Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Heath Holland On...Horror and Belief
I’ve been waiting precisely 11 months for October to arrive. This is my first ever column during a Scary Movie Month, so I’ve been thinking a long time about what I wanted to write and how I was going to approach it.
I love horror movies and I love the month of October. I’ve dedicated the entire month to scary movies for years. As a result, I’ve watched a LOT of horror movies in my lifetime, but rarely do those scary movies actually scare me. I mean, sometimes a movie will make me squirm a little, or will throw out a particularly gooey bit of gore that takes me off guard and grosses me out.
But every now and then, a scary movie squeezes through my defenses and really gets under my skin. The movie that we’re all going to be talking about this weekend, Rob Zombie’s The Lords of Salem, really did a number on me. It scared the ever-lovin’ pants off me, and I really wanted to figure out why got to me. It’s not in the same vein as Zombie’s other movies. There isn’t a cast of quirky/trashy characters who argue and yell all the time. There are no torture scenes. So why did it bother me so much?
I don’t believe in ghosts or real haunted houses. The odds of someone putting on an animal mask and terrorizing me in my own house are pretty slim. If they did, I’d cut their head off with my Highlander movie replica sword. The odds of someone in a hockey mask coming back from the grave to kill camp counselors are even slimmer. A man who haunts kids in their dreams? Now we’re just getting silly.
I don’t believe in any of those things, and for a horror movie to work there has to be belief. Without the power of belief, watching a horror movie is like walking through a fright house at a carnival. Things will jump out at you and there will be some loud noises, but you know everything is really going to be okay. It’s a fun ride, nothing more.
But when you add belief into the mix, things get a little bit more intense.
I was raised in a very religious household. The beliefs that were instilled in me throughout my entire childhood have taken deep root in my brain. Even things that I’ve questioned and eventually challenged and eschewed still seem to be in there, way down at the ground floor of my psyche. Push me to a certain point, past reason and past logic, those basic religious views are still in the basement like skeletons that pop out to haunt me when I least expect it.
Another movie that deeply affected me was Hostel. I’m still trying to come to terms with my thoughts and feelings on that movie. I used to think that it was pointless and cruel. I used the title “torture porn” and said that the movie had no purpose other than to show the depraved depths that humans are capable of descending to.
I was missing the point. That’s exactly why the movie works. It shows us humanity at its absolute worst. The reaction that I had against it was a symptom of my being horrified by it. Hostel does exactly what it was supposed to do: scare the crap out of me because I believe that people are capable of what that movie presents.
And that’s what horror does when it’s really working. Horror shouldn’t be comfortable and breezy. I’ve come to appreciate the genre all over again. When a horror movie really works, it’s horrifying. I’d even come to take the title itself for granted because it’s been a long time since a movie has horrified me. Lords of Salem is responsible for pushing me outside of my horror movie comfort zone and reminding me what I love about horror. I’ll be honest: I have no urge to watch it again ANY time soon. Even the thought of revisiting it raises my blood pressure. It has done its job well, and I respect it for that. Maybe that’s the highest compliment you can give a horror movie: not enthusiastic affection, but respect.
As we enter into another Scary Movie Month, I hope that each one of us watches at least one or two movies that are informed by something we believe in. If you believe in ghosts or demons or the people under the stairs, watch a horror movie about that. Get scared. Pee your pants. Sleep with the lights on. That’s what Scary Movie Month is all about. If there’s ironic distance in your mind between what you are watching and the safe place that you put yourself in, remove that distance. Expose yourself to your fear. I think you’ll be scared, but you’ll be happy that you were.
Happy Scary Movie Month!