[The script follows:]
Horror films show us the dark underside of the American dream. As one group rises to power, another is disenfranchised. Often, violence is visited upon those who are in the minority.Thrillers and action films celebrate triumph and success. Horror films clean up the mess, mop up the blood, and show us what’s under the rubble after the action hero lays waste.
The Shining is
arguably the greatest horror film because it so movingly bears witness to the
suffering of the frightened wife and child of a violent alcoholic.
Many horror movies’ victims, are women and children, as in real life.
Wendy Torrance’s glassy-eyed smile holds a dark
history and a sense of nervous fear. This is revealed by the enormous ash
perilously dangling from her cigarette. The film will draw her repressed fears
out, writ large in bloody letters across the screen.
If this were a made for TV movie about spousal abuse, a councilor or friend would come to the abused wife’s aid. That person would help her to gain control of her life.But the narrative and moral logic of horror films tells us a different story, one that is, perhaps, truer to life: evil never sleeps, and the dead don’t always stay dead.
As family tensions mount in the Overlook, each
member of the family goes over the edge in their own special way.
It is a common story, sadly enough, but like all great horror films, The Shining gives this story the magnitude of a tragic American myth.
“They fuck you up, your mum and dad. / They may not mean to, but they do. / They fill you with the faults they had / And add some extra, just for you.” Poet Philip Larkin’s words are particularly relevant to the American horror film. Many of the best horror films capture the unique vulnerability of childhood. In the end, the horror movie makes us all as vulnerable as little children.
The tradition of gothic horror has been replete with beings
whose monstrousness is as much a burden to themselves as a threat to others. There is no such thing as a victimless crime
in horror movies. Even the victimizers may be said to suffer.
We see Jack Torrance having a nightmare that, the film suggests, is a kind of a vision brought on by the haunted hotel where he and his family live. Such visitations vex him, and we can identify with his anguish.
Jack can still feel compassion, though, and we sense
his torment and anguish as he confronts and eventually turns toward
This is simply the dark side of human power.
Even in the end, he is no monster.
The horror film: It shows us the dark side of power, and reminds us that we are all, at some levels, powerless victims.
Power, in and of itself, is not a moral virtue, but compassion is.
Jed Mayer is an Associate Professor of English at the State University of New York, New Paltz.
Ken Cancelosi is the Co-Founder and Publisher of Press Play.
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