The Horror

October 27, 2009 at 6:17 pm Leave a comment

With Halloween and its abundance of cheaply produced horror flicks fast approaching, a question occurred to me: why is it that we generally think of these movies as being scarier in theaters? I’ve heard this belief articulated by several friends more invested in the genre than myself, and trailers for such films have been milking the conception for years, with taglines such as “A movie you have to see in theaters,” “The scariest movie in theaters,” or “Too scary/intense/gruesome for theaters.” TV spots for this year’s Paranormal Activity, as seen below, even show reaction shots of what is supposedly an audience at the film’s screening.

Paranormal_Audience Paranormal_Audience2

Certainly the experience is more immersive with a massive screen and sound system, and the darkness of the theater is conducive to such frights, but it seems to me that there is something more to the phenomenon. Agoraphobia and other fears of public spaces are possible contributors: in the state of suspended disbelief (or perhaps a state receptive to fear) that a horror movie requires of its viewers, it is easy to imagine a knife-wielding maniac in the row of seats behind you. Being removed from the safety of your home helps too: not only do you lack the comforts of familiar space while watching the film, but after the movie you have to return to a now empty and perhaps compromised abode. So many horror stories take place in residential settings that the vacated house you return to is now one of possible danger.

One of the scariest movies I have ever seen was indeed in theaters: The Ring (if you didn’t find this terrifying, well I was only fifteen at the time). It’s worth noting that the girl herself was not what scared me: it was instead the horrified rictuses of those who died, and the automation of their television sets. The mind can fill the rest in better than any image. Transforming a TV into an vehicle of horror is more clever than it seems at first: it is not just that it’s an object present in nearly every household. Otherwise, it would hardly be scarier than a monster in the closet. It is rather an object that we spend a tremendous amount of time with (an old estimate puts the average American’s viewing time at 6 hrs/day, and I doubt it has decreased since then), and one that we are used to controlling with the greatest of ease (seriously, all you need is a single thumb). Furthermore, television is normally a one-way glass: we can look at people all around the world from the security of our seats. Conversely, they can’t look at us: Harrison Ford or the Channel 12 news crew can’t see you picking your nose. It is therefore terrifying (it was to me, at least) when this relationship is inverted and things start crawling out of the set towards you. No longer do you have a convenient window into exciting places; now terrible, nameless things have a window right into your room.

Oh yeah, Happy Halloween.


Entry filed under: film. Tags: , , , .

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