Saturday, April 23, 2011

Horror for Grown-Ups

In his book, Dreadful Pleasures, James B. Twitchell argues that adults are not interested in horror stories and that their memories of such are entirely from their late childhood or adolescence. Indeed, there is a widespread impression that the core horror movie audience is teenagers, and that horror movies are therefore juvenile and not fit for grown-ups. This does not fit my experience at all.

It is true that I loved horror movies as a child, and that The Exorcist and The Omen, which I saw respectively at ages 14 and 15, were defining experiences of my adolescence. But after that, from the late 1970s through the 1980s--roughly from my late teens through my twenties--I was a very infrequent patron of the horror film. It might have been because I considered them juvenile and not fit for grown-ups. I saw The Shining in 1980 because I liked Stanley Kubrick, then hardly any new horror films until 1987, when I saw A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors because it got a good review in the New York Times and I thought it might give me ideas for a dreamlike novel I was then writing. The point is, Nightmare on Elm Street 3 was not only the first Nightmare on Elm Street movie I had seen--it was the first slasher movie I had seen. I had been so out of the horror loop that from the birth of the slasher film in the 1970s until Nightmare on Elm Street 3, I had not seen a single example of this subgenre. No Halloween, no Friday the 13th--nothing.

It was not until 1990, when I turned 30, that I grew up and began to like horror movies again. By then I was a freelance writer, writing reference books about film, and as I researched film I realized that the horror film was a particularly fascinating genre. How could it be so fearful and repulsive yet also entertaining, even exhilarating? Horror movies were fun to see, and also fun to think about--their aesthetics, their ethics, the taxonomy of their monsters.

From this adult scholarly vantage-point, I made it my business to fill in the huge gaps in my horror education and see as many of the films as I could. Finally I saw Dawn of the Dead, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Evil Dead II, and, of course, Halloween and Friday the 13th.

This project of watching and studying horror movies went on through my thirties and forties and continues now that I am fifty. Horror movies are for all ages, but they are a special treat for grown-ups old enough to appreciate them.

George Ochoa
Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films


Jon T said...

The Exorcist was a defining point of my childhood too, and now I am older it continues to hold reign, although for different reasons. Yesterday, in The British Museum I came across a Pazuzu amulet, very much like the one in the film. It was a strange experience, seeing it actually exist.

George Ochoa said...

An authentic Pazuzu amulet. Now that would be something to see.

Jon T said...

George Ochoa said...

Nice. Makes me appreciate the fine job that the art department did reproducing the artifacts on THE EXORCIST.