Thanks to a friend, last night I discovered a simply wonderful Discovery documentary about Asian horror films. It’s appropriately titled “Asian Horror Movies Documentary” (at least on Youtube, where you can watch it) and narrated by Anthony Head from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It mainly analyzes decade-old blockbusters like Ringu to make some intriguing observations about the horror genre.
(Just overlook for the moment that one of the Asian directors interviewed bases his assumptions of American horror films on movies like The Exorcist, which is as old as I am.)
The documentary’s thesis about horror cinema in Japan and Korea is that they’re using their horror films to examine the unspoken anxieties of their societies. Many of the antagonists in their movies are girls — vengeful female ghosts, to be exact — which turns their societal stereotypes of the submissive woman on its head. And one of the movies they profiled wasn’t supernatural at all but was about a timid wife who suddenly turns into a wrathful dominatrix. Oh, the horror!
But here’s my point. To Asian audiences, things like vengeful and powerful females — particularly the ones liberated by the supernaturalism of the horror genre — are scary. Hell, even to Western audiences, they’re a bit scary, which is why those movies are getting remade here. And why are they so scary?
Because the films expose pre-existent fears.
Asian horror appears to be in its heyday. The filmmakers there are taking the genre and its purpose seriously. Unlike us. What do we have here in the United States? A bunch of self-referential shlock. We’re so tired of our vampires, zombies, and serial killers that we make comedies about them. It’s rare that the monsters we’ve created over the past century can frighten us anymore. Our writers strive heroically to break fresh ground. And even when we do expose — or re-expose — some soil, such as with Joss Whedon’s A Cabin in the Woods, what with its unexpected grafting of Lovecraftian-style cosmic horror onto The Evil Dead, perhaps we realize we’re still not discovering fresh earth.
So here’s what I would like to see happen to Western horror: take a cue from Asian horror. Step back from Facebook and your fucking smart phone for a moment and take a look at your life. What are you afraid of? What are we as a society most afraid of?
Do you have an answer? Good. Jot it down, and put it aside for a moment. Now read the next step:
Take a step away from our pre-conceived notions of what the horror genre is. Put aside the zombie makeup. Put aside the vampire teeth. Hang the gory chainsaw back in the shed. In fact, put every horror movie and horror novel you’ve ever read into a little dark room at the back of your mental house and shut the door on it. Just for a moment, pretend it doesn’t exist. Fuhgeddaboutit.
Now go back to the fear you’ve jotted down. Hell, draw a line through it and make that fear personal. Slap your spouse’s or baby’s face onto it. Or your own. Make yourself sick for a moment. Get upset.
Good. Now, start there. Start over. Make me as scared as you are. Feel free to make it supernatural. In fact, I want you to. This ain’t a CSI crime drama. It’s horror, fuck’s sake. And you know what that means? It’s not a comedy. It’s not a parody.
Show me what scares you. Help me understand it. Give me a new symbol to understand it. I want to see something new — maybe a new monster — attached to what scares you and me, right now, in 2013. And when I’m done watching or reading your story, I want to remember your name every time I think about that particular fear.
Now go forth and impress me.