Rejection

This brings us to rejection – the king of all exploitative horror devices. A stereotypical “nerd” gets shot down or embarrassed just for feeling the tingles of love. Punished by an out-of-his-league partner. Take Valentine – Jamie Blanks’ February 14th slasher – about a junior high kid named Jeremy Melton who “comes back years later to get his revenge” on the girls who mocked, harrassed and got the poor “dweeb” beaten up. These setups often lead to the stalker/obsession subgenre given that comeuppances are generally sought after, which many would write off as ridiculous, but I find meaning in here nonetheless.

A declaration of love is not easy. Valentine may be less “love” and more schoolyard crush, but that’s where feelings start. “Insignificance” still worth jittery flop-sweats and anxiety. We are complex creatures with fragile egos and personal hang-ups, yet this is forgotten when ridicule is used to chase off unwanted suitors. Maybe it’s a reminder that while you may not share the same feelings with a hopeful admirer, displayed understanding and easy let-downs are deserved by everyone. You don’t want someone shooting an arrow through your heart in real life, do you? (But not really – everyone has the right to deny without fear of retaliation).

To be fair, horror content isn’t just about love as an antagonistic force, no matter how much the thought of monogamy and commitment rattles you to the core. No other genre offers such in-your-face metaphors with ranging subtlety and experience. A film like Spring legitimately movie-tizes the quote “Love is a monster,” while Bride Of Chucky is a hilarious riff on modern marriage culture. Todd Strauss-Schulson’s The Final Girls doesn’t scare you to tears, but instead nurtures one of 2015’s most affecting mother/daughter relationships. For every bloodcurdling depiction of love being lost, there’s parallel acknowledgement about love being found in the most unaccustomed places.

Movies like those mentioned above serve to remind that horror does not only have to be “scary,” and furthermore, can sustain the heart-bursting weight of passion in all its forms. What Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead are able to do in Spring is just as sentimental and raw as, off the top of my head, The Spectacular Now. Just because tentacles and feeding rituals are in play doesn’t mean the chemistry between lovers is lost – only heightened by dangerous realizations.

Quite frankly, we’re most honest when there’s the most to lose. What could be more finite than the loss of one’s life? In these moments, characters are forced to uncage their hearts and spill what’s left just in case there’s never another chance.

I get it: J-Lo and Reese Witherspoon are someone else’s Barbara Crampton and Danielle Harris. But horror films routinely get pegged as barbaric manipulations of death that trend no redeeming qualities or value. We’ve been over this. Whenever a horror film stumbles into the national spotlight while proving genre fodder can break from slaughter-schlock write offs, wars wage to strip it of that nasty “H” word classification (see: It, Get Out). In this specific use case, love and tragedy, ergo horror, are almost inseparable – it’s foolish to think otherwise.

None of this is new, mind you. Travel back to 1935. James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein dares to unite “The Monster” with a mate, tempting this idea of marital relations for the cold of heart. Henry Frankenstein’s (Colin Clive) own wife is kidnapped to force collaboration with Doctor Septimus Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger), which leads to a female “monster” produced from artificial brains, graveyard parts and an electric current. Unfortunately “The Bride” doesn’t care for her undead shotgun wedding, and Whale’s film ends with “The Monster” bringing down laboratory walls around those who deserve to stay dead. Devotion, loss and rejection all in one masterful reassertion of the human experience through a genre vessel.

Love, as in life, comes with great sacrifice and greater reward. So many films are happy to focus on the latter aspect, but horror ideals are right to also favor “sacrifice” so prominently. We must be willing to surrender to fears and trust in an uncharted abyss, but also deal with “monstrous” side effects that may come. Love endures euphoric highs and rock-bottom lows, and no genre is as daring or fierce enough to ride the entire damn rollercoaster than horror. That is why love is the scariest plot device any horror filmmaker has at his or her disposal – art imitating life, freedom granted by the forces we’d least expect.

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