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Stoimenoff: Don’t disregard the horror genre

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Stoimenoff: Don’t disregard the horror genre

Trevor Stoimenoff, Columnist

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You’re in the bedroom of a young girl who has become possessed by a demon. The lights are out and the room has been stripped of all furniture aside from the bed upon which the possessed girl lies. The moon shines in from the sole window in the corner of the room. The girl writhes on the bed as the priest enters the room and begins reciting a passage from the Bible. Slowly, the girl’s body levitates from the bed, and her eyes suddenly spring open. Breaking free from the ropes that restrain her, she lunges at the priest, viciously attacking him before his assistant is able to pull her off. Her mother watches the entire scene, her face drained of all color, with a look of utter disbelief and helplessness.

This is a classic scene from the groundbreaking film “The Exorcist.” The film was one of the most controversial of its time period, as it tied religion into almost every shot. But what is the purpose of horror movies such as this one? Many people write them off as tools used to create shock value. Others say the directors have some sort of point to prove, while still others say the directors are simply sadistic or twisted.

The horror genre is the most misunderstood of them all. “Rosemary’s Baby,” the iconic Roman Polanski film of 1968, tied in themes like rape and devil worshipping, and during the few years after it was released, people were repulsed. Now, however, it is viewed as a classic. More recently, “The Cabin in the Woods” was released and garnered mostly favorable, but some awful, reviews.

The few negative reviews stem from the fact that Joss Whedon wrote the film as an homage to fans of the horror genre, as a satirical look at the more cliche aspects of horror and as a blatant strike at those who superficially judge horror films. Anybody who is well-versed in horror would see the obvious cameos of iconic horror faces such as Pinhead from “Hellraiser” and the tributes to classic horror movie gags like closing the bathroom mirror and seeing somebody behind you. Whedon is making fun of the people who can’t look past the more gruesome aspects of horror to see what lies beneath.

This is not to say that there isn’t a discouragingly large number of mediocre-to-terrible horror movies. The bad ones definitely outnumber the good ones, which is another reason why it’s getting harder and harder to distinguish them. The more bad films that are released, the easier it is for people to immediately assume that the next one is going to be disappointing as well.

What happens with horror movies is that people approach them with the wrong attitude, and in turn leave with the wrong impressions. The gore, for the most part, is not meant solely for shock value. The scares shouldn’t be present just to make you jump. Every piece of a horror film should be separate parts of one entity that conveys some sort of message. If you look at many of the classic horror movies, there is generally a theme behind them.

For example, the 1978 film “Halloween” features Michael Myers, one of the most iconic characters of all time in the genre. He seems to be invincible, and he is completely placid in his disposition. He is the personification of the primal and persistent fear that lives inside of us. A good horror film should not only make an impression, it should also leave you with something to think about long after the movie is over.

My belief is that horror movies are a method of bringing out the fear that we so rarely feel, helping us experience an adrenaline rush without facing any real danger. They allow us to temporarily escape from a society that often condemns the images horror movies portray. Most importantly, they allow us to attempt to embrace the fear that these movies incite within us, the same fear that in everyday life causes us to run away instead of stand our ground. The horror genre is completely unique in the way it makes the viewer feel, and the array of emotions these movies create can cause the viewer to shy away from digging deeper and understanding the message the director is trying to send. The genre deserves not to be written off as superficial or unnecessary. It offers much more than shock value — go out and see for yourself.

Trevor Stoimenoff is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be reached at trevorstoimenoff2016@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com.

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