Horror and Location

One of my least favourite aspects of horror (apart from the gore), is related to the locations.  Psychogeography (see, I know long words) is defined as ‘[1]the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment… on the emotions and behaviour of individuals’. Basically, for me it’s fine if it’s an unrealistic situation like in [2]Saw where the environment is controlled and overall improbable (who has enough money and spare time to organise something like that?).

Truly the most unsettling is when writers shift these horror scenes to houses like in [3]Hush or Stephen King’s[4] Duma Key ‘How to Draw a Picture’, where the location is a house by the sea. It is when experiences of the mentally and physically horrific are introduced to somewhere as personal as the home that things become really scary, for me at least.

Otherwise, some of the most popular settings for horror to take place are hotels, camps, towns and asylums (think [5]American Horror Story). The reason for these location choices within the genre I feel is how public and available they are.

Everyone has heard of a creepy abandoned building with rumours of tragic killings. Or have gone camping with friends who’ve told scary stories about what happens if you wander too far from the campsite. It seems only natural that we entertain the idea of horror being something that could happen to us. So by setting stories in places anyone could be, makes it all the more frightening.

Despite realistic environments being spooky, in ‘[6]Un Chien Andalou’ written by Salvador Dali, a new kind of horror was presented for audiences with surrealism. The imagery of a couple slowly rotting and an eye being sliced made my stomach turn and even managed to get a reaction from my typically strong-stomached friends.

The surrealism movement is relatively new; only in the last century has it gained much attention. ‘[7]Un Chien Andalou’ constantly changing locations maintains its disturbing nature as it makes it difficult to keep track of the events. One minute we’re in an apartment, the next we’re witnessing a street scene and then characters on a beach. This interchanged with occurrences of insanity and gore makes this film dreamlike. But unlike in [8]A Nightmare on Elm Street, the real danger seems to come from waking up.

Dreams are not an uncommon location for horror films or sequences. Dali even collaborated with Alfred Hitchcock during the filming of [9]Spellbound. For dream sequences have a habit of throwing an audience off. It can leave them feeling confused and this vulnerable bewilderment leads to more fear.

[10]Jacob’s Ladder is a great example of this. Throughout the film, I could never quite work out whether or not if what I was seeing was real or part of a dream/vision. This imparted a deep feeling of uneasiness upon me as it did with many other people.

As technology has progressed, we find that we can start adding outer-space to the list of locations. Films such as Ridley Scott’s [11]Alien already renowned for breaking the box office. Thus this opens up a new form of horror which has mainly taken hold in the video game industry with releases such as [12]Halo,[13] Dead Space and [14]Alien Isolation.

[1] https://mappingweirdstuff.wordpress.com/2009/06/14/mapping-weird-stuff-psychogeography/

[2] Saw, James Wan, 2004.

[3] Hush, Mike Flanagan, 2016.

[4] Stephen King, Duma Key (New York, NY:Scribner), 2008

[5] American Horror Story, Ryan Murphy, 2011.

[6] Un Chien Andalou, Louis Bunuel, 1929.

[7] Un Chien Andalou, Louis Bunuel, 1929.

[8] A Nightmare on Elm Street, Wes Craven, 1984.

[9] Spellbound, Alfred Hitchcock, 1945.

[10] Jacob’s Ladder, Adrian Lyne, 1990.

[11] Alien, Ridley Scott, 1979.

[12] Halo: Nightfall, Sergio Mimica, 2014.

[13] Dead Space, Warren Ellis, 2008.

[14] Alien Isolation, Al Hope, 2014.

Horror and Me

Horror and I have always had a love/hate relationship. By which I mean I hate it and it seems to love me. I just can’t get away from it!

During my childhood though I seemed more adept at avoiding anything horrific. From the werewolf in ‘[1]Doctor Who’ to most Tim Burton films (no matter what anybody tells me, [2]The Nightmare before Christmas is terrifying). But not matter how hard I hide and shied away from this disturbing genre, it always managed to follow me to my dreams.

Suffering from night terrors as a child was difficult on my mental health. It also affected my perception of the world. Every shadow was a monster waiting to spawn, every new house a place where I didn’t know where to hide.

As a result, I was a very anxious child which only extended into my teenage years. Stress from exams and essays only aggravated my nightmares and made me scared of sleeping.  From this, I developed chronic depression, which is a cruel cycle. I can’t sleep because I’m scared, I’m depressed because I can’t sleep and experience fatigue keeps me agitated and scared.

It seemed nothing would bring me solace…that is until I found books. For some reason, reading horrific literature such as [3]American Psycho or a spooky scene in a book helped me accept that monsters weren’t coming to eat me and nothing was going to crawl out from under my bed…

Why? Well, Freud theorised that ‘[4]humans seek pleasure and avoid pain’, so I think that reading about how other people were having a much worse day than I was helped me achieve a type of catharsis. It moved the victimisation away from myself. It also gave me an adrenaline rush living vicariously through the characters, especially when they get out alive. It was an ultimate satisfaction. Not to mention that the more horror fiction I read the more I know about how to kill monsters should they come after me and what to do when getting chased, like why does everyone go into the basement? It’s a rookie mistake!

I think the story that has had the most impact on me is Charlotte Perkins Gillman’s ‘[5]The Yellow Wallpaper’. The narrator’s slow descent into madness and the dismissal of it by her husband and brother resonated in me, partly because of the feminist standpoint of the story but also because of how they treated people with mental illness.

My parents have always been very dismissive of mental illness which is why I think this literary piece struck as deep as it did. The narrator’s husband’s dismissal of her illness mimicked my parent’s.

Not only this but the fear that there’s a similar madness inside of me waiting to break free. Both I and the narrator suffer from depression and there is a longing in me to just leave all my responsibilities behind and be free. It exposes my true fears that don’t lie in stories, they lie within. So just as I am more scared of stories set in houses, I’m more scared of stories that can take place inside someone’s mind.

[1] Doctor Who, Sydney Newman, 2005.

[2] The Nightmare Before Christmas, Henry Selick, 1993.

[3] Bret Easton Ellis and Ellis, Bret Easton, American Psycho (n.p.: Picador, 2011).

[4] Sigmund Freud.

[5] Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Robert Shulman, and Gilman C, The Yellow Wallpaper, and Other Stories (New York: GARDNERS BOOKS. 1995).


Nature of Horror

I and many others are not a fan of horror. Though for many years now my friends have happily sat through films such as [1]The Human Centipede, [2]Saw and [3]The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, without so much as flinching, while I refused to even watch the trailers. So, of course, it makes me wonder. Why is the genre of horror so popular?

Horror, as a genre, has been present from the very beginning of society. ‘…[4]Studies have shown that the folktale originated as far back as the Megalithic period’, examples of such are in ‘[5]Hansel and Gretel’ we see a witch being burned alive for kidnapping children, in ‘[6]Little Red Riding Hood’, the wolf is butchered by the huntsman after devouring an elderly lady and in ‘[7]Pinocchio’ the titular protagonist is tormented for childish behaviour. ‘[8]In Shakespeare’s time… if a child disobeyed a parent… it was believed political disobedience and even public rebellion might follow’ which would show why any person who went against the social norm of the time would meet a rather sticky end in Shakespeare’s work.

Over time horror has evolved from stories of morale into more explicit forms of entertainment.  Many believe ‘[9]the genre has been labeled as ‘Horror’ only since the emergence of Edgar Allen Poe’. It is thought that Poe is so popular is because ‘[10]he holds up a mirror to ourselves, and each time we read him we find something new’ as in ‘[11]The Raven’ and in ‘[12]The Tell-Tale Heart’, they showed millions of readers a new and exciting version of horror. The idea of relating one’s own fears and emotions in a story made it all the scarier for individuals. Another reason that Poe was so popular was his honesty about death, something repressed by most and being made to read and look into it disturbs the reader.

Another author worth noting is Stephen King. One of the most prolific horror writers of the 20th and 21st century, having written many books about horror and dystopia. One of his most famous books, [13]IT, gave me a severe childhood phobia of clowns. As well as Stephen Sommers’ [14]The Mummy, which gave me the crippling fear of bugs. These fears were ingrained into me from a young age, the experience of watching or reading something horrific gives the body and mind chance to react to it.

But no ‘horror’ genre media ever lead me to my fear of spiders and the dark. This suggests that some irrational fears can be explained by psychiatrist Carl Jung. His theory indicates that we inherit certain fears from our parents and our ancestors; also called ‘The Collective Unconscious’. The concept that we don’t know it’s there, but it affects us every day subconsciously.

Even so, fear is definitely learnable. Developed by specific cues as shown by the Little Albert experiment. For those who don’t know, a young boy was conditioned to have a fearful reaction around white rats after being exposed to them and listening to a loud banging noise which then associated the unpleasant experience with the animal.

It’s always puzzled me why people like to be scared. Especially knowing ‘[15]Fear is related to death’, so with my own fears of death and with it being the primary theme in the genre of horror, I’m surprised so many readily involve themselves in horror media. Adrenaline? Escapism? Challenge? Or does true horror come when we realise that the only monsters we need to worry about are the ones in our heads?

[1] The Human Centipede, Tom Six, 2009.

[2] Saw, James Wan, 2004.

[3] The Texas Massacre, Tober Hooper, 1974.

[4] Jack David D. Zipes. Breaking the Magic Spell: Radical Theories of Folk and Fairy Tales (London: Heinemann Educational Books, 1979).

[5] Daniela Drescher, Jacob Grimm, and Wilhelm Grimm, An Illustrated Treasury of Grimm’s Fairy Tales: Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel and Many More Classic Stories (Edinburgh: Floris Books, 2013).

[6] Daniela Drescher, Jacob Grimm, and Wilhelm Grimm, An Illustrated Treasury of Grimm’s Fairy Tales: Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel and Many More Classic Stories (Edinburgh: Floris Books, 2013).

[7] Carlo Collodi et al., Pinocchio: The Tale of a Puppet (New York: Penguin Group (USA), 2002).

[8] Diane Purkiss. Witches in Macbeth. https://www.bl.uk/shakespeare/articles/witches-in-macbeth

[9] Gina Wisker, Horror Fiction: An Introduction (New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005).

[10] https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2009/jan/19/edgar-allan-poe-bicentenary

[11] Edgar Allen Poe, Gustave Dore, and Gustave Dore, The Raven (New York: Dover Publications, 1996)

[12] Edgar Allen Poe, The Tell-Tale Heart (London, United Kingdom: Penguin Classics, 2015).

[13] Stephen King, IT, (New York, NY: Viking Press), 1986.

[14] The Mummy, Stephen Sommer, 1999.

[15] http://www.scepticthomas.com/fear/fear.htm