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Horror- Past & Present


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adj- Causing fear, dread or terror

noun- The act of inspiring with fear

verb- 1. Cause fear in

2. Drive out by frightening


Derived from: fear, fright



Fear is a very primitive emotion. It is one of mankind's most basic emotions which is often exploited for all sorts of purposes. It sells vitamins, burglar alarms, hand guns and nuclear weapons. It is powerful and a very real presence in the human psyche.


In our evolutionary past, fear was a necessary survival tool. That saber toothed tiger wasn't a happy kitty. That pack of wolves was a clear and present danger. Fear told our ancestors when to flee or when to fight. Clearly fear is a hard-wired into our consciousness.


It's not pleasant either. The physiological response to fear and anxiety is uncomfortable and decidedly unpleasant. (see Psychology Today: The Anatomy of Fear http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/crisis-center/200807/the-anatomy-fear ). Acid stomach, accelerated heart rate, dilation of pupils: your body is literally getting ready to fight or flee.


So... why would anyone want to be afraid? It's a rush. Our brains release a cascade of chemicals that very literally alter and accentuate our consciousness and heighten our awareness. Who hasn't enjoyed reading a book or watching a movie that "kept us on the edge of our seat"? The arch-types and symbols of literature from its most ancient beginnings from Beowulf to Alien push these buttons in a masterful way.


So what's scary?


Ghosts, mummies, vampires or zombies?


Traditional horror relies on symbols and images from the mythology of numerous cultures. For instance, the oldest "monster story" might be about the zombie. The dead, or perhaps the undead, inhabit the nightmares of cultures as far back as ancient Babylon. All of these creatures share a common thread- they are supernatural and they are dead. They have passed the mysterious gateway of death and come back as an abomination. Hungry for blood in the case of the vampire, zombies that crave human flesh or even ghosts that drain life energy so they may return to life. All in all something nasty that you would rather not have in your basement.


These creatures tap into cultural myths and archetypes that exist in all of us. They push our buttons on a primitive level that we may not even be aware of.


Modern man can enjoy a good ghost story but in the end, that's all it is. We know that it's fiction. We walk out of the theater and leave it behind.


What about reality? Isn't it every bit as scary because it could be true?



What about disaster, plague, terrorism or war?


We live in a very dangerous world inhabited by some very evil people. We learned that lesson on 9/11 and are reminded constantly by terrorists and the acts of deranged individuals.


To me the really scary stuff is what could really happen. When you think about it, there's more than enough going on in the world that could inspire brown trousers. Even a small nuclear exchange would be a horrific humanitarian disaster. Modern conventional warfare is a horror all its own. The bolt from the blue of a terrorist attack is something that no one that has experienced will ever forget. God forbid that we ever experience germ warfare or a super-plague.


We are beginning to see books and movies that explore these new horrors.


The Day After ( Nuclear War http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Day_After )


Red Storm Rising ( Modern warfare http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Storm_Rising )


Debt of Honor ( War, Terrorism http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Debt_of_Honor )


The Omega Man (Germ Warfare http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Omega_Man )*


Sum of All Fears (Nuclear terrorism http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sum_of_all_fears )


Soylent Green (Ecological disaster http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soylent_green )*


The Day After Tomorrow (Greenhouse cliff http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Day_After_Tomorrow )


Contagion (epidemic http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contagion_%28film%29 )



When we talk about the literary genre of horror, it has changed. No longer are we talking about mythology. Horror is with us every day. Can we look at it without screaming?





* - available in its entirety on youTube




Note from the outline: Germ warfare, bio-terrorism, nuclear terrorism... *ACK! Runs away*

Edited by jamessavik
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I've seen most of the 'could happen' style movies, between the natural disasters and the apocolytic ones, but it's hard to view them as actual horror movies, like I don't get the heart racing, pupil dilating reaction from watching them as i do 'true' or 'traditional' horror. That having been said though, I don't find the super bloody, SAW style horror movies scary in the slightest either, they are simply gorefests. I love the old horror, with the ambiance and the suggestion and the lightning and creepy music plot twists and some effort made at storylines. I think we've gone so far in movies these days with trying to have the biggest explosion and the most blood that we've forgotten that it's the mind that really creates the fear, and if we can scare the mind, then that's where the real horror begins.

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