Culture Clash: Horror Films


‘Horror’ translates as ‘an intense, painful feeling of repugnance and fear.’ The description doesn’t exactly appeal, why would you subject yourself to terror?

Some would argue that not all horror films are purely terrifying; some contain humor in order to diffuse the sense of fear and re-create the genre to one that is more accessible. Whilst I admit to liking the soft-core flicks such as Shaun of the Dead and Zombie Land, I was genuinely surprised to deduce from my research that Evil Dead 2 is considered by its producer Rob Topert, to be a comedy-horror. Yes, the effects are ‘splatstick’, and the gore is unrealistic in its extremity, but is the film funny? Can we really justify laughing at brutal murders and lashings of blood? Finding comedic relief in films that are purposefully horrific is sickening. Surely to find a comedy pleasure in gore and graphic cinematic deaths is sadistic?

Even worse, however, is Topert’s statement ‘I think the people who like horror really like horror, and they found Evil Dead 2 too tonally challenging because it had too much humor.’ Topert goes on to say; ‘they want the horror, they want the unrelenting grueling horror, and they don’t want the film-maker to tell them when to laugh.’ Horror cult fans therefore desire total horror, and the suggestion that they feel a sort of thrill or pleasure whilst watching such films, is arguably demonstrative of a subconscious subjection to sadism and even perversity. I am not arguing that horror-film watchers are all psychopaths, but I am exploring the notion that people who watch these films do not always think too strongly about exactly what they are watching, and the implications that follow.

For example, the use of child-actors in horror films baffles me. Surely it is completely unethical to allow a child to act in a film that they are legally forbidden to watch due to age restrictions? To act in a horror-film is, essentially, to be a part of it; the child-actor is living the horror in reality – he/she would have to be on the set, within the nightmarish atmosphere, and soak this atmosphere up in order to immerse him/herself into the horror in order to play the character. These children are often playing monstrous or possessed children, such as the little girl in The Ring. To play such a character, I wonder, must have some adverse psychological effects.

According to Siegfried Kracauer, German Expressionist cinema that avoided reality (visually through the use of stylised sets, and narratively in the portrayal of monstrous figures such as Nosferatu) was a cause of the rise of Fascism in Germany. Kracauer argues that the films were symptomatic of the German people’s turning away from political responsibility and the embrace of Hitler. I believe that this theory is extremely controversial, and extraordinarily far-fetched, but I do recognise that horror films, like all other film genres, reflect the values and ideologies of the culture that produced them. The portrayal of women within horror films is often negative, with females depicted as either beautiful but stupidly submissive, weak victims, or psychotic hag-like killers.

Robin Wood postulates that horror films are about anxieties over masculine sexual performance, and this frustration is channeled into the victimisation of women through aggression. This all sounds rather Freudian, but does lead me to question whether this battle of the sexes, ultimately resulting in sexism towards women, is a healthy message to promote, particularly in relation to violence towards women.

For me, the reason for opposing the genre is an obvious one. Watching a horror-film is very much a case of ‘watching as much as you can, before you get too scared.’ A Chucky film is taking something innocent and domestic (a child’s toy) and making it an emblem of terror, whilst Paranormal Activity shows an invasion of a domestic space. Both these examples take something familiar and twist it into something horrific, and this manipulation is supposed to be pleasurable. It is this pleasurable intention of the horror film that scares me, even more so that the content.
Bruce Kawin wrote in his essay ‘Children of Light’, ‘a good horror film takes you on a visit to the land of the dead.’ My response – I’d rather not visit that land thanks.

—- Sophie Grace Barrett



Sometimes I feel like we are a dying breed us horror film lovers, and it is only when Halloween rolls around that I remember I am not alone; there are many of us who love a good horror movie. For those of you who hate horror films, then Halloween is the only time of year that you can be forced to watch a horror and it be deemed socially acceptable.

When I am confronted about why I find horror films enjoyable, there isn’t one simple reason, e.g the blood and gore, but a variety of factors that make my viewing experience enjoyable which could arguably be why they are not so enjoyable for others.

One of my favourite things about watching a horror film is the cinematic experience. You are in complete darkness; isolated from the outside world with no distractions from Facebook and other technology – you are entirely in the moment. The larger screen and surround sound provide that extra ‘scare’ factor as you experience everything a character is going through at the same time – they hear a noise and you hear it too. If this intensity isn’t enough, add to it the complete strangers that are sat around you. No one knows how each other will react to what is happening on screen, will everyone remain calm and collected or will someone scream?

It is this notion of the unknown in both the narrative of the film and the reaction of the audience around you which makes these films appealing. As you are so intently watching to see what will happen next, you leave yourself open to the element of surprise or the ‘jump’. It is sometimes someone’s reaction to the ‘jump’ that is more enjoyable than the actual ‘jump’ itself (which is why I will hardly ever watch horror films on my own at home). For non-horror fans this ‘jump’ is the bit that they don’t like, it makes you uncomfortable to be on edge for such a long period of time only for it to end in embarrassment in front of friends or whoever is in the cinema with you.

However, I find that this is what draws me into horror films, the fact that I am sat on the edge of my seat waiting for something scary to happen and when it does my expectations of that moment are met – I am scared and it is strangely exhilarating. For non-horror fans this is understandably a strange concept, but I am sure many horror fans understand where I am coming from.

Although this isn’t the case for all horror films; some films are better at scaring the audience than others and the concept of repetition and predictability can sometimes anger a horror fan. We like change and new concepts within the genre, which is why I found Sinister (2012) exciting as it provided a change from usual conventions along with this The Cabin in the Woods (2011) which provided an interesting, refreshing twist on the horror genre.

This is not to say that ‘classic’ horror films are no longer scary. They most certainly are! But for me they just use different elements to create the suspense of the scene. Take the infamous shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) which puts me on the very edge of my seat purely because of Bernard Herrmann’s fantastic musical score. It has since become an iconic piece of horror music and it elicits from me such a strong a response of terror that at that very moment I completely identify with Marion (the female protagonist) and can’t quite believe what is happening. Music is a fundamental component of any good horror movie as it accompanies and emphasises the horror unfolding on screen.

I suppose I have to mention that I do enjoy horror films for their extensive use of blood and gore and horrendous death sequences. I mean, this probably sounds really sadistic but it really is entertaining. I like to see how creative directors and writers can be when killing off each character in that classic who will survive kind of way. But that is purely personal and I can’t really explain it – I suppose it must be the fact that such a thing could never ACTUALLY happen… right!?

—- Kirsty Lee

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