By: Kaitlyn Franson
Anyone who watches horror movies may have seen an angry ghost moving furniture around or a zombie horde chasing a ragtag group of survivors. But, have any of you ever wondered how classic horror norms are actually metaphors for human behavior? For the past century, the horror genre has been answering that question.
Today’s horror movies play on people’s deepest darkest fears and desires and bring them to life on the big screen; such as the fear of clowns and the desire to create mischief and destruction. The 2017 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel “It,” featured a new sinister Pennywise the Dancing Clown as it terrorized the group of seven children in Derry, Maine.
The horrific child-eating clown taps into people’s childhood fears of a birthday clown turning evil. The opening sequence of little Georgie Denbrough running in the rain after his paper boat is where audiences meet the new and disturbing Pennywise. This opening scene sets the tone for the whole movie.
“When Pennywise’s creepy hand starts to reach across the street. That is nightmare fuel,” said Ryan Turek, director of development at Blumhouse Productions, in a recent interview. “What director Andy Muschietti was able to do so well was maintain that nightmare fuel throughout the rest of the runtime.”
The character Beverly Marsh’s sexual abuse by her father, which is used against her by Pennywise shows how the horror genre illustrates that horrific, inconceivable things can happen in real life.
“Gremlins” (1984), is another example of a horror film that plays on our dark desires. In the movie, an adorable harmless creature named Gizmo spawns multiple mischievous monsters that terrorizes a small town. As a result, these small things unleash destruction and problems upon the townspeople. They take over a seedy bar, where the monsters within look like someone that would belong in that setting. The character of the leader, his wife and the poker dealer, and the drunkards slumped over the bar—horror/comedy utilizes people’s inner desires to break out and behave immorally.
On the note of immoral behavior, vampires are one of the most recognizable monsters of the horror genre. Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel “Dracula” is a milestone in the horror world. There have been hundreds of adaptations from the original Count Dracula narrative. The first adaption of Stoker’s novel is from 1931, directed by Tod Browning and starring Bela Lugosi. One important part of the vampire mythology that Lugosi’s Dracula missed was fangs. In 1931, producers thought the use of fangs were too suggestive of penetration, so Dracula would be without his fangs until 1958. “Dracula,” directed by Terence Fisher and starring Christopher Lee, was important because it started the trend of women being unable to resist the charms of stoic vampire lords. In Fisher’s version, the women are initially frightened by the vampire lord but fall under his supernatural charm and undress themselves.
“Interview with a Vampire” is another milestone for vampire movies. Based off of Anne Rice’s novel “Interview with a Vampire,” the movie follows vampires Lestat (Tom Cruise) and Louis (Brad Pitt), a troubled New Orleans aristocrat. The story portrays the centuries-long relationship between them. What’s fascinating about this movie is the suggestion of a happily married gay couple, years before it was really accepted by the general public. Lestat, Louis and the child-like vampire Claudia form a family headed by two fathers. Director Quentin Tarantino commented on the impact of the film: “Using it as a cultural link with homosexuality has been part of the vampire mystique for when you couldn’t deal with homosexuality. You could deal with it to some degree or another in vampire movies even going back as far as the 1930s.”
In 1936, “Dracula’s Daughter” featured two women in a very intimate scene where seduction and lust are very prominent. The sequence is also one of the first documented lesbian love scenes in American cinema. “In modern depictions, vampires can be male on male and female on female, breaking sexual barriers that society still clings to,” said Larry Fessenden, director and founder of Glass Eye Pix a production company.
Vampire movies show the taboo nature that embodies our society. Sex, blood and exchanging of bodily fluids has become almost a metaphor for the AIDS epidemic that swept through the 1980s. During this time, there was a huge spike in vampire films. Also in the 1980s, women were becoming more prominent in Hollywood. In vampire movies specifically, women were seen becoming more comfortable with their freedom to explore their sexuality.
In the horror genre, zombies have become a huge aspect of modern pop culture. George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” starting the zombie apocalypse frenzy. What makes zombies so intriguing is that our guilt for causing the end of times by either messing with sickness or virus causing an outbreak to nuclear war. Zombies have become a conduit for our mistreatment of the planet and its inhabitants. Zombie films can also be about real-life societal problems.
“Zombie movies evoke political commentary about everything from shopping, to inequality, to internet culture, to disease outbreaks,” said Fessenden.
Horror movies, despite having a reputation that their only purpose is to scare people and make blockbuster amounts of money,are much more complex than that. Horror dissects real-world problems, plays with them and then spits them out into movies that give insight into real tangible dilemmas. Such as human sexuality, fears of the end of times, diseases running rampant throughout the world or just plain old fashion childhood fears and desires. The horror genre has something that everyone can relate to.