By Eden Zorne, Associate Editor
Art imitates life, according to Aristotle. Or does life imitate art, as according to Oscar Wilde? Either way, life and art are intertwined, one an imitation of the other, no matter which is which. Art itself has many forms, one of which being film. With Halloween fast approaching, we’re ready to curl up on the couch with a hot drink and a fuzzy blanket to watch horror movies. But while we’re all hiding under the aforementioned blanket, too scared to actually look at the movie, we are likely too scared to think about why these movies are appealing to us, and what they represent as forms of art.
The first question I posed is a bit easier to answer than the second. Why are horror movies appealing to so many? I personally think that it’s because we like to be scared while knowing full well that we’re in a safe environment and nothing on the screens can actually touch us… It’s the adrenaline rush, the heart-pumping feeling of excitement, thrill, and fear. We get a high from it, and that’s why we love it. Watching horror films is a safe outlet to get this high from, far safer than seeking out a bear to chase you, or coming face-to-face with a real supernatural force or serial killer. But the second question? What exactly do horror movies represent as an art form? Far more difficult to answer, but I have a few opinions, which may be completely different from yours, and that’s okay — art is subjective.
My first theory is that horror movies represent the primal fear within us all. The fear that we all have, lurking deep inside, but that rarely bubbles to the surface. That feeling we get in a room that’s too dark, in a place that’s unfamiliar. That part of us that’s leftover from our primal ancestors, who lived in a world where the dark truly was dangerous and inescapable. This is why the fear we experience while watching horror movies is nearly universal. The filmmakers know this, and they want to represent this in their films, so they make them as scary as legally possible, to bring out that primal fear in all of us.
My second theory is my personal favourite, as it paints what these films represent to me. Horror films reflect the darkest aspects of humanity. Our darkest wishes, intrigues, and instincts, buried deep beneath the layers of morality and conscience that have developed in humans for eons. The vast majority of people never realize these aspects of themselves. There are also societal and legal constraints, which are very good things for humanity in this case. Imagine if a huge chunk of the world had no morality, with nothing holding them back from committing heinous acts. Luckily for us, the number of people who act on these desires is very small. But that doesn’t mean that members of the “morally sound” society don’t get fleeting hints of them. Have you ever been morbidly fascinated by some murder case? Or unable to tear your eyes away from some macabre sight, like a car wreck? That’s those dark desires seeping just below the surface of your otherwise sound conscience.
Those desires are reflected through the characters, the settings, and the outcomes of the horror films. Think about the Conjuring films and the universe created by them: the horrific experiences of normal people just like you and I being terrorized by supernatural entities. The people affected by the entities are us. “Normal” people belong to the morally-behaving majority of society. The supernatural entities and their torment represent our secret, malicious nature, perhaps even gone unnoticed to ourselves: what could become of us if we were stripped of our morality and societal conditioning. Fictional serial killers like Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger represent the same thing. They are the embodiment of the pure evil that every human being is capable of becoming under the right circumstances. What we hope to never become.
Luckily, representation doesn’t equate to reality. We are morally stable and conscious enough not to give in to the darkness hiding within us. We won’t become malevolent demons or those crazed serial killers we fear so much. We will remain human — and good humans at that. Art doesn’t have to represent what we will do. And we’ll still enjoy a good scary movie without real fear. It’s just a film, after all…