By Desmond Reddick
02 October 2006 — Greetings! I have provided this preamble to welcome, acclimatize and warn you of the abominations of science and creatures of the night that will occupy this column every Monday.
Reel Dread is my way of looking at genre cinema past and present. I will dissect the conventions of horror and, to a lesser extent, science fiction through a series of reviews, short essays and spotlights on various sub-genres and directors. If my attention span behaves as expected I may branch off into other media such as television, literature and comic books. I will, however, stay away from anything covered by others on Earth-2.net or the podcast — unless I'm asked for my two cents.
Please feel free to share your criticisms of this column. Or, request a film or sub-genre you'd like to see me cover. I'm not new to genre films or writing, but I am new to the weekly column format so your input is greatly appreciated.
Now that the business is out of the way I thought I would briefly comment on a topic that interests me to no end and has a huge impact on this column: fear and cinema.
Fear is a funny thing. Any assortment of mundane things can cause phobic hysteria in people. Watch a recent episode or two of Maury Povich and you can see that.
Fear is an emotion that is both instinctual and learned. Children are born afraid of falling and of loud noises. Any series of tests — ethically questionable tests, but tests nonetheless — can prove that. A child is not born afraid of dogs, but, for example, if they were to witness a pack of rabid dogs savagely tear their father limb from limb then developing a fear of dogs would be a natural reaction.
When we introduce cinema into the equation things can become very interesting. Take that same child who witnessed her poor father torn to shreds and show her Cujo when she is older, and you have one severely damaged human being. Now, I don't consider Cujo to be that good of a film, but it is somebody's worst fear given life. Imagine the emotion that is tapped into, the primal recesses of someone's mind that would do anything to look away. Every horror film could be like that for somebody.
On the other hand, horror films can create a fear. How many people were afraid of sharks before Jaws? How many people refused to go swimming after they saw it? I know people who saw it in its original run, and refused to swim in pools and lakes afterwards. Fear is power and Jaws is powerful.
My fears, you ask? Well, I'll tell you. A stupid accident as a teenager resulted in quite a bit of dental surgery. Naturally, any kind of torture involving teeth terrifies me. By that marker, I fully believe that Marathon Man is one of the most effective horror films ever made when most would argue that it isn't even a horror film. The same goes for toenails and fingernails, but that's a story for another time.
My greatest fears coincide with what has to be the most terrifying movie ever made — not the best horror movie ever made, but the most terrifying. I have an intense, irrational fear of being buried alive. I also have a fear of something happening to my wife and / or son and being powerless to stop it. Thus: my appreciation for The Vanishing. This 1988 Dutch film asked me not only to face those fears, but to sympathise with the perpetrator. I will never be more disturbed by a film and will be hard-pressed to find another for which I have more respect.
Clowns, snakes, enclosed spaces and the killer lurking in the night are all the stuff of nightmares. No matter how often they are used in film, there are those who find it terrifying. That is why I'll sit through any horror film — no matter how bad. Except those made by Uwe Boll; I have some lines I'll never cross.
I respect the power of fear and truly enjoy it when I find a film that scares me.
What scares you?