Man has always been fascinated with fear. What is frightening and the nature of fear itself.
Howard Phillips Lovecraft put is well by stating that “The oldest fear known to man is the fear of the unknown”. Freud describes this attraction/repulsion effect as the Uncanny and I am of the opinion that the Horror genre and its representation in film explores our psychic relation to the Uncanny in a safe, cathartic manner. To view our dark sides, or what Freud's student Carl Gustav Jung deemed the Shadow part of the individual's Self, is not everyone's cup of psychic tea.
Because the uncanny is familiar, yet incongruous, it has been seen as creating cognitive dissonance within the experiencing subject, due to the paradoxical nature of being simultaneously attracted to yet repulsed by an object. This cognitive dissonance often leads to an outright rejection of the object, as one would rather reject than rationalize...
So that explains the people repulsed by Horror films but what about those attracted to this macabre cinematic circus? I am of the opinion that the act of watching a horror film is not only cathartic but socially empowering in the sense of culture and community. To further explore and clarify this unique, cultural “cognitive dissonance” I'd like to go back to the time before Google and The Internet, before the Industrial Revolution, even before the time of Rome, to the time of the Tribe & The Storyteller. To examine the nature of fear and our cultural fascination with fear itself.
To understand and make peace with a dualistic natural environment, that can be at turn heart rendering in beauty and heart breaking in cruelty, the peoples of the tribes would turn towards their respective Storyteller. The people would gather around the open fire, exposed to the elements, to hear tales of ghosts, gods and monsters, tales directly related to to the turmoil of earthquake, flood or devastating storm. Thus myths were born as a way to rationalize the chaos that unveiled itself before them and also the love of the scary story. The Shaman, the Mystic nor the Witch Doctor need subscribe to censorship and his/her demographic was all. The tribes people would huddle together in nervous anticipation as brutal consequence for showing disrespect to nature or acting with ill caution within the tribe, was laid out in lyrical transcendence before them by The Storyteller. The Storyteller kept them safe, he/she made sense of the cruelty and beauty of nature and listening together as a tribe allowed the first “protective framework” of Horror to establish itself within a community of willing participants i.e. Fans.
This collective love for the frightening, the unknown i.e Uncanny. has shown itself and its correspondent popularity through “protective frameworks” down throughout history – Gothic Literature, the late 20th Century Gothic sub-culture movement and Horror Film Genre. And these fans have formed fascinating and influential counter-cultural movements merely through their solidarity and prolific creative output. Society has grown in terms of numbers and the open possibility of global oppression is now a feasible reality, in everyday life you face the possibility of a tragic event, be it by the natural environment or by the hands of your fellow man or fellow woman. Through gathering together around the television, the contemporary open fire, to hear the scary story told to us by a contemporary version of the Storyteller, the Horror film. Due to this cultural practice, for a while, we feel safe, we are not alone in our fear of the unknown, it feels uncanny but also familiar. We can rationalize the horror of everyday life, the menace lurking behind the white-picket fence and the monsters wearing the masks of political leaders, and we can safely express our pent up stress and anxiety, caused by contemporary society, in our own collective terms and express and even celebrate this cathartic process through film, art, literature, fashion & music – protect frameworks.
The Love of Horror
by Gene Von Banyard
So you seen a scary film?