Saturday, April 2, 2011

Stay on the Main Road!

The blog Shock Room has had enough of this subgenre of films:

"A group of friends/ colleagues/ rivals goes hiking/ mountain climbing/ snowboarding in a remote region best known for its unfriendly inhabitants/ war/ unpredictable weather and crosses paths with a serial killer/ mutant/ kidnap-victim-who-grew-up-to-be-a-freak who captures/ tortures/ prepares-his-victims-as-dinner and then kills or is killed by a lone spunky survivor named Chloe/ Zoe/ Joey."

This is a funny description, and I can see why Shock Room is ready to ditch the subgenre, but at least one strand of this description is never going to go away: that the monster dwells in a "remote region." This is so common among monsters that it is found in the most varied films. Dracula in the 1931 Dracula dwells beyond the Borgo Pass, where the locals warn you not to go; Norman Bates in Psycho (1960) is so far off the main road that you only find him by getting lost; the cannibals in The Hills Have Eyes (1977) live in a rocky wilderness that you are sternly warned against by the owner of the last gas station around, who admonishes, "Stay on the main road!"

In the horror film, staying on the main road symbolizes the world of normals, the people you know from everyday life, the ones who are civilized, polite, and won't eat you. But when you watch a horror film, that's not what you want to see. You want to see a new form of being--a deformed being, a being so dangerous that if you encountered him in real life he would destroy you. Such a deformed destructive being, or DDB, does not fit naturally into the scenery of the main road, the normal world. So he is necessarily of remote origin, and if you are going to see him, either he has to come to you or you have to come to him.

There are many films where the monster comes from its remote place of origin to civilized lands--Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) does so by bringing its pods from space to Santa Mira, California. In Mimic (1997), the monsters live among us: they are giant insects camouflaged as humans. But often, the horror film takes the main characters on a trip off the main road.

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