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You are insignificant “We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.” -Stephen King Growing up, my parents did not allow me to catch a glimpse of any horror films. For my parents, horror is all about gore, violence and ghosts, and for a child, I wasn’t ready for that. Violence is a very serious topic to expose to a child. Gore is too disgusting for a child and ghosts are only appropriate for them if used as a cautionary tale for me not to go outside the house after 6 in the evening.
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  You are insignificant “We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.”   -Stephen King Growing up, my parents did not allow me to catch a glimpse of any horror films. For my parents, horror is all about gore, violence and ghosts, and for a child, I wasn’t ready for that. Violence is a very serious topic to expose to a child. Gore is too disgusting for a child and ghosts are only appropriate for them if used as a cautionary tale for me not to go outside the house after 6 in the evening. Popular films during that time didn’t help, f  ilms such as Hellraiser, Silence of the Lambs, Jeepers Creepers, Candyman, Saw and Texas Chainsaw Massacre are known for their violence, excessive gore, and sexual tones. Watching horror was a taboo in our household akin to watching pornography. So naturally, when my cousins and I would get together, we would sneakily watch pirated copies of horror films during sleepovers or when my parents are not at home. There is this thrill in watching something perverse, bad and prohibited that made watching these kinds of films so fun and gratifying. There is this sense of rebellion and defiance in watching or consuming forbidden movies, and for a rebellious pre-teen that is the ultimate thrill. Like pornography, it is seductive and tempting, there is an insatiable craving to peek into something that we are not meant to see. I would like to first, describe and define horror. According to the book, Horror Films: Current Research on Audience Preferences and Reactions: “ Horror is the fear of some uncertain threat to existential nature and disgust over its potential aftermath. ”  Therefore, jump-scares are not horror, there should be a feeling of danger and a fear of the consequences of that danger. Another definition by Psychologist Glenn Walters assumed that horror has three main key points: 1.   The story is fictional  –  To allow us to distance ourselves from the fate of the characters. This is to make a line between disgusting and entertaining. Example: It is okay to watch someone being murdered on screen because it is not real. 2.   The story evokes fear  –  The main goal is catharsis, specifically of fear. 3.   The story should challenge our reality.  –  This allows us to escape from reality and at the same time relate. We allude our lives to the plot of the text, it must not be mundane but still relevant to our lives. Horror is our way to de-fang the fang of the monsters that haunt our lives. We turn our realities into fiction and try to demystify the monsters that are eating us on our daily lives. As told by Stephen King, “We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.”  Horror has a very fascinating history, in the post- war 1950’s our society’s worst fear is the potential destruction of our species brought on by the advent of nuclear technology. This era is where films such as Godzilla, The Blob and The Creature from the Black Lagoon became popular. In the Philippines, we have  Taong Paniki and Sandino, a story about a mutant werewolf. The monsters in these films represented the dangers and pitfalls of nuclear technology. These films are an allusion to what can happen if man plays god or try to forcefully change the course of nature. Hence, monsters, giants and mutants are a prevalent villain in this era. The 60’s and 70s brought on the f  ear of communism in the west. Horror films during these times emphasizes on the horror hidden in plain sight. During this era the fear of the “ commies ”  infiltrating the western society is a common trope. Films like, Invasion of the Body Snatchers became popular. The film depicts aliens replacing every man, woman, and child with emotionless shells of their former inhabitants. An allusion to the “Red Scare” that communists are coming to dehumanize America and destroy their way of life. Another film, The Thing, became popular during this time as well. John Carpenter’s masterpiece is about a stranded team of scientists in a research station in Antarctica that uncovers an alien that promptly infiltrates and overtakes everyone in the station. The creature does this by mimicking the scientists and any living thing it comes across and assimilating it into its body. The subtexts of these films show the paranoia of society at the height of the cold war. The fear that your friend, your neighbor or a family member is holding a terrible and that person is out to get you. In the Philippines, horror films are usually comedic during the martial law era as films were heavily censored and used as propaganda during those times. Examples are, Naku Poooo!, Dracula Goes to RP and Ang Darling ko'y aswang. Interestingly enough, there was a surge of films that uses vampires as their main characters or main villains during this era. Vampires are in nature, not violent. A vampire does not slash, hack or dismember, it kills by seduction, manipulation, and false promises. Perhaps a great allegory of Philippine society during the Martial Law era. Despite its immortality, t he vampire ironically symbolizes a person’s fear of death, he wishes to be immortal, to be powerful, invulnerable and most important of all, to hold that power forever. As I have pointed out earlier, the government used the media as propaganda, makes you wonder why people in power chose the vampire as their mascot. The 80s- 90’s brought about the popularity of the psychological horror, in the Philippines we have a branch of psychological horror of our own. Post martial law movies tended to focus on the mundane, movies focused on the realism and the horrors the society faced during the martial law. Horror films this time are about abuse (Ang babaeng nawawala sa sarili), the aftermath of trauma (Haplos) or a past deed coming back to haunt you (Huwag mong buhayin ang bangkay). While some films are heavily anchored with the paranormal, the main theme is still the abused and the violated. The 2000s is best known by the heavy influence of zombie films, which is still felt today. Post 9/11 society worldwide has a new kind of fear. The fear that anytime, society can end and breakdown. Our society is awed, fascinated and scared by the prospect of a chaotic and destabilized society. Unlike nuclear war wherein humanity will just be obliterated, the destabilization of society brought on by terrorism is much more real. A nuclear attack will just leave you dead, but a zombie apocalypse will force you to survive, make hard choices or suffer a fate worse than death. Perhaps, the allure of zombies is they look like us. Anyone you know can be infected and can strike you anytime, and this reflects (like in communism) the paranoia that someone who harbors ill-intent can hide amongst us. Unlike with communism, the fear is no longer about destroying your lifestyle. It is now about destroying society and bring about chaos. One can argue that horror can be interpreted differently, “The Thing” for example can also be used as a communist allegory and as a nuclear horror allegory. The point still is, it is an allegory of our societal fears. Unlike other phenomena, horror does not change, it is eerily constant. From time immemorial until today, horror will always be a reflection of our societal fears. That begs the question, why do people love horror, why do people like to be scared? Quoting Glen Walters once more, he says: “Horror films are popular because they speak to the basic human condition, t o existential fear, and people’s attempts to overcome their fear belief systems. For some, horror movies exacerbate existential  fear, yet for many others, watching a horror film is a way to put existential fear into its proper perspective. That which fri ghtens us becomes less intimidating once it is understood; the unknown is the basis”  We like horror simply because we want to explain the unexplainable, we are curious about the mystery and we want to learn it. In hopes that when the time comes that the lessons we learned from these texts become relevant to our lives, we can apply it. Still, is this what horror is all about? I was nearing my teenage years, when my parents allowed me to go out with my friends to the mall. This is the first time that I went out without any adults, so unsurprisingly, I watched a horror movie. The only problem was, the movie was PG13. Fortunately, I was way taller than an 11 year-old should be so I was able to wiggle in my friends inside. I was still forbidden to watch scary movies during those times, but I had already watched a lot behind my parents’ back (Saw and Final Destination comes to mind). This is the first time that I was able to see a horror film in a cinema and I was ecstatic. Now, this is not my first horror film, this is, however, my first Filipino horror film. The first few scenes were slow and almost unbearable. Unlike western films that I was accustomed to, there is always tension even if the first scenes are devoid of action. However, as the movie unfolds, the horror started to creep inside my little innocent mind, little by little. I have watched gory films before, but this is a new type of horror for me. The characters were helpless, the character are insignificant, they cannot escape their fate and their pleas are only met by indifferent ears. In the film, people were dying because of some pre-ordained reason, a small insignificant action has sealed their fate. Final Destination tackled this idea, but when I was watching it, I was just fixated with the gratuitous gore and violence. This Filipino film, however, emphasized on the existential threat that the main villain possesses. The human is insignificant to this unknown force (before it was revealed) and they cannot do anything about it. This is my first foray into existential horror. I just couldn’t wrap up the thought of realizing that whatever you do, you are insignificant and you will die. Also, the fact that the movie puts your feet on the ground is an added nightmare fuel, the movie spells out to you that this can happen in the real world. This is the reason why Final Destination premise did not hit me as hard. The deaths were simply illogical, too forced and almost comical at times. I was glued to my seat, unable to think, unable to fathom my insignificance in the cosmos and at a young age I felt that existential terror. The terror of finding your place in the universe, only to find out that there is no answer. The kicker was the final twist when we're made to believe that the main character has uplifted the dark curse afflicting her life, then we are hit by an ending that shatters her dreams of escaping her fate. As the credits rolled, I decided that enough is enough, I resigned to my fate and called my parents to pick me up. It was an experience that I will not forget. While not really an existential horror, the movie Feng Shui had that effect on me. Looking back at the film, it would have made a bigger punch in the gut if they did not explain where the curse came from. There is pure horror in the unknown and it would be more horrifying if we were not able to satisfy our curiosity. The existential horror of H.P. Lovecraft, which is one of the first writers of this sub-genre, is about the foolishness of mankind to think he is the king of the universe. Mankind is but a toy in the hands of those who truly rule the universe. Existential horror is special because it is different from the conventional definitions of horror. If horror puts a face in the things we fear in order to “defang” it, existential horror is faceless, and that makes it more horrifying than conventional horror. There is no terrifying thing than fear itself, fear that is evoked from knowing that you are insignificant, the idea that you are not in control and that you cannot escape your fate. This brings a new perspective on how we as a society admire and patronize horror. It is not just we want to be scared, it is because we want to defy our fate, our inevitable death. We watch horror movies to make fun and enjoy the depiction of death. We want to show death that we are not afraid of confronting it. Going back to Walter’s definition of why we like horror:   “W atching  a horror film is a way to put existential fear into its proper perspective. That which frightens us becomes les s intimidating once it is understood; the unknown is the basis”  Horror puts order into the chaos that is our lives. Thinking about our place in the universe and the purpose of life is maddening. So we turn to entertainment to distract ourselves and horror helps us face this existential crisis. We acknowledge the unknown, that we are insignificant and that we will die and that is comforting. Horror is not only a reflection of societal fears, but it is also a reflection of our defiance. That we as a society can function, that we can enjoy ourselves and that we can live even though death is always  just in the corner, waiting. Horror keeps us, as a society, civil it keeps us from being insane, from endlessly seeking meaning where we know there is none. Horror is a distraction, an escape and a temporary solution. As said earlier, it puts an order in chaos. Many forms of art also do the same, but nothing more profound than horror. At the end of the day, people watch horror because they have their own reasons why. Maybe you agree, maybe you do not, but we all have to agree that we watch horror mainly because it is entertaining. Watching horror is fun and cool . Maybe you don’t think about giving death a middle finger every time you watch horror, but hey you are having a good time. Whatever the reasons why you watch, know that “ horror ”  will never go away. As long as we have fears, as long as we wonder, as long as we are curious, as long as there are unanswered questions in the world, horror will be significant. Unlike you. “ The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age. ”  -H.P. Lovecraft, Call of Cthulhu Bibliography   Galand, René. The Wounded Ego of Howard Phillips Lovecraft. French Faculty Scholarship  (1999).   Griffiths, Mark. Why Do We Like Watching Scary Films? 29 October 2015. Psychology Today.  <https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-excess/201510/why-do-we-watching-scary-films>. Tamborini, Ron and James Weaver. Horror Films: Current Research on Audience Preferences and Reactions . 1996. Walters, Glenn D. Understanding the Popular Appeal of Horror Cinema: An Integrated-Interactive Model . Journal of Media Psychology, 2004.
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