Is it me or are horror films more, well, horrific these days? There’s no denying that classics of the horror canon such as The Exorcist and The Shining are, obviously, disturbing. The teen slashers from my own era, Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer etc, might be a little on the light side but they don’t exactly shy away from blood and terror either. But now, something’s changed.
I used to love all this stuff, practically growing up on a diet of horror. I couldn’t get enough of the Goosebumps books, quickly graduating to Point Horror and then on to Stephen King in my early teens. I’d loiter in the deathly quiet of the (surprisingly well-stocked) Adult Horror aisle of my little local library after school, sometimes for hours. It was a day of pure joy when a new book arrived on the shelves. I remember a particularly gruesome tome about a trucker who turned into a massive human-eating hog who terrorised a small town (note to self – must Google this…).
They were all American, these novels (well, it was the 90s). Big blockbusters of books in a world of highways, dusty towns and malls. And I totally immersed myself in it. I even wrote my own horror stories for a time. Then we got cable TV – hurray! – and I suddenly had access to hundreds of horror films, and that’s when my journey became audio visual. Silence of the Lambs, The Blair Witch Project, Rosemary’s Baby, Alien, The Poltergeist. My relationship with the genre endured for many happy years.
But then I made the mistake of watching Saw. I’m pretty sure my mother recommended it to me as well (alarming in itself). It was 2004, we had a pirate copy (I know, sorry) – the picture so grainy and the sound so poor that I had to sit on the floor right in front of the TV to watch it. There I was, numb-limbed on the carpet, in the house on my own (classic schoolgirl error, almost as bad as me running upstairs) in a total, stunned, crumpled mess.
I remained in that position for a good long while after the credits stopped rolling – but I’ve never fully recovered. I haven’t watched a horror film since. Really*. I’ve tried. I gave The Descent a go (on another recommendation from my mother – you’d think I’d learn), but had to give up ten minutes in.
Of course total avoidance is impossible – sometimes I’ll catch bits of films when I’m channel surfing, and immediately wish I hadn’t. Unexpected trailers are a struggle. And now horror has started filtering through to my relationship with television, too. I love a good TV drama, especially ones based around crime. But as they too become increasingly more violent, I find I am unable to watch. I literally sit there with my hands over my eyes. Press mute. More recently, just change the channel. It’s meant I’ve had to give up on some series which I have loved for years – Silent Witness and Luther have both bitten the dust.
Is it just me? Have I become a highly sensitive, over-emotional bag of nerves? Or is it the horror? Has horror gone too far? Can horror go too far? Isn’t that kind of it’s point? I accept that, as with most things, you have to keep upping the game in order to keep things fresh. But to what limits does horror have to go to?
I suppose when I was on my own horror journey I was forever upping the stakes as well – young adult vampire fiction progressed to Stephen King, which in turn progressed to teen slashers, to 70s porn horror, and then somewhere along the line I just reached my limit whilst the industry churned on. Now, as an outsider, I feel the culture of the genre has changed beyond all recognition. What once was niche is now the norm. Human torture games, rape – it’s a new kind of horror. Less about giving you chills, making you jump – innocent thrills, almost – more about turning your stomach, throwing you into the cesspit of the human condition. Total depravity on a whole new scale and, for me, beyond the point of watchable.
Although people evidently do go and see them – but who? And why? I know tastes change as you get older – like I never used to like avocados, and now I do. I used to like being scared, but now I don’t. Have I just forgotten what it’s like?
I understand that within all of us there is a grim fascination with horror, if not an actual enjoyment of it. But I have neither the equipment nor the will to face up to horror any longer – there is enough of it in the real world to deal with, never mind having it confronting you in full-on 3D surround sound after a hard day’s work.
As an aside: I accept not all contemporary horror fils are in this violent vein. If anyone has any suggestions of something they recommend, let me know
*I haven’t watched a pirated film since either – gold star for me