The Horror, The Horror This article, although inspired
by reaction to the new film, The Blair Witch Project, has little
to do with the actual film, which I found to be the ultimate Indie;
a radio play of non-stop whining with the camera relegated to
the status of a bit player and frightening only to those whose
life experience is defined by viewing cable TV. Instead, I will
deal with the blinded, unanimous combination of critical response
and marketing hoopla all parroting the same phrases ("No
blood or gore"..."Val Lewton"..."Viewer's
imagination"...") in locked step unison. And how that
unified front of marketing and criticism, which typifies so much
of American film culture today, just mirrors the old reactionary,
puritan conservatism of years gone by.
Having fought a protracted battle with the British Board of Film
Censors (BBFC) over my film Transgression, I found a glaring uniformity
of attitude, i.e. "blood or breasts, not blood and breasts"
shared by both the British Censors and the American critical community
toward horror films and the societal attitudes they expose. In
addition, I found this very same attitude in the many of the American
independent production company's responses to the type of horror
film they were looking for, i.e. without blood, "you know,
like Val Lewton's." What a truly unholy three!
And now once again, with the release of The Blair Witch Project,
this uniformity of attitude was forcibly brought back to my attention.
Coinciding with this orchestrated media hoopla is the less publicized
and ultimately unsuccessful attempt of Troma Films to find a venue
for the theatrical release of Dario Argento's The Stendhal Syndrome,
Argento being the undisputed, foremost auteur of the modern horror
film, after the death of Lucio Fulci. But unfortunately, his recent
films have been encountering an increasingly difficult time finding
theatrical release in the United States.
What does this seeming arbitrary culmination of events mean? It
means that in English speaking countries the horror film is viewed
as a short step away from pornography. It means that most of those
reverential references by critics back to Lewton display more
hype than knowledge, since one has only to look back to Roger
Corman's Edgar Allan Poe adaptations in the 1960's to see that
most of Lewton's methods were indeed put into good use and further
supplemented by Corman's Freudian influenced variations of those
classic tales. And to my eye, director's such as Hitchcock, Corman,
Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento have more knowledge
of and more fully utilize Lewton's techniques than is evident
in the entire Blair Witch Project and all those critics who would
attempt to link it with Lewton.
Ultimately, the foundation of all horror films is death and with
the addition of sexuality, the mixture becomes especially troubling.
By introducing extreme and graphic violence, the modern horror
film has made the link between death and sex visually inescapable,
especially uncomfortable to any culture that has the specter of
puritanical repression constantly lurking just beneath the surface.
Maybe that's why the British Censors will allow blood or breasts
but not blood and breasts.
It took French writer's from Sade to Baudelaire to Bataille, as
well as Krafft-Ebing, Freud and Jung's ground breaking work in
psychology, to clearly demonstrate the relationship between sex
and death, while horror film directors of the 60's and 70's, from
Hitchcock to Corman to Bava to Carpenter to Cronenberg to Fulci
to Argento, have forcefully presented it on the screen. They have
shown us that our monsters are within us and not to project them
on some other, unseen, unknowable, bogeyman. But with the repressions
of the 1990's in full force, we are being asked to step back in
time, not only in horror films but in any area that dares swerve
from that old puritanical straight and narrow. © 1999 by
Michael P. DiPaolo