Monday, November 30, 2020

Running Low on Blood and Oil in East Texas... No Corpse is Completely Silent and No Chainsaw Can Drown Out Their Cries Completely

Death is, of course, the core anxiety that drives horror films. It's an experience that is fundamental to the human experience, not just in the sense of its inevitability as an endpoint for all of our journeys, but in the sense of how the knowledge of that inevitability shapes our perspectives and behaviours. This isn't any kind of groundbreaking proclamation; any first-year philosophy student could probably spout off entire passages from Ernest Becker's The Denial of Death verbatim like some kind of morbid mating call. Essentially, Becker argues that all of human civilization is, in one way or another, the result of humanity trying to cope with the anxiety that comes from understanding that some day we all have to cash in our chips.

To try and place horror films within this context is to ask that question that invariably comes up in discussions about the genre: Why do people enjoy horror movies in the first place? I'm not going to pretend that I can provide a definitive answer, but I have my own thoughts on the matter. Whether or not one takes Becker's theories about fear of death being the single organizational force behind the entirety of human society, it's undeniable that death is one of the fundamental anxieties that we have consistently grappled with over the course of our species' history. One has only to survey the storytelling tradition of the past five thousand years to see how prevalent themes surrounding death really are, followed closely by sex (hopefully the only time in your life you feel comfortable putting those two experiences in that particular order).