« Movie Review: The Dark Knight (2008) | Main | Movie Review: The X-Files I Want to Believe (2008) »

July 31, 2008


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Thanks for passing this along, John. I appreciate the comments, but would respectfully have some level of disagreement. On the one hand, concepts of good and evil are informed by culture, yet to distill them to nothing more than cultural constructs with no transcendent reference or ground is to assume a particular metaethical perspective, and one that is reductionistic. Second, anger and fear are indeed part of the horror experience, and experiences in common between humanity and the rest of the animal kingdom. However, humans, due to their self-awareness and knowledge of mortality, also react with a sense of terror to various stimuli, including horror imagery. The author of this post has touched on some important issues, but in my view, has reduced a complex and multi-layered set of issues so as to become simplistic.


I'd look to something a bit more fundamental than Good and Evil, which are, after all, cultural constructs. I think the axis that defines horror -- and our relationship to monsters and villians -- is Anger and Fear.

Anger and Fear are primary emotions (the other two being Joy and Sadness), and the physiological and biochemical markers that indicate Anger and Fear are present in all mammals. I don't think a dog or an aardvark knows what Good and Evil are, but they know Anger and Fear.

The monster appeals because the monster is a vehicle through which we can express our Anger, which we, as social animals with a culture, cannot otherwise give free rein.

For me, the really interesting thing about Horror, and the place where horror "works" for me, is what I call "the flip." The flip occurs when our identification with the monster's anger becomes overwhelmed by our fear for the protagonist.

In a simple morality play like a slasher film, this is explicit -- POV shots identify us unambiguously with the monster, and we feel some justification in enjoying the violent demise of the morally flawed (or simply annoying) characters, until Final Boy is killed, and -- flip! -- fear takes over, and our sympathies lie with Final Girl, the embodiment of Fear. Moral and social order is restored, and a bunch of stoned teenagers leave the theater ready to become productive members of society.

But the flip between anger and fear can be much more subtle and less socially comfortable. Take a classic like James Whale's Frankenstein. There's a movie that flips back and forth between embracing Anger and Fear constantly, and the objects of Anger and Fear constantly shift. When Dwight Frye torments the Creature, we identify with the Creature's anger, but when the Creature tosses the little girl in the lake, we flip perspective to the grieving woodsman and the frightened villagers. Then the villagers let their fear overwhelm them and become an angry mob -- flip. It's an incredible balancing act.

A film like Frankenstein offers no simple moral fable, but it offers (to me, at least) and chance to get through another fucking day.

Or maybe this is all BS, and I'm just really, ... *really* ... **angry.**

The comments to this entry are closed.

Subscribe to Weekly Email for New Posts!

Read My Book on Kindle

The Old Gang of Terror

  • LOTT D