Horror: Confronting Demons or Titillation?

The Washington Post featured an article by a film critic who hates horror films.  I’ll admit it — I don’t like them either.  The reason is that they tend to be so gory, and I don’t like blood and guts spilling out.  Even when I’m reading a book, I’ll stop at the point where the bad guy sticks a knife into a character and pulls out her guts while she’s still alive (and yes, that was in a book).

I did go through a time in college when I read horror novels.  They were very popular for a while, probably because of Stephen King.  I remember one book that was about a church cover up over unpublished books of the Bible and what really happened when Jesus was crucified (doesn’t that sound like The Da Vinci Code?).  It disturbing, but it wasn’t a gore fest.  Here’s the link, and I am really surprised I found it!

Then the slasher films started coming out, and they became an instant hit.  Then, the films were done very cheaply, so the studios made huge profits.  Scientists are studying why these are such attraction:

“The going theory is that these are fears that we have, and that what horror movies allow us to do is to either come to terms with them or to overcome them,” says Keith Oatley, a novelist and psychologist who has researched extensively the effects of fiction on the human psyche.

“You know that children have fears. After they fear strangers, then they tend to fear ghosts and things under the bed and so on. So it’s a kind of elaboration on that idea that what movies do is to externalize these fears in a way that we can take part in them . . . We’ve confronted these demons.”

I read that from the article, and I could almost see how slasher films could do that.  When I in Girl Scouts, I was told how if you thought about Bloody Mary, she would come and kill you in the night.  That scared me for years.  Maybe that was why I ventured into horror when I was in college, because I could control the scariness with a book.

But there’s a problem with the films.  Most of the victims are women, and I don’t see how killing women is confronting those demons.  So much so that Josh Whedon, who is known for his women characters, described in a documentary on Buffy the Vampire Slayer that he wrote the opening about this blond girl who looks like the horror victim and ends up being not what she seems.

I think, even as a teenager, it didn’t get past me that there was something wrong with how the women were treated, as if their purpose was to be a victim.  I dislike gore to this day, but I find the almost dismissive quality of the way women are treated worse.  It’s hard because I see the same trends in some types of books, as well as on crime TV shows.  Several years ago, a commercial was aired on the radio in Washington DC rush hour for a PBS crime movie.  The subject for thirty seconds was describing the woman victim.

We are better than this.