Slate Magazine's Series on "How to Fix Horror" by Jason Zinoman
This past week, Jason Zinoman, author of the new look at modern horror films Shock Value, has turned in a thoughtful series of essays called "How to Fix Horror." I've enjoyed reading them for the most part because they're erudite and well-argued, and I recommend them. Having said that I have a lot of disagreements with Zinoman because he strikes me as a kind of purist against other purists, which is silly when we're talking about pop culture.
Horror can certainly be discreet and cerebral and deeply moral. But it's more at home being impolite and gross and borderline unethical. We needn't be embarrassed if we prefer the movies that favor splatter over politics or poetry. What matters—what keeps us coming back for more—is fear, a pleasure as old as the game of peek-a-boo. Maybe we like horror movies of questionable taste because we get a perverse thrill out of something debased. Maybe it's just because we are so addicted to goose bumps that we'll see anything to get that feeling again. Straining to be respectable not only misjudges the nature of the genre; it robs us of one of the most potent scares you can have at the theater: the horror of realizing you love horror.
Well, I don't know, I think "more at home being impolite and gross and borderline unethical" might be a judgment call. I'm not crazy about these pronouncements where something is "supposed" to be anything. What is horror supposed to be? Do we really have to get uppity about this?
Linoman is definitely a worshipper at the cult of King, and I respect that-- he quotes from Danse Macabre. But Linoman and King part ways in that Linoman can't stand indoor bullstuff. The kind of horror I prefer tends to be either supremely eerie (Dont Look Now) or sublimely cheesy (Blood of Dracula)-- two kinds of horror Zinoman seems to define right out of worthy consideration. These are good essays, but the lean way hard in the direction of a respect for what Bruce Wright's Nightwalkers calls "terror" (movies about primal fear of bodily harm) and turns its nose up at what Wright calls "horror" (movies about the sinking awareness of the great abyss beyond.) That's just another nomenclature, of course. I can't wait to read Linoman's book, though, because I expect it to be very good at covering what it covers.