Sunday, August 5, 2012

How I can be a horror fan in such horrific times

Today started off like any other Sunday.  I watched a couple of horror films with some friends on Synchtube, then went off for brunch and a couple of beers.  Hey, it's my day off and it was 5 o'clock somewhere.  Don't be judging me.

But my pleasant day was ruined by the reports of another shooting, this time at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.  Seven dead, three wounded, including a police officer responding to the attack.  I've heard lots of other details, but feel it's too early to comment on them now.  Instead, I plan to take a moment after writing this to offer my thoughts and prayers to the families of those killed today, and all those affected by this horrific act.  Then I have to get on with my daily life, including the mundane task of doing laundry and dishes, and be thankful that my family is safe and sound in their homes.

And I'll probably end the evening with a nice little horror film in the DVD player.

I know a few people will question that final choice.  After all, reveling in violence and mayhem is just feeding into the beast, fueling the fires that drive people to commit such heinous acts against others.  That's what the MPAA is protecting us from, right?  Or else, I must be one of THOSE people, with a lot of tattoos, unkempt hair and a proclivity to worship the devil.

Well, wrong on both counts.  And it will be cathartic for me to tell you why.

Let's take on the latter subject.  I'm 51 years old, with a clean shave scalp and no tattoos.  I don't worship the devil and my music preference swings towards jazz and blues.  Not your typical horror fan, I'll grant you.  But more fans like me exist than people would like to believe.  And even the ones that might look like Rob Zombie are normal people, just like everyone else.  We worry about our families, our jobs and the people affected by violent acts like the ones that occurred today in Wisconsin, or the shooting in Colorado a couple weeks ago.  We love our pets, we love children and we are happy to donate to worthy charities.  We are like everyone else, though our tastes and appearance might suggest otherwise.  And those, like me, who look "normal" in our everyday lives, express our love for the genre in other ways.  For example, my room is a house of horrors in progress.  The more stuff I get, the more warped it becomes, and I like it.

The sad thing is, the people involved in crimes like the one today all tend to look like me.  Clean cut, short hair, no visible tattoos.  They don't look like the horror fan stereotype most people expect.  The perpetrators of these crimes look like everyone else, only with a bubbling pocket of hate hidden deep within them.  They are the monsters we all fear, horror and non-horror fans alike, the creatures that hide in polite society before striking out.

Which brings me to the idea that such horrific images must warp one's mind, driving people to unspeakable acts of violence.  But that is far from the truth.

If I was to say that horror is inspired by such acts, I wouldn't be lying, though one might take it the wrong way.  Horror is inspired by people like Ted Bundy, Ed Guin and such, but fans and filmmakers aren't seeking to commit such atrocities in real life.  We look for them upon the screen, in the pages of books, and expect the artist involved to make sense out of such madness.  Or, in the case of Tobe Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre, among others, revel that any attempt to find a reason or motivation is fruitless.  Madness can have a reason, as Clarice Starling discovered in The Silence of the Lambs, or it can try and enforce it's own logic on a world that tries to act sane.  Regardless of a motivation, it exists in the world and all the power of logic and reason cannot dispel it's shadow.

If you need further proof, look at the creators of such nightmares.  Stephen King, who's novels have fueled nightmares in the general reading public, is a rather pleasant man, someone who depreciates the value of his autographed books by going into an airport and signing all the books he can find.  John Landis is seldom interviewed without a smile on his face, as is Joe Dante, Eli Roth and George Romero, among others.  And when these people are serious about their works, it's more about how they reflect a disturbing (to them) trend in society, rather than about the violence.

As for the creators of on screen mayhem, again, watch any interview with the likes of Tom Savini or Greg Nicotero, among others.  Like a magician, these artists are more excited about pulling off an illusion, leaving fans to wonder how it was done, not how to replicate it in reality.  These people are not trying to inspire acts of violence, but attempting to fool the audience into seeing things that would never, or should never, take place in the real world.

But perhaps my final point is the most salient.  Unlike action films, where the solution to an evil plot is often found in an absurd amount of spent ammunition within the final act (at least until the inevitable sequel), most modern works of horror offer no such final resolution.  The final frames of a horror film, or the last sentence of a horror novel, often show struggle of good over evil is never over.  Something stronger is at work, a power that will resist the attempts of humanity to extinguish it.  We can lessen it's power, we can weaken it and keep it at bay, but the evil will never be vanquished.  In short, horror fans know no absolute solution is possible.  Even destroying the earthly remains of the villain can give no assurance that the evil is gone forever.

A rather nihilistic world view, perhaps, but one more grounded in reality than the fantasies of an action thriller.  Horror fans know the root cause of evil, whether a maleficent force or the simple greed within mankind, will never be extinguished.  And, while we might mourn the senseless loss of life that occurred today, as we have countless times before, horror fans accept that no silver bullet, no stake through the heart, will keep the evil from returning to haunt us.

But it's the battle against such forces, not the victories, that horror fans celebrate.  While action films promote the idea that we can overcome such forces, horror fans revel in the determination of the human spirit to fight a losing battle against such evil.  The hero of a horror movie isn't a person armed with the proper weapons or allies to defeat evil, but an ordinary human making a stand against extraordinary forces.  Even if they fail, such acts define humanity better than a Rambo-esque soldier.

So let the latex flesh tear and the Karo blood flow.  To me, horror is not just a thrill ride or magician's trick.  Sure, those elements come into play, but it's a cathartic experience as well.  Because while Laurie Stroud will never defeat Michael Meyers, her struggle against that black force gives me hope that, for a while, we might keep the monsters at bay.  And that's really the best we can hope for.

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