Earlier this year I wrote a rant on the current state of the horror film. In today’s copy of The Independent, Johann Hari does much of the same, only a thousand times better. Hari writes:

Movies aren’t a cerebral medium; they are visceral. The first people to see a film screamed in terror and ran from the room – and these movies bring us back to that first, primal response.

[…]

All the years I have loved horror films, I have asked myself: why? Why do I like watching this stuff, when what it represents is so foul? Is horror morally corrupting after all?

This is the question at the heart of the best horror film – and quite possibly the best British film – ever made: Peeping Tom, released in 1960. It follows a serial killer who films his own murders of young women and obsessively rewatches them. The film constantly forces the viewer to ask: why is he watching this? What pleasure can he get? Are we like him? It was such a disturbing question that the film was pulled from the cinemas in a great national retch, and the career of the genius director Michael Powell ended overnight.

Aristotle believed that by experiencing the terrifying vicariously through monster-stories, we are purged of our fears and hatreds – and our desire to act on them in the real world. It is a safety valve. In Greek mythology, Perseus has a polished shield that enables him to look indirectly at the Gorgon – and thus slay it. Are horror films our shield of Perseus, enabling us to see our monsters, and wipe them out? Is my grandmother so gentle precisely because she can exorcise her natural sadistic impulses before a screen – and is she an exception among horror fans?

As I gaze out over my small mountain of horror DVDs and contemplate watching The Evil Dead for a 10th time (highlight: a woman is raped by a demonic tree), I wonder: when we peer into the dark, do we become darker – or do we leave lighter?

Read the whole thing.

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