Why watch horror films? Are they merely an excuse for two lovers to touch each other? Are they simply a gauge for the resilience of our stomachs?
For some, the genre is regarded distasteful, inhumane or indulgent. As it becomes more splatteringly abusive and disturbed, there may be something appropriate in that view.
Still, this type of movie can be useful because it provides a controlled setting for us to try processing what are, in the real world, irrational fears. They show human beings at their most vulnerable, and therefore help us to understand what ultimately governs our behavior. And, as professor Mike Kugler has noted, their torn-up, bloodied presentation of the body can align with Christian’s theological interest in human frailty and Jesus’ sacrifice.
Whether seen in this late-October season or some other time, here are five films—spanning different subgenres, production dates and themes—that should pique the interest of both horror enthusiasts and thoughtful viewers.
“Night of the Living Dead.” Shot in grainy low-definition, this 1968 zombie flick epitomizes the instinct of human dread. After the never-explained rise of the undead, a happenstance diverse group—comprised of a black man, a white woman, a family and a young couple—finds itself boarded into a rural house with very few resources. Their survival isn’t helped by the political struggle between the men, each having different opinions about their safest bet. Whether or not the film is a metaphor for happenings of the late 60’s (the characters do have a high view of media), there is an interesting meta-narrative about race. To me, this idea spreads to the dark, disfigured ghouls, who we know next to nothing about—only that they act out of instinctual hunger. Viewers are left wondering if terrors can be kept out, will inevitably break through, or, perhaps worst, are growing within.
“Alien.” Ridley Scott’s familiar sci-fi classic pits a group of space minors, including series’ icon Sigourney Weaver, against an alien—a perfect specimen of survival. While an android crewman presses for the preservation of the life-form (especially when it is contained within their research facilities), this scientific task eventually comes at the expense of the other crew members. Weaver’s maternal instincts shape the deterrent counter-plan, which leaves us with something of a feministic document.
“Repulsion.” This surrealistic film follows the deteriorating mind of Carol, its blonde protagonist, who locks herself in her apartment. Why does she do this? Living with her exploited yet sexually forthright sister, we eventually come to understand her sexual anxiety and/or suspicion of men. Among other reasons, it is worth seeing for its vivid, expressionistic imagery: in a dreamy sequence of real and imagined, the walls split, protruding arms grab at her body, a rotted rabbit filet gathers flies, a man’s corpse floats in the bathtub, and the furniture is disheveled. While also frightening to the viewer, the film asks us to consider the strange behaviors of others who express their fears in peculiar ways.
“Eyes Without a Face.” The poetic French oldie adheres to the mad-doctor formula, but has its own set of implications. In this case, a surgeon tries to restore beauty to the face of his disfigured daughter, victim to a car crash of which he was responsible. In order to do this, he abducts other beautiful young ladies, performing heterograft surgery to transplant their face to his mask-wearing daughter. After the procedure has been completed, the skin begins to sag, not holding its beauty. The film deals with the horrible ambitions of regret and with the innocence of the horrifyingly disfigured.
“Let the Right One In.” This recent Swedish film (recently adapted for an American audience: “Let Me In”) portrays the intimately childlike relationship of a young boy and girl vampire. While the latter character is villainous in a predatory way, she spares her friend. Given their circumstances (he is a social outcast), they are both in a position to protect each other. Twisted and complicated, the film shows how allegiance can be aggressive, taboo, and beautiful—all simulataneously.