So being the horror nerd that I am, last weekend I indulged myself by having a bloody-nosed schoolyard movie smackdown. Two classic Cronenberg flicks- Shivers (1975) and Rabid (1977), versus the cream of last years cinema releases, Ti West’s The Inkeepers and Joss Whedon/Drew Goddard’s The Cabin In the Woods. I think on one level, since horror, above all other genres, is seen as primal and instinctive, I wanted to see if these films had anything in common despite the forty year gap in their making. And you know what I found? Not only were there surface similarities, in point of fact these movies could in fact be long lost members of the same twisted, backwater family…
Take the three classic horror tropes.
1.) Isolation. Whether that’s the anonymity of living in an all mod-con apartment block a la Shivers, or the deserted off season hotel of The Innkeepers- one thing is clear above all. Anonymity has a moral cost on the soul. Promiscuity. Paranoia… Other profound things beginning with a P. Even if it’s nothing more than a boozy trip to the backwoods, you find yourself feeling inexplicably free enough to throw insults at the local gas station owner. The human mind may be an incredible thing it’s true, but it also veers towards darkness when no-one else is within earshot and every single one of these four films proves this beyond a doubt.
2.) The scientific mind. Matin Luthor King was once heard to say, “Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.” We no longer have the image of the Frankenstein-esque mad scientist to rely on though- over the last half a century we have found something much much worse- the disconnected scientist. The man who sees people around him as guinea pigs to bait and tamper with in the name of ‘something higher.’ If you don’t believe me, consider the fact that The whole of Rabid’s city wide contagion is caused by unauthorized experimental surgery on an unconscious RTA victim or the way that The Cabin In the Woods centres around a pair of job-loving, button pushing corporate nerds. Don’t get me wrong, Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford may be the most engaging, humorous scientists you’ll ever come across on celluloid. But as funny as they are, the callous bets they place on the mortality of their victims shows just how man’s cold mind may well turn out to be the architect of his own downfall.
3.) The repulsion of the human body. AKA Cronenberg’s natural playground (where he hangs out with Lloyd Kauffman and Clive Barker on weekends.) It’s a genre otherwise known as Body horror. Organic horror. Venereal horror or Gorno. It’s a world of disease, decay, mutilation and mutation. And after all, if you think about it, what would the scientific mind have to overcome except this decaying fleshy hanger on? A lot of people are turned off by this particular side to the horror film but I’ve found beneath the obvious gore, it has quite a bit to say about societies few remaining taboos. Take Shivers- a plot set in motion by a doctor who’s been sleeping with an almost obscenely underage girl who then spreads a parasite by infecting all her adult lovers. (Paedophilia anyone?) Or Rabid where infection spreads out of control because of a single unstoppable predatory woman (the evils of feminism). It’s true of course, that the Innkeepers is much more of a psychological movie but the brief glimpses of the hanging woman’s corpse or the strange guest lying cold in the bath, show both the ugly ravages of time on the human body and the cost of unsightly human obsession.
All I’m trying to say, really is that fear really doesn’t change much. Which is good good news for the horror industry and for the horror fan. But while it may be an inevitable and innate part of being human, it can also be used by a talented few writers/directors to show the particular society we live in.
This is all a bit cerebral I hear some of you say, I just want to get me a few thrills at the end of a long day. Well honestly , I hold my glass up to you. Because one of the things I love most about horror is it’s ability to stay in the mind. Clinging there like some visual parasite, caught in the folds of the brain. And this particular parasite has begun to whisper things to me lately, compelling me to write them down. And it might just be me, that’s entirely possible but if there’s anyone else out there that knows that weirdly pleasurable feeling, please feel free to give me any of your thoughts and comments on this.