Beyond “What scares UIS students?” | “STOP IT!”: Beyond the Screams
What comes to mind first during this autumn season? The rolling thunder of campfires crackling through the night, wrapped up in a blanket and watching the stars fly by? How about walking over crunchy leaves with a bitter chill floating from the North, swirling in the pattern of life and death? No? Then how about a calm, blissful evening, the lights of a television flickering its palette of blood and tears under a darkened living room? The thrill of the chase, the pulsing jolt of adrenaline injected by the titillating sights of beautiful yet ignorant, colorful characters, running and screaming from Hell on Earth only to parish moments later? Then you wonder, with your mind eased from other senses, all focused on the lights before you, what is that tickle on the back of your neck? The mind begins to race, eyes darting across the room. With each passing moment, the only sound piercing the darkness are the beats of your heart. You stand and spin, the mind playing tricks. What was that? Out of the corner of your eye. Legs lock you from flight, panting breath soaring higher until it all goes dark. No laughs, no screams, just silence.
Did that scare you? Well, tis the season for spooks and frights. Every Oct. 31 (and the weeks leading up to it) are consumed with four things: candy, costumes, decor and killer clowns. All of these features wrapped nicely into an autumn festival of connection and tribulation. While the feelings of fright rest upon a lonely October night, others find these collectives through media means. A true moment of pure terror captured through the lens of a camera and persevered for others to see. Each generation has had that rising motion of guttural hounding. The rising of a possessed Regan MacNeil in The Exorcist, the shark from Jaws popping its head briefly above the water, a man waving a live chainsaw against a rising sun, mutilated bodies communed into one thing, found footage from the woods and blood spilled upon a telekinetic teenager…to name a few.
Despite knowing the outcome going into a horror movie, we go in wanting that push on the brain, the adrenaline coursing through our veins. The ability to transplant the mind from the horrors of reality and supplement them within fictional characters that the audience could see as themselves.
Yet since the new millennia has passed, the focus has shifted from the slasher and body gore arena back to a more jump-scare oriented ride, trading rising tension for cheap frights that have become intertwined within the genre. A film this reporter holds deep in this regard is The Lazarus Effect a 2015 film with the biblical pretense of bringing someone back from the dead, only to find out it was a mistake. It falls into the modern issue of horror, having an interesting idea that had been siphoned off of any character to give.
In fact, the idea has been done several times over in better fashion with examples like the 2018 film Hereditary, an occult entwined story that fellow classmate Sydney Deweese describes as her first movie to not be connected to straight horror but instead building off rising tension. One could go further back to find the 1977 film Dead of Night, a collection of horror stories with one titled “Bobby.” In both cases, the powers of the unknown are breached and imbue pure evil within a single form feeding off regret and/or guilt.
However, some movies like Get Out and Mulholland Drive have found their way back to a key feature of horror, the mind. They harkened back to films like Psycho, letting the audience join the ride instead of breaking the momentum to make sure they’re awake.
There were also movies that made fun of the genre as a whole. Looking to fellow classmate Rith Scott’s first horror film, Scream, the film’s opening mocks the cliches of prior horror films with stereotypical characters fulfilling the roles imposed by tradition but then subverts it by placing it on a thin line between reality and fiction. One where the boundaries of fiction can be bent to fit the unkillable killer narrative while also creating a space where this could theoretically happen in real life. Ironically this became its own genre of films, parodying the mocking like with the Scary Movie series.
Finally, one more prominent selection of horror has to be of the science fiction / fantasy variety, where the impossible becomes a nightmare. Filmmakers are somewhat closed off when it comes to horror as we have moved into a technological age where science has become the most feared aspect, not a random kid who drowned and came back to life very buff, then sent to space to kill people there. Think of films like The Terminator or War Games, putting forth the very idea of Artificial Intelligence rising up over the “dominant” society and potentially killing the whole race has led to discussion upon dissuasion of its implication. This, ironically, is the whole point of science fiction, to get people to see the horror that they themselves transpose. How about a film that imposes purgatory upon its guests? Classmate Damaris Tovar looks to The Triangle, a film about a mother who cannot accept a death and therefore must repent by replaying the moment for eternity. Horror and by extension science fiction teach us that every action has a reaction and the fear of that reaction is what warps our minds into a self-induced coma of fright.
Halloween comes but once a year, packaged with frights, s’mores, and, at the end, laughter. A time to live outside the daily norm and play. The idea of fear and “scary” all boils down to an itch we can’t scratch. Some have an insatiable craving to see fear – and through films, we get to see this hidden animalistic gene be satiated even for those who don’t like them. Everyone has a fear, everyone has a nightmare, yet everyone dreams that they will go away, making them fear something else. For two hours we get to see the fear transplanted into a narrative dreamcatcher, allowing for the briefest of moments to just be free.
Or so you think. Is anyone watching you while reading this article? Is anyone there? Just around the corner, or past the deep darkness of unlit hallways? A little tick of breath, rolling from a place unknown, yet you swear it was just behind you. Where could it be? Under the couch? No. Behind the door? No. One thing no one looks at is the safety of walls built to protect us. They stare and loom, yet they’re lonely too. They need someone to play with and guess what, they’ve chosen you. Closing in, ever so lonely, ever so empty, ever so… hungry. They’re coming to get you and won’t even bother to scream.