Thursday, October 27, 2005

A Day Late, But Still Missed Updated

On this day of Creepiness,
When rampant ghoulies run,
and kids go masked about,
Enjoying pagan fun...

Witches feast on human flesh,
While we recall a host,
(A haunt himself in living)
Recently turned ghost...

Scary movies [were] his thing,
(Theater gave '[i]m a try)
Whales of August I liked best.
My favorite was The Fly.

We do request a brief repose,
(A moment should suffice)
of silence just to say,
"So long" to Mr. Vincent Price.

Fine, Silence, and then we get the candy?!



5-27-1911 to 10-25-1993

October 25th, 1993, Vincent Price, a horror film legend, left this mortal coil. The horror films that Vincent Price starred in were not the violent shockfests people so often imagine when they thing of the words "horror film." His films were not about gore, or quick cathartic release of tension, rather they were about fear. H.P. Lovecraft, a pioneer in American "Wierd Fiction", wrote in his essay Supernatural Horror in Literature :

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is the fear of the unknown...their admitted truth must establish for all time the geniuneness and dignity of the wierdly horrible tale as a literary form. Against it are discharged all the shafts of a materialistic sophistication which clings to frequently felt emotions and external events, and of a naively insipid idealism which deprecates the aesthetic motive and calls for a didactic literature to "uplift" the reader toward a suitable degree of smirking with minds sensitive to hereditary impulse will always tremble at the thought of the hidden and fathomless worlds of strange life which may pulsate in the gulfs beyond the stars...

This horror of the unknown is the kind of horror that permeated the films of Vincent Price. To be sure some like the Tingler had moments of visual shock, but most of the horror in Price's films was internal to the viewed characters. The audience felt the horror not as an immediate thing which passes when the musical sting chimes, but as a lingering afterthought which remained with the viewer long after the film had been viewed.

An image from The Tingler more akin to modern horror.

Vincent Price and Roger Corman's screen adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe tales are some of the best examples of this lingering kind of fear. With modern special effects making the imagery in The Pit and the Pendulum tame, possibly completely enervated of shock value, in comparison to the slaughter a Jason Voorhees is capable of committing. It is not the violence in Pit which horrifies, it is the thought of what man is capable of doing. This is the best kind of fear, the fear that reminds us as we look into the abyss that the abyss is looking back into us. True fear is horror at the possible meaninglessness of existence and the potential cruelty of man. How horrible is the realization in Fall of the House of Usher that Roderick Usher had accidently put his living sister prematurely into the tomb? The audience who watches this film can imagine both having to dig oneself free of an early grave and the terror of realization Roderick comes to when he realizes what he has done. There but for the grace of G-d go I.

When Price first died, I worried that the "lingering fear" horror tale was dead. I "feared" that all I would be able to watch were gorefests made purely for shock value, but I should have known better. There were already hints that filmmakers knew what kind of fear was most valuable. In John Carpenter's version of the Fog, the horror wasn't that the dead had come back for revenge. It was why they came back, and that it didn't matter who they killed to get the requisite number of victims in compensation. Even a child would have sated their lust for vengeance. There were other films as well, but I would like to focus on what has come since Price died.

The Others, starring Nicole Kidman, is a wonderful example of personal realization bringing horror. Sure there are moments of suspense, but what keeps you talking about the film is the moment of realization. The same goes for Sixth Sense, but I think that the Village with its demonstration of what people will do to create a "just" society is more horrifying. Even if you guess the "twist" in the Village the lengths the Elders go through to maintain the serenity of the village is frightening. Eric Kripke's story about the Boogeyman isn't about gore, it is about how we give power to our fears. The same can be said for the numerous Japanese horror films which have come our way over the past few years. They often contain shocking images, but it is the lingering thoughts of the spitefulness of the dead which have value in the long term. The most Lovecraftian of recent horror tales was The Forgotten in which humankind were naught but play pieces for aliens in a G-dless materialistic universe. Julianne Moore, and all the other characters, were truly helpless against the antagonists and the resolution that she was "okay" isn't cathartic because the threat remains for everyone else.

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