Congregants whose services demand sacrificial rites just might look for pointers at how cinema has steeped modern Halloween in blood and gore.
Until fairly recently wasn’t Halloween a simple holiday? One, which for the vast majority of us had lost its pagan purposes. Hadn’t it become candy mania for children and tomfoolery for adults? At best, an occasion for bingeing on movies that scared using moody atmosphere, lucid dialogue and vivid supporting characters?
When did trick or treat entertainments become so ominous? How did The Uninvited become the rebooted version of, what else, Nightmare on Elm Street?
For that matter, how has any producer neglected inserting Ministry’s Everyday Is Halloween into his or her movie?
What happened to the witches and ghosts? The improbable monsters? How did single-minded mass murders and asocial autonomes crowd out our familiar bump-in-the-night terrors? Haven’t these new manifestations of our subconscious, now news cycle regulars, coarsened more than the society they’re intended to reflect?
To miss the seasonal deluge of horror under which broadcasters and movie studios drown audiences one must be an ascetic. Otherwise from the middle of October until the witching hour on November 1st what practice of revolting mischief isn’t presented?
Before special effects became so prevalent, or scripts became so dependent on them, or storytellers lost their ability to startle, fright fest and creature feature offerings relied more on sound, shadows and suggestiveness than splatter. Then again perhaps we’ve evolved to become impervious to subtlety and nuance.
Golden Age versions of The Mummy and Frankenstein, as well as the original Cat People and I Walked With a Zombie provoked with scant bloodletting. These and countless other horror flicks from that time were constructed to let viewers’ minds produce much of the spine-tingling.
Yes, recent shockers are more horrifying but what chilled our susceptible forbearers worked on deeper levels. Certainly all but the most illiterate knew the themes through reading. If not learned off the page then verbally shared.
About the last, who has read The Monkey’s Paw? Exactly. Almost nobody. Yet, who’s listened to the tale? Right. Multitudes of summer campers. Preferably at night, around a fire barely keeping murk from encroaching. Or from the bolt which threatens to be pulled back and the door opened to …
Technologically advanced as we are, we’ve lost such old time sophistication. The literature, fairy tales, even campfire stories, which formed a great deal of what once passed for the common canon are fading.
Each tale shared a recognizable ending: the moral of the story. Not “moral” as in the crutch of the insincere everywhere. “Moral” as in the lesson to be learned. “Man should not tinker with nature.” “Be careful what you ask for. You might get it.” “Greed isn’t rewarded.”
Frankenstein serves as the first caution’s best example; the second, any film where human desire demands desperate acts which breech the laws of heaven and earth, this world and beyond. The third? Hubris concludes badly.
Some might claim given events of this century and the last the old strictures have frayed that visceral stimulus must be increased. Not necessarily. Much to the chagrin of those today insisting the past communities were somehow more innocent, they weren’t. Many were ignorant, or worse, naïve. Nothing upright and noble about that.
With emboldened presentation, the themes have changed. The morality of earlier frighteners suited the caution of their era. Pours mirrors what what we yearn and what repulses us. Sex.
Aside from the rivers of blood now drenching TV and movie screens, licentiousness is the major difference in creepy movies. Before, evil sufficed. Now, libertine behavior nearly runs neck and neck with devil worship. A pretty neat comparison because in American chillers healthy sexual displays without fail detour onto the dismemberment and death path.
In Golden Age movies, Hays Office codes prevented portrayal of accurate man/woman conduct. So much so with every onscreen married couple sleeping in separate beds, parents among the audiences must’ve wondered how children appearing in films were conceived.
A lot of maladies which drove suspense films had sexual dysfunction at their cores. George Sanders smoothly interpreting Gale Sondergaard’s clear carnal frustration as an unknown mental defect was a turn-on. What red-blooded American male didn’t have the cure for her itch? Yet to maintain prudish sensibilities the obvious required concealing. Meaning dubious explanations kept plots moving despite going against human nature.
In movies, American ones particularly, sex presents the predominant revulsion. Against it we project our dread. Anxiety provoking as many already find it, sex tonight introduces deserved demise.
During the era of proscribed films, purity and stalwartness permitted characters to survive through the last reel. Several of the non-title ones even made it into sequels. Now, innocence and bravery are discounted.
What matters is maintaining one’s virtue. Social awkwardness, unattractiveness, randy desire, each delivers some horrid death that conveys a skewed moral of the story. The first two excise society’s third wheels; the last exacts just desserts from sinners who sated themselves on forbidden fruits.
Hobgoblins, witches, spirits, creaking floorboards, creatures that may lurk under the bed or inside closets are manageable. The savagery hiding within the outwardly genial breast, seeking discharge between our quivering thighs, that demands maniacal focus. So, sexual release detached from the specific purpose of procreation? For the sole goal of, ah, pleasure? Skip thwarting. That beast must die!
The gorier the better.
Killing. Right up Americans’ alleys. Fact is horror audiences here prefer mindless killing to casual intimacies. Sex means death. Talk about divergence as national trait.
None of this is too great an exaggeration. Movies inundating basic cable these last two weeks of October bear several similarities.
Anglo-Saxon curses get bleeped out, or worse dubbed in vanilla. Yes. Who among us hasn’t shouted “Golly!” under extreme stress?
Spew of all kinds is lovingly detailed. Eviscerations, impalements, beheadings, limbs ripped free from sockets, we have no problem watching them accumulate. Yet exposed female breasts, naked buttocks, sex that looks too enjoyable, dudgeon becomes high and scenes not smeared through pixels are removed.
Textbook example of this is a nameless straight to video/cable TV staple. In it, a shapely, topless, imminent victim suddenly understands her life is imperiled by a maniac toting one of a myriad of handy, sharp, phallic implements inherent in all thrillers.
The ceaselessly screaming ingénue caroms through a presumably deserted residence. Not only are all doors locked, but she’s so panicked twisting knobs suddenly requires uncommon dexterity. Despite her shrieking nearby neighbors somehow also remain deaf.
Her only possible savior is the nerdy guy who got aced out partying elsewhere with the cool kids that night. Just after the presumptive hero utters a noble sentiment, his head gets yanked off. While his noggin thuds to the floor, neck stump blood not only flows, it geysers so hard a red flume stains the ceiling.
Guess what gets cropped or cut or blurred out? That’s right. The tits.
There’s horror, then there’s repression. What is our obsession with the latter?