I don't get many comments on my blog. This is my blog, that you are reading now. A very respectable number of people read it every day, mind you. Especially, you know, considering. But I don't get many comments. I can only assume this is because you all agree with me. Which is reasonable, I suppose.
But yesterday I got a comment which was a brilliant comment because it made me think. Me! Imagine that. It was with regard to my ongoing series of disaster film reviews which, as regular readers will know, are chipping away at my already parlous state of mental well-being. It was from Jessica and I think it bears quotation in full:
I know this isn't what you intended with this project, and it might not be lulz-y, but I want to hear more about the anxiety being ratcheted up by watching disaster movies.This is some pretty thought-provoking stuff. I'd not considered it at all. But it is true: horror films don't make me freak--the--hell--out at all. In fact, I'm wracking my brains trying to think of a horror film that does. I can only really point to one: An American Werewolf In London. But therein lies a story: in the early days of home video recorders, my grandparents got American Werewolf In London to watch and popped it on when I was in the room. I was probably four or five years old, and in a hazy childhood evening fug of doze. But sufficient amounts of it obviously seeped in to do some really very significant damage to the wiring of my brain. To this day, when I see this film it does me very serious damage. The only thing that comes close, and for similar reasons, is The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town from The Two Ronnies.
You watch horror movies. I know this because I've watched at least one with you. Can you put your finger on why the disaster movies are freaking you out in a way horror doesn't? Is it just because the threat feels more 'real'? And if that's it, then do crime movies bother you? Because street violence is more of a real threat than zombies or nuclear holocaust.
I love horror but have very specific things that I won't watch, because they pull me out of a cathartic, pretend, safe terror and into a real-life terror. Disaster movies seem to be pulling you into a real-life terror. Just wondering if you've thought of why.
So there we go. Nearly thirty-three years and only two traumatic horror film experiences. And in both cases, there are extenuating circumstances: one from deep-seated childhood psychological trauma caused by dimwit grandparents (it would have been their 59th wedding anniversary today, incidentally), the other caused by being a complete bloody idiot.
What's going on, then? I've had to wrack my (brilliant, brilliant) brain to try and figure it out. Because it's not just monsters and zombies and aliens that populate the horror canon: the most devastating horror films of all are the ones that deal with real life situations. Psycho and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, for example, are both easily within the realms of possibility. Indeed, they are both based on the same real-life case. Here the enemy is the dark parts of the human psyche, and the extent to which they reside within us or within the people that we meet every day. That is surely a more terrifying thought than asteroid strikes or nuclear wars - which tend to be, by their very nature, once-in-a-lifetime (although no-times-in-a-lifetime remains my preferred frequency) events?
And yet, the pursing of my ringpiece says otherwise. I'd drop everything right now to watch The Texas Chain Saw Massacre again. But I'd need to be dragged, Ludovico Technique-style, to watch Threads. (On a related tangent, I also find A Clockwork Orange a far more disturbing film to watch than any horror movie.) So, what gives?
|Me, watching When The Wind Blows, yesterday|
My explanation is as follows: horror films are about death. Our innate, primal, fear of death. But disaster movies are not. They are about life, or rather, survival. And dying is easy. It is living that is hard. Which is to say, hard enough as it is. It's why I have tried (and failed, incidentally) to eliminate any film where literally everybody on Earth dies at the end from my list of disaster movies. There's a resolution to them. They're not the ones that stay with you.
The films that have, to be perfectly blunt, really fucked me up so far have been Threads, Special Bulletin, and When The Wind Blows, as well as The Day After, which I have watched but not yet reviewed. These films are terrifying because people survive. But they live on in such stark, reduced circumstances. And we leave them at such an early part in their new story. That's when it weedles its way inside your imagination. That's when you start to try and imagine how you'd cope and what you would do. There's the killer. A film that gets inside your mind will be the one that chips away at your sense of self and burrow under your onion layers. It's why you can happily watch Die Hard and then go to work the next day in a high-rise building, but if you instead watch Targets you'll only dare to poke your head outside your hidey hole if you've put a saucepan on it.
When The Wind Blows was the worst. Along with Special Bulletin it had novelty on its side, as I'd not seen either before. But there was more to it than that. It seemed so local to me (it was), so relevant and realistic. It threw me into a day of depression. I was really very affected and upset by the whole thing, much more so than an 80-minute film should have any right to make me. But it's not the those eighty minutes that are the problem. It's the hours and days after. I've not yet found a horror film that continues to scare me, make me think or make me jump, after it has played out. And there's the difference.