Fall season introduces carnival of supernatural horror
As the leaves skitter over the ground and night comes earlier, the thrill of fall hangs in the air. From the Mexican DĂa de los Muertos to the ancient pagan Samhain, fall is known the world over as a time for the supernatural.
To complete the motif, some turn to horror films. Theyâre an interesting genre â ghosts, serial killers, possessed children and even evil trees have staked claims as horror villains. And horror films have the paradoxically dual purpose of scaring us silly while providing entertainment.
But just what is the magic formula that congeals into delicious creepy? It depends on the film. Not all horror films are meant to scare. Not all horror films push the same buttons and not all people have the same buttons to be pushed. But for those who want a dark thrill, hereâs a breakdown of the labyrinthine carnival that is the horror genre.
More often than not, horror films seem split between supernatural horror and real-life horror. The fear factor of each largely comes down to the viewer. Are you more scared of something imaginary turning out to be real, or of something real fulfilling your worst nightmares?
Back in the â30s and â40s, horror films were all about the monsters. Dracula, The Wolf Man, Frankensteinâs Monster, and The Mummy are some of the most classic movie monsters of all time. They were not necessarily scary, but they were exciting.
What made them jump off the screen was advanced (at least for the time) makeup and all-star actors â Bela Lugosi as Dracula, Boris Karloff as the Mummy and Frankensteinâs Monster and Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man. Despite their nefarious, lady-grabbing antics, these monsters were charismatic enough to garner some sympathy â even if realizing you actually care about a vicious werewolf getting riddled with bullets is a little weird.
Some films are not outright scary as much as disturbing, inspiring twisted-gut feelings that make you queasy and anticipate nightmares. Few films achieve this as much as 1977âs Eraserhead, a surreal horror that appears to be about a guy and his mutated son who live in an industrial wasteland. Even director David Lynch called it dark and troubling. Deformed babies and disembodied heads are just part of what makes this nightmarish romp so creepy.
If you prefer bad dreams to jumpy scares, check out the 1992 Belgian mockumentary Man Bites Dog, about a loquacious serial killer, and 2003âs South Korean A Tale of Two Sisters, where itâs a toss-up who the biggest monster is â the ghost or the deranged stepmother.
Good supernatural horror, be it demons, ghosts, zombies or Satan himself, often uses fear of the unknown. In 1968âs Night of the Living Dead, the George Romero film that launched the entire zombie genre, the viewer discovers the undead at the same time the protagonists do.
There isnât much to discover aside from the fact these creatures are hard to eradicate, want your brains and pack a lethal set of chompers. This is often the scariest revelation of a supernatural horror film: knowing all the terrorizer wants is to have you dead, no logic or reasoning necessary.
Asian horror films especially excel at crafting this fear. Japanâs 1998 Ringu (Ring) started the cursed videotape trope. Besides an ominous atmosphere, itâs especially creepy because thereâs no placating the nasty, ghostly teenager.
Films with evil people make some feel particularly disconcerted. Serial killers can run rampant, the law can prove powerless and teenagers can act very, very dumb. Michael Myers, from 1978âs Halloween, definitively proved that one didnât need some fancy resurrection or demonic power to be a killing machine.
And in a twist of this style, the Saw franchise, usually remembered as the granddaddy of the mid-2000s torture porn fad, was more of a horror mystery in its first iteration. The lynchpin of the film was the enigmatic Jigsaw, who justified bloodshed with twisted morality.
Horror films are not always meant to scare, either. Some make us laugh and squirm at the same time. Scream, Wes Cravenâs 1996 horror hit, is as campy as it is creepy, and takes the time to satirize the horror genre in between gory dismemberments. Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street make it fun to cheer on Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger as they slaughter rambunctious teenagers.
More recently, Sam Raimiâs Drag Me to Hell feels almost like a straight comedy except for its sardonic demons, a skin-crawling soundtrack and a hate-filled, vengeful gypsy.
Fall is the perfect time to slake a thirst for horror films. In a season dedicated to ghouls and goblins, it feels almost like paying homage â a deference to all the things that exist outside the nice and normal and demonstrate the dark thrill that comes from fear. As the horror genre shows, for whatever terrifies you, someone has probably exploited it in celluloid.
Mimi Honeycutt is a senior majoring in print and digital journalism. Her column âCut to Frameâ runs Fridays.