Horror Genre Essay
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Sample Essay on Horror Genre
The horror genre is one of the most popular genres and we may say that it has started to develop practically immediately with the development of show business and a free access of wide audience to cinemas and television. We can find a lot of causes of the popularity of this genre but it is still not so easy to explain its phenomenon, namely why it is so attractive for people despite all its unreality. However, it would be a great mistake to say that horror movies are plain or even primitive. Naturally, there are some movies which are really so stereotyped, unbearably plain, and absolutely thoughtless. But in my opinion, it is simply exclusion or films that were created by specialists who are far from real moviemaking and they can create nothing but films of low quality regardless its genre. Also I would say that as any other branch of art cinema has its genius and its mediocre majority because good films may be created only by a good crew and the genre is not so important. Among such genius of cinema I would name the crews that worked on two films of horror genre, they are “Invasion of Body Snatchers” and “The Thing”. I said crews not because I do not want to agree with those who believe that Donald Siegel and John Carpenter were outstanding directors, on the contrary I am glad that people who worked on these two films were led by such well-qualified professionals. So, we may say that “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “The Thing” are classics of the horror genre and the best ones. But what I would like to analyze is the reason why they are treated as such and in which way they are similar or different.
First of all, it is necessary to say that these two films were created at different time. “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” was created in the middle 1950s, more precisely in 1956 whereas “The Thing” was created in 1982. It seems that such time difference should make the films completely different but, strangely enough, they have a lot of common aspects. That is why at the beginning I would like to dwell upon similarities of both films. First of all, we may say that, to a certain extent, the theme is close. Both films focus on the problem of the invasion of human or just alive bodies by some aliens that tends to control the personality, the hosts actions judgments, etc. In the case of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, we deal with creatures that “has to wait for the perfect moment when the target is asleep), and spend the next few hours consuming and taking on that form. If the host wake up when the process is not complete, the whole procedure is a failure” (LeGacy 1978:288). On the other hand, the thing needs just a few minutes to do it because “it can assimilate the host while its still conscious, against the host’s will” (Landon 1993:39). Probably such changes are caused by the changes of time or epoch. It is obvious that the rhythm of life in 1980s was much faster than in 1950s, certainly it found its expression in the perception of the idea of possible alien assault or attempts to invade human minds.
By the way, I think that both films express the trend that took place in the society when the idea of total control of a human mind became more and more widely spread. It means that symbolically by aliens creators of the films tried to imply those powers either political or economical that by different means aimed at the total control of public conscious through the invasion of the mind of a separate individual. It was quite actual if we take into account if we take into consideration the time when both films were released, 1952 it was the year of the beginning of the cold war when the tension between the well-developed democratic world and the communistic Soviet Union grew and the governments of many countries, including the most democratic, had started to struggle for the control of public opinion and even each particular individual. At the same time, 1982 it was a period when the cold war achieved its apogee and the world was on the eve of the Reagan’s declaration of the war on the ‘empire of evil’ when the situation was very resembling to that of early 1950s. Furthermore, the degree of surveillance grew and specialists began to spoke about the total control of certain organizations over people. In such a situation the people transformed in pods in the horror films I’ve just named look like a prophecy and warning against such dangerous practice.
One more thing that makes “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “The Thing” quite different is the degree of combination of reality and unreality as I would call it. In my opinion, at this point “The Thing” is much more radical thing in the sense that the film is full of fantastic elements and the state of paranoia overwhelms audience and keeps people in such a state during the whole film. On the other hand, in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” it is quite difficult to distinguish whether what we see is real or unreal. Personally, when I watched both films I had a permanent doubt in the mental health of its main characters it was quite difficult to say whether it was something really unusual, extraordinary things that happen to people in the city or it was a simple hallucination, illusion, or just a nightmare and only at the end it becomes clear that the whole city was really transformed in pods people. Whereas in “The Thing” it is evident practically from the very beginning. Everyone realizes that the characters act in an unreal situation they really confront some aliens that intend to control their bodies and their minds. Probably, the cause of such a difference lies in the history of the origin of the films. For we know that “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” was significantly influenced by proceeding films noir that tended to externalised the moral conflict of the detective story. Such films inhabit “shadow worlds and hover without resolve between the supernatural and mundane rationalism. In the same sense “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and the other alien takeover films… psychologically externalised the central conflict of the alien invader film – they were less films about aliens than they were about alienation” (Biskin 1983:139). However the director tries to keep us in suspense for a while and inrushes the film with rationalism and realism but when the nightmare becomes the reality he widely uses film noir techniques such as shots down tight corridors, silhouettes running against streetlights, close ups on sweaty faces, tilted angles. Though he does not forget about classical horror films scenes such as “shots up from under the plank under which McCarthy and Winter hide, with the pod people crossing calmly assuring them there is nothing to fear, the wide-angled shots out of the office window down onto the public square, which becomes inexplicably frightening the moment all visitors are cleared and the bustle of everyday chaos suddenly turns into something ordered and people start organizing the pods to be distributed about the country” (Biskin 1983:141). Whereas in “The Thing” its creators used the experience of past works in the field of horror films and I would say this film is purer horror in the sense that the psychological tension here is weakened by a certain simplification due to which we should not guess whether it is a kind of psychological problems of the characters or a paranormal phenomenon for the latter is quite obvious.
Also I want to add that “The Thing” is much richer in special effects, particularly when we see victims of aliens who “transform into twisted versions of themselves, complete with claws, spider-like limbs, teeth and lots of flailing tentacles” (Landon 1993:36). And again I think that is the result of time changes because in 1980s due to the development of computer technologies and more sophisticated technical equipment impressive special effects became an essential part of any good horror film pretending to be interesting and popular. Whereas, in 1950s not only technical opportunities were not so good but the tradition of film shooting was a bit different. More attention was usually given to psychological side and could only be enforced by special effects which were not very ‘special’ though in comparison with 1980s.
As for some more similarities of both “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “The Thing”, we may find not only theme and probably idea of the film but also the atmosphere of films. As I have already said these films deals with the alien intrusion into human life, into human body, mind and consciousness. These films also may serve as a warning about the danger of such a situation, of a total control of human consciousness when people become pods but not thinking beings. It is reinforced by the reigning atmosphere of tension, even paranoia that makes us forget about the unreality of the events and deep into the action. It is obvious that creators of these films had similar aims. Finally, I would like to add a few words about the way of alien invasion. It may be a bit different by its form but the principle of such invasion remains similar. What I mean is the fact that certainly aliens in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “The Thing” act differently, I have already mentioned that the latter act rapidly without human will and they can act in any time while the former are quite long reacted beings, they cannot attack men only if they are not asleep. But we see that there is one common principle aliens in these this films attack from inside, I mean they want invade human bodies and minds but not their land, property, they do not threat directly to their physical wealth. It seems that human inner world is much more important for them than anything else because they try to control human’s memory, and consequently our feelings, emotions, our state of mind, perception of the world, our present and our past. Moreover, they “have access to the being’s memories, allowing them to blend in almost perfectly without being detected by future target hosts who may know the person who has now been replaced by these horrible alien creatures” (Gregory 1972:12). Thus, we see that unlike many other films about alien invasion “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “The Thing” pay much more attention to the inner world of people, implying the spiritual emptiness that threatens to the people of the 20th century because in my opinion the aliens symbolize all those complicated processes that took place in our society in the 20th century and still continues to exist and that lead to moral degradation of people to their transformation into pods.
Taking into account all above mentioned, I can come to the conclusion that “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “The Thing” are real masterpieces of the horror genre and we have perceive them not only in the proper sense but we should also realize what the creators of these films implied. In my paper I have named a lot of things that are either similar or different in these films but what is the most important is the fact that they both were and remain extremely popular and the film that would be better than them can be hardly imagined. One of the evidences of my idea is the fact that there are numerous remakes of these films that, in its turn, tells us about the actuality of the plot, themes and ideas conveyed with the help of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “The Thing”. Thus, I can say that both films should be regarded as classic of horror genre and their traditions should be continued but not blindly copied that would lead to the development and prosperous future of this genre.
1. Biskin, Peter. “The Mind Managers: Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the Paranoid Style in American Movies.” In Seeing Is Believing: How Holliwood Taught US to Stop Worrying and Love Movies. NY: Pantheon, 1983.
2. Biskin, Peter. “The Russians Are Coming, Aren’t They? Them! The Thing, and the Extremists from Beyond the Center.” In Seeing Is Believing: How Holliwood Taught US to Stop Worrying and Love Movies. NY: Pantheon, 1983.
3. Gregory, Charles. “The Pod Society Versus the Rugged Individualists.” The Journal of Popular Film 1. Winter 1972.
4. Landon, Brooks. “The Thing in All Its Guises: Reconsidering a Science Fiction Classic.” Chapter 2 of The Aesthetic of Ambivalence: Rethinking the Science Fiction Film in the Age of Electronic (Re)production. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1993.
5. LeGacy, Arthur. “Invasion of the Body Snatchers: A Metaphor for the Fifties.” Literature/Film Quarterly 6.2, 1978.