought the genre into the attention of the public and for those who looked beyond the surface, saw something more at depth than creepy crawlers. For instance, it is now common knowledge that George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" had a lot of undertones and nods to the civil rights movement. He was also one of the first directors to put an African-American in a leading role. His follow up, "Dawn of the Dead" was a biting criticism of blind consumerism and the deconstruction of society as the result of a somewhat nebulous conflict. Cannibal Holocaust, one of the most intense films in the genre, really captures the cruelty and exploitative nature when human beings are put into positions where they feel unrelentingly superior to those around them and pay for it.
When all is said and done, horror movies have been underrated in their importance to film. Some of the greatest directors, such as Stanley Kubrick (much to Stephen King's disapproval) have tackled the subject with great success. However, I have found that recently horror movies have really come back into the spotlight. Japanese horror in particular has risen in popularity for the past couple of years and as a result has made a great impact in regards to bridging the gap between east and west cinema.
Happily, and much to the demise of some critics, it seems the horror is once again becoming popular. Those faithful fans young and old have kept what seemed to be dead some years ago alive and kicking. My joy and love for horror films will never die (I'm supposing the past couple of puns in this paragraph were intended) and hopefully those of you reading this will agree with me.
So sit back, put your feet up and let's go watch some zombie smashing rock stars save the planet from certain doom. Oh yes, there will be motorcycles and ninjas too!