Happy New Year!
January is one of my favorite times of the year because there’s so much hope for this brand new shiny year we have before us. With a new year comes new surprises and delights, and I feel particularly optimistic since I think 2017 owes us for 2016. Hopefully that will extend to horror movies.
The good news is that, if the January horror movie release calendar is anything to go on, 2017 is off to a solid start. We’ve got some awesome horror-action films, a M. Night Shyamalan psychological thriller, and a promising urban legend supernatural horror movie, among others that could surprise us.
***Spoilers for The Neon Demon Follow***
Unfortunately, 2016 hasn’t been the best year for horror movies, though it hasn’t been the worst either. In fact, 2016 seems to have been a moderate year, with some of the best films exhibiting hard-to-ignore flaws and the worst films showing flashes of promise. All the good films seemingly came out of left field while all we got from the hyped horror movies were splashy marketing campaigns and disappointment. For me, no other 2016 Horror Movie exemplifies this better than The Neon Demon.
**Beware: Here be spoilers For They Live.**
The 2016 Presidential Election is finally and mercifully drawing to a close. Regardless of political affiliations, it seems like the whole country reels from the drawn-out election cycle, temporarily traumatized by the mudslinging and grandstanding and pettiness. But this election has been one for the ages. I know everyone always complains that every succeeding election is worse than the one before, but this one was really, really nasty.
We are all overwhelmed by this election, a terrible yet fitting end to an exhausting year. Myself, I try to stay as politically connected as possible. I read the news, follow Congress’s lawmaking progress (or lack thereof), watch the President’s speeches, and read all the Supreme Court opinions I can reasonably fit into my life. So for this election, I gritted my teeth and surrendered to the vicious news cycle. I listened to stump speeches and watched the debates and did my research. It was draining. When I cast my early voting ballot, I was relieved because I thought I could stop caring for a while, until the next election cycle starts back up.
I threw myself into Halloween and friends and blogging. I tried and failed to distract myself. Not only was the election impossible to avoid, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I watched my horror movies and read my scary short stories and couldn’t help but ask myself, How will we express what this election has wrought? What art will come out of this election?
Which brings me to John Carpenter’s political sci-fi-horror B-Movie classic, They Live.
After the horror movie drought that was the October 2016 film release schedule, November 2016 is a sight for sore eyes. With only a handful of movies, November gives us a ton of potentially beautiful and disquieting horror films. Naomi Watts returns to deliver the scares, the director of The Strangers puts forth a claustrophobic creature feature, and The Eyes of My Mother promises to be a wild ride.
I’ve always thought the werewolf was a fascinating horror archetype. I’ve talked about vampires, zombies, witches, and serial killers, and how all of those horror archetypes address certain human fears. Usually, vampires address fears about becoming lost to our desires and lusts; zombies are about becoming lost to a brainless, teeming hoard; witches are about the fear of too-powerful feminine influence; and serial killers are about the inherent ability and capacity of man to commit violent, unjustifiable murder.
And while all of these monsters address fears relating to control and human identity, no other monster encapsulates our anxieties quite like a werewolf. It’s no secret that civilization is a precarious balancing act between repressing and acknowledging our base, animalistic impulses. Werewolves personify the tension between our rational, controlled selves and our savage inclinations. Regardless of whether or not a werewolf can control his transformation, the opportunity to become a dangerous, uncivilized brute is a siren song few characters can resist.
Nothing says Halloween quite like a slasher film. A good, old-fashioned slasher will terrify you in the theater and keep you on edge for days later. If you’re anything like me, a good slasher will make you jump and screech and check the locks on your windows for days afterwards. You’ll tell yourself, this is stupid, that movie was stupid, and–HOLY CRAP WHAT WAS THAT SOUND?!?!
Because while slashers may be campy, cheesy, and perhaps a little dumb, they’re effective. We are simultaneously repulsed and drawn to this movies that are usually light on plot and heavy on violence.
The witch is one of the oldest villains in human civilization. Every culture has the concept of a human being, usually a woman, who has violated the laws of nature and society to gain immense power.
Her transgressions vary from culture to culture and religion to religion. In the western world, the witch has usually received her powers by signing over her soul to the Devil himself. Other times she has used some ancient, forbidden ritual to thwart God and order. Either way, the witch in a horror film is a dangerous woman. If you cross her, you will incur her horrific wrath. If you have something she wants, she will take it. Wither her cunning and mastery of black magic, the witch will gain dominion over your body and thoughts. They will force you to do unimaginable things.
That’s the legend, at least.
I always have a hard time watching many serial killer movies if for no other reason than serial killers exist, and the crimes depicted onscreen could and sometimes do happen to real people. In serial killer movies in particular, much of the violence is directed towards women, which makes my viewing experience more difficult.
But I find such films can be worthwhile despite their grotesque, depressing subject matter. In our culture, we have a fascination with serial killers. They do not kill for reasons society considers “justifiable.” They seem to do the unthinkable, killing for pure personal gain, for profit, or to fulfill some twisted sense of morality. It seems to go against all human decency to kill so needlessly and frequently.
Our fascination expresses itself with many questions—how does the killer select his victims? Why those victims? How does he kill them? How long has he been doing this? How has he never been caught? Yet those questions come secondary to the ten-million-dollar question:
Why does he kill?
Ah, the vampire. My favorite supernatural creature.
Vampires are cunning, sensual, and merciless. Vampires are effortlessly cool, fashionable, and glamorous. If I had to be any evil creature, I’d be a vampire, hands down, and I’d want my wardrobe to be stocked exclusively by Saint Laurent, à la Catherine Deneuve in The Hunger.
I’ve always been transfixed by how slick vampires are. They can go unnoticed inhuman society, benefiting from social mores when it serves and then stepping outside the bounds of human decency whenever they want. He (or she) embodies seduction and the willing surrender of control. They are more powerful than human beings, both in strength and intelligence, which is an essential characteristic. A werewolf or zombie is seen as a devolution of humanity, a descent into animal savagery or blank mindlessness. But a vampire is, for the most part, smarter than human beings. Like demons, they are dangerous not because of the threat of physical pain but because they can convince you to be the worst, coolest version of yourself.
*Note: Here be spoilers for these demonic movies*
Of all the creatures in the world of horror, demons might be the scariest. Demons possess us, robbing us of our volition over our bodies. Demons manipulate us, using our own human impulses and emotions to lure us down a doomed path. Demons tempt us, reaching deep into our hearts and laying bare the black truths we don’t care to admit.
We think of demons almost exclusively in a religious context, especially considering how the three major monotheistic world religions have shaped the lore. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have their differing views about demons—how the present themselves, how they became demons, how they wield influence over the human realm. But they all agree that demons are malevolent spirits who have turned away from God.
Through multiple religious texts as well as some literary works, a common narrative has emerged: demons are ruled and led by Satan, a fallen angel. When God created man and exalted him above even the angels, Satan refused to obey God. For his insolence, Satan was cast out of Heaven, forever denied God’s grace. Ever prideful and bent on vengeance, Satan has spent every moment since his fall on a crusade the tempt humanity to turn away from God.