Thursday, May 3, 2012

Watch Angry - When Horror Pisses You Off, and Not Because the Movie Sucked

Like any decent horror hound, I enjoy the physical sensation of fear that horror films can induce. I love the building suspense that precedes a big scare-how the tension of the film is mirrored in my tensing muscles. And I love the orgasmic release when something on the screen makes you jump in your seat, makes you scream, and finally makes you laugh at yourself for being ridiculous and because it feels wonderful to let go of all that tension in one explosive outburst.

I live for that shit.

But there's another element of horror, one that you can't laugh off because it hits you where you're vulnerable. You don't scream; you don't laugh; and the tension doesn't leave. It squats in your guts and festers, making you sick, making you shake not with fear, but anger. Maybe you've been there, maybe you've just feared being there, but something in the film has found your weak spot and is poking at it, clawing and jabbing with a jagged-toothed grin and eyes filled with sick pleasure.

I don't know if you've experienced anything like this, but I've found a pattern with myself: nothing enrages me more than people being preyed on by teenaged bullies. I don't know where this comes from, (getting old I guess) but twice in as many days I've felt my blood pressure rocket after watching scenes with thuggish, violent teenagers.

The first wasn't even a horror movie. It was actually the "Bully" episode of Louie CK's show "Louie." He's on a date that is, for perhaps the first time in the series, actually going well. He's taken his lady-friend out for some after-hours doughnuts, when 5 rowdy high-schoolers bust in and start making noise. After Louie asks them to quiet down, one of them comes over, introduces himself with a smile, and after some subtly threatening banter, makes Louis ask him not to kick his ass. And the whole time I'm watching this, I'm turning red in the face and screaming at Louie to karate chop the fucker in the throat, all the while knowing that he's actually doing the right thing by diffusing the situation and wondering if I'd do the same.

The second movie that had my blood boiling was Attack the Block. The opening scene where the five kids surround and mug the nurse made me livid. She sees their silhouettes from a distance and crosses the street to avoid them, but two of the kids shoot past her on bikes, then circle back to guard her rear as the remaining three approach from the front. Knowing what kind of movie this was, I couldn't get too worked up, because I was fairly certain they weren't going to rape and beat her to death, but it bothered me that she was in this helpless position where something really ugly could have happened. The kids' methods were animalistic; they found a vulnerable victim who had strayed from the herd, then used pack hunting tactics to get what they wanted. I so fucking hate that about human beings. And I knew that these thugs were going to turn out to be the main characters, so I was even more pissed that they had pretty much ruined the movie for me right off the bat.

Attack the Block, however, knows what it's doing and manipulates your fears and prejudices only to turn them around and shove them back in your face, making you feel like the asshole. By the end, even I was rooting for the kids and regarding a few of them as real heroes. Sure, the social commentary gets pretty ham-fisted, but the story is good, and it turned out to be a really fun alien invasion flick. Props!

But the one movie that had me enraged pretty much from beginning to end was Eden Lake. The thing that bothered me so much was that there was one psychotic teenager responsible for everything, and his friends who went along with him, as well as his victims, were too cowardly to stand up to him. With Eden Lake, this anger was used to fantastic effect, getting the audience's emotions high and giving the suspense scenes some real stakes. The protagonists are ordinary people, and thus not particularly interesting, but I found myself emotionally invested in their survival simply because I despised their adversaries so intensely. Still, the movie had me so worked up that any release the ending could bring was not enough. I left the film exhausted and thoroughly stressed out.

I bring these examples up simply to illustrate one of the great functions of horror: self-discovery. Up until about yesterday, I had no idea that thuggish teenagers were among my fears. Horror movies helped me discover the patterns in my own psyche, and though I'm not yet sure where they come from, at least now I know. Forewarned is foreskinned, they say.

I am puzzled by the source of this fear. I've never really been bullied, and back in the day I managed to talk my way out of the few fights that presented themselves. But in my old age I've lost some of that youthful resiliency, particularly my ability to bounce back emotionally from a taunt. Now I wonder if I'd back down, or if I'd totally Hulk out on someone who tried to threaten or demean me. My temper is so shitty these days that I might just start biting throats. Too bad I don't actually know how to fight.

And maybe that's the key. That's where I feel most vulnerable - situations where you could plausibly fight back, but being a civilized human being, you go to great lengths to avoid having to, and you're unprepared.

You see what just happened there? Horror viewing may have revealed my fears to me, but it was horror blogging that let me discover their source. I knew there was a rational reason for me to be doing this.


  1. I have a very similar view. Thuggish kids rile me up no end. I think it’s because of the "dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t" predicament of being confronted by young antagonists.

    I was actually hoping the girl in Attack The Block would team up with the aliens and kick the snot out of those little pommy thugs.

  2. now you know...why I hate kids.
    (Eden Lake pretty much sets it all off)

  3. Not really about bullies, but have you ever seen the movie Kids? That will make you want to go out and kick the shit out of every 13-year-old wiseass you see on the street. I think I'm sticking to my current plan of NEVER procreating.


I live for your comments.