Here is my full article. If you have the time to read it please let me know what you think. Sry if there are any grammar mistakes. I find it is much easier for other people to spot them than yourself
Note - this article is more directed at non genre fan audiences than u knowledgable bunch.
Drawing from my experience and increasing knowledge of the Horror genre I have come to the conclusion that it has received for much of it's existence and continues to do so, unfairly negative perceptions or controversy in mainstream discussion – We can see examples of this from the reaction to the controversial theological (vivisection, suggested bestiality) themes in 1932's Island of Lost Souls, The Financial Times review of Hammer's 1957's film Curse of Frankenstein which refers to fans as the “saddest of simpletons” or the media's contemporary readiness to blame violent and/or horror consumer media for criminal acts in reality. Such views are also likely be shared among wider society/public where there is likely a general view of the horror community as different and abnormal, almost to the point of verging on serial killers/psychopaths. In her book simply entitled Horror Brigid Cherry proposes a possible reason as the clear marketing of horror to teenage and young adult audiences particularly by Hollywood. As the Video Nasty scandal shows lurid and explicit marketing can also significantly contribute to a negative view of horror. Certainly names such as I Spit On Your Grave or Cannibal Holocaust are effective for marketing purposes but suggest particularly dark and controversial themes. I urge that it is therefore necessary to question and challenge this perception because I believe that the genre is more complex than the mainstream perception would indicate.
As a powerful case in point the video nasty scandal during the 1980's resembled the actions of a populist mob, perhaps one of the biggest dangers to a effective democracy which produced such sensationalist headlines in the british press as “Rape of our Children's Minds”. The article continued, asking the question, 'so how many more woman will be savaged and defiled by youths weaned on a diet of rape video's”. Editorials in the vein of “The Video Strangler” or “Video Fiend Gets Jailed for Kid Assaults” tried to wrongfully identify a simplex link between the viewing of a horror film and real life crime, amazingly in the former case, linking the viewing of various nasties by a pedophile (who clearly had preexisting issues) to the sexual assault of children. Politicians soon joined the crusade at its outset, most prominently MP Graham Bright who expressed such bizarre and condescending comments as nasties are “grossly offensive to all reasonable people”. As Seduction of The Gullible indicates this attitude was reminiscent of previous establishment panic over technological developments being misused by the lower classes. Subsequently it was Graham Bright who was the main figure that pushed for 1984's draconian Video Recording's Act. This was preceded in November 1983 by a screening of a 'nasties compilation', organized by Bright to British MP's with predictable effect. Those who attended had no context or previous experience of the genre and a predetermined view shaped by the frenzied media. The frenzied media resulted in little reasoned discussion or action during the scandals duration.(Given the hysteria which any potentially lurid tile or marketing could create some of the films in the DDP's nasties list aren't so surprising). One of the few figures who opposed this dominant view was Richard Boston who shared, in contrast a straightforward but very valid comment in his article Sense and Censorship that “Nasties are the product of violence rather than its cause. To say otherwise is like saying that the wind is caused by trees shaking their branches”.
Unfortunately however video nasties were also a victim of the UK's then political situation. Early into their 80's reign the conservative government faced riots across the country as crime rates and unemployment soared and their radical policies caused social upheaval. The government needed a agenda or more precisely a scapegoat to rally behind and to be seen to act on. Thus the video nasties were a perfect target as, admittedly from the nasties sleazy covers leered a seamless endless array of dribbling psycho's that embodied the enemy of Thatchers 'victorian values' in her moral crusade. This sensationalist advertising that implied sex and violence but rarely reflected content ensured that critics like Mary Whitehouse didn't in her own words need to watch the film to be shocked. This provided ammunition for Whitehouse's early pressure to enforce censorship that eventually resulted in the aforementioned government involvement. Antipathetically such advertising was however to a degree simply indicative of Thatcher's free market values that favoured fierce competition among corporate distributers in what was a new unregulated video market, conditions her policies were simply trying hard to achieve in other areas of society. In another glaring contradiction and one that seems extremely immoral Thatcher supported Chile's dictator Pinochet, who is accused of brutally repressing or murdering thousands of his left wing political opponents, while her government in alliance with the press so vehemently crusaded against fictional violence depicted on screen.
Despite these misconceptions however we cannot deny the genre does have inherently macabre and grisly elements – the extremes of which are more recently publicised in the media by particularly gory films like Hostel and multiple Saw sequels. Unfortunately the effect of all these factors is to disguise the complexity of the genre. We can identify such complexity in various commentaries on society and politics. Examples include Romero's original zombie trilogy, Del Toro's The Devils Backbone (a visually beautiful ghost story set during the Spanish Civil War) or examples of Cronenberg's earlier films such as his debut feature film Shivers. Indeed what makes horror so distinct from other genres is its inherent complexity. I would challenge anyone to find the same amount of sub genres within other overall genres of films. Zombie, Gothic, Giallo, Found Footage, Vampire, Creature, Werewolf and Psychological are but a few examples. Equally we must not downplay the arguably unique ability of Horror to delve into people deepest and darkest fears and explore our most primal and ancient of human instincts – for it is one of its greatest strengths. This also means that we can perhaps relate to characters within horror films because they are often confronting fears we ourselves face, if only enhanced by their fictional narrative. These themes are explored better in disturbing but excellently made and original films like Martyrs or American Mary. These use a disturbing central element but use it to build characterisation, narrative and deeper themes. Accordingly I believe the ability to confront the darker side of humanity in horror films and potential discussions that can result from this shows a elevated level of intelligence than perhaps audiences who regularly go to see the latest rom com lack. Interestingly, in a recent review of Cabin In The Wood's Roger Ebert states.
“Horror fans are a particular breed. They analyse films with such detail and expertise that I am reminded of the Canadian literary critic Northrup Frye, who approached literature with similar archetypal analysis”
I can claim with deep honesty that I am deeply interested in the world and equally saddened and shocked by such violent events as the Iraqi War and wish I could do something to help prevent such things. If we look at action films as another example I fail to see much characterization for the countless cannon fodder. Why not criticise this? It is true that there are Horror films that are just fun and may have gratuitous nudity and gore but that is as much as escapism as a popcorn action film. The critical difference however is that there is an equal, if not greater amount of horror films in the genre that deal with societal and political issues and are, under their grisly surface much smarter than your countless action flick or rom com.
For a contemporary example lets look at elements of the original novel and cult film adaption of Battle Royale in greater detail. Battle Royale is a film with a instantly controversial subject matter. If we examine, however, the director's background his experience of working in a munitions factory during WW2, where many of his friends died is very relevant and certainly eye opening. As a result of these experiences the young director developed a ingrained distrust of authority. We see the influence of this in his final film battle Royale and earlier works such as Graveyard of Honour or Under the Flag of The Rising, all drawing on themes of state corruption and violence.
To illustrate Battle Royale's sharp social commentary one only has to realize that the films opening epilogue in fact exactly describes Japan's social situation during the 1990's. ”In the beginning of the new century the country fell apart. The japanese economy collapsed, the unemployment rate skyrocketed and all grownups lost their confidence. Children came to feel contempt for their parents, teachers and authorities. Disorder in classrooms, stabbings of teachers and boycotting of school became a widespread epidemic”. Inevitably the economic crisis created a form of vicious battle for individual economic survival, for example gaining and maintaining employment. In a particularly affecting sequence that perhaps stands in contrast other sequences of ultra violence we see the personal consequences of these economic pressures through a student's flashback of his fathers suicide. The central narrative element of the students own battle for survival in the state sponsored game of death and the directors filming approach therefore reflects japans economic situation and the directors mistrust of authority, admittedly taken to a extreme extent. As the student's teacher Kitano states to them “Life is a game”. Given the context and themes of the original novel and film adaption it is not surprising that the Japanese government attempted both to ban both iterations.
Such a example illustrates that to maintain freedom of expression in a democracy and as Wingrove suggests in Art of The Nasty the ability to provoke discussion, highlight issues we would rather like to avoid or express a diversity of views we should not attempt to ban horrific or explicit material but rather ensure that in for example the specific case of films age rating's are properly enforced. Though my article may appear to propose a more liberal outlook I recognize that a disturbing film like Texas Chainsaw Massacre should not be shown to impressionable under 18's. As a case in point The Daily Mails campaign against Child's Play in the James Bulger Case crucially failed to recognize that their viewing of the aforementioned film affected existing psychological issues, rather than creating them. If age ratings were properly enforced and society fulfilled its role then their savage crime may have been prevented. It seems extremely immoral to me that Thatcher supported Chile's dictator Pinochet who is accused of brutally repressing or murdering thousands of his left wing political opponents while her government in alliance with the press so vehemently crusaded against fictional violence depicted on screen.
In reference UK censorship Nigel Wingrove continues “Democracy is about able to tolerate extreme views including pornography or gratuitous violence on film...........Censoring films, books, plays or music are easy options that offer no long lasting solutions, concluding, ultimately democracy is not about the nice, it is fundamentally about the nasty”. Additionally I would comment that reactionary solutions such as censorship plays to the potential populist and detracting element of democracy. As history and china's current political situation (appears more democratic but retains human rights abuses) demonstrates surely isn't state sponsored censorship a distinct aspect of a closed totalitarian society.
If a horror film is viewed as brutal then surely is it not solely reflecting the reality of the world, possibly highlighting issues that people wouldn't otherwise think about. Certainly, if not for watching this year's Frightfest opening film, The Seasoning House I would have never thought in such a deep sense of the horrific trafficking and exploitation of woman in conflict zones. Consequently I would propose Horror helps me understand and make sense of real world violence. Mary Whitehouse – a prominent critic of 'Video Nasties' and President of National Viewers' and Listeners' Association and her allies refused to face the world and preferred to live in a strict moral environment, reflecting a age that had long since gone by, Adversely she essentially sought to achieve this by limiting the freedom and ability of individuals to make their own comments within society. Another negative side effect of this scapegoating of horror is that it places the responsibility of society's problems onto Horror community. Rather our society's key figures, such as parents should recognize these problems originate within itself and therefore has the foremost responsibility to tackle these with the social institutions and resources at its disposal. Unfortunately a government with a ideological crusade such as Thatcher;s may tried to erode such social security in favour of private conservative interests (which perversely opposed regulation in the area of commerce and encouraged private business such as the video shops which supplied the nasties). Only with a collectively functioning society however, can the issues be effectively and conclusively healed or resolved. To blame the Horror genre is convenient and a insult to the victims of society's ills.
As a early form of material intended for adults that represented a way in which people could confront express and translate real world fears the original Grimm's Fairy tales published in 1812 are a striking contrast to their popular contemporary adaptations by Disney. In this way they may have performed the same role as contemporary Horror films. Famine is for example, as central to the plot of Hansel and Gretel as consumerism to Romero's commentary in Dawn of The Dead.
"The tales had their origins in a culture where famine was common and life was nasty, brutish, and short. The young and vulnerable may have indeed felt at risk when there was nothing to eat, even if, as we know, cannibalism was a fairly rare phenomenon."
Furthermore they also had a simultaneous function regarding escapism – a way of exploring and releasing our primal instincts in a fantasy environment, aswell as in contemporary horror. It comes as no surprise that these stories containing elements of sex and violence were originally intended for an adult audience. The story 'The Robber Bridegroom' provides a shocking example. The young woman referred to in the title is in the story is severely abused. A band of drunken thieves drag her home, force her to drink three full glasses of wine "one white, one red, one yellow," tear off her clothes, and finally chop her beautiful body into pieces, and sprinkled them with salt.
"Fairy tales were once adult entertainment, designed to help pass time and told to the rhythms of repetitive labor. To stay awake, you needed melodrama and an opera of emotions — or, to put it another way, sex and violence... Today we have the Paranormal franchise, Stephen King novels, and all kinds of other things to scare us out of our wits."
The example of Grimm's Fairly tales also shows us that people have been translating and coming to understand their fears throughout time. One can even describe the horror film as a form of modern greek mythology (itself replete with monsters, tales of worlds beyond the physical and realms of spirits). Therefore if we analyse the early development of film they immediately had deep philosophical connotations. As they represented moving images they became a record of people who had passed into death. Professor Tom Gunning remarks in the documentary The American Nightmare that 'cinema itself could become a haunted house, where images could represent a zone between reality and representation, which is exactly what ghosts are'. As early cinema developed the horror genre developed closely in parallel A rich horror tradition had also already existed in literary form with the likes of H.P . Lovecraft and Poe, from which it could draw a degree of inspiration. We can see some macabre elements in what where perhaps the very earliest technical forms of cinema created by illusionist Georges Melies during the 1890's. His 1896 film The Devil's Castle is often cited as the first Vampire, or indeed Horror film. Edison studio's later 1910 Frankenstein is a obvious loose adaptation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. What many critics and academics regard as the first definitive horror film, Robert Wiene's 1920 expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr Caligiri was produced at a turbulent point in german history originating between the country's humiliating defeat in WW1 and the rise of Nazism in the 1930's. Considering such history I believe we can confidently claim that the Horror genre is the earliest of all of cinema genres and crucial to its development.
Last edited by Vasquez (2012-11-17 16:44:08)