Monday, March 1, 2010
You Can't Win
You go into the horror movie with the expectation that even though there will be dead bodies along the way, heroes will win the day. A lot of the by the numbers horror movies will make sure to give people that nice send off. However my tastes skew for the down right depressing. I’m talking about those horror stories where the main characters can’t win no matter how hard they try. Sure they can get that false victory where they hold off the evil for a little bit but at the end of the day they will never truly get rid of the evil.
I sometimes joke that this is just my English pessimism coming through, but truth be told every culture has a little bit of this mentality in some of their stories. Whether this is a cautionary tale, or a story that is just trying to take us down a peg or two, I find them fascinating. For me while I gravitated towards the ‘you can’t win’ scenario (Kirk be damned), it wasn’t until I started reading a certain author that I really got to grips with what really interested me. That author was none other that Howard Phillip Lovcraft.
If you’re a friend, family member, associate, work colleague, university professor, doctor or the person who sells me comics you would have heard me mutter the word Cthulu at one point. I love the mythos that Lovecraft created and others continued. To me the greatest horror that comes from that particular fictional world is what position humans have in the universe. Humans are nothing more than ants and the monsters that they come across regard humans as just a blip. The scary thing is while from time to time a certain hero will have some success, another hundred have been killed. One more great idea that surfaces in the Cthulu Mythos is Cthulu itself. Cthulu is seen as a god that can send mortals into madness by merely waking up, yet Cthulu has its own gods. These gods represent time, matter, life and while to a mortal’s eye they seem evil they are forces of nature that can never be truly defeated. Being insignificant in the grand scheme of things is a lot scarier to me than being stalked by any masked killer. Don’t worry though if I ever meet a killer in real life I’m still going to piss my self in fear, it’s just all about scale.
But it’s not all about Lovecraft and there have been plenty of other fictional works that have made it clear that no matter what we do we can’t win. Movie wise The Grudge is very interesting; I’m not going to weigh up the American and Japanese version of this movie because at the core they are both the same. The core is the curse and the raw emotion that drives it. Honestly while we are talking about curses fuelled by emotion we can also add The Ring into this discussion. What we have is a malevolent force the main characters can’t reason with and at the end of the movie the heroes haven’t really saved the day they just got out of the way. There is no way we can defeat emotion so in the end we have to pass it on to the next person. It’s funnily enough something we can see mirroring the real world. It’s human nature that we don’t want to get hurt or die and when it comes down to the big decision most people will let another person take the hit rather than themselves; it’s survival. Personally I think The Grudge and The Ring take this idea and just add the supernatural element. The curse is a virus and if those who caught it just let it claim them it wouldn’t spread, but we will fight our fate and while the individual might win humanity as a whole can’t.
Speaking of humans being a downer that brings me to The Mist a movie directed by Frank Darabont, yet again an interesting look at the horror genre and the ‘you can’t win’ mentality. It has slimy beasts from god knows where that are hankering for a hunk of human back side, yet the real horror comes from what happens inside the grocery shop refuge. At the beginning of the movie you have most people who are holed up in the shop trying to come up with plans to help, but as time moves on and the fear becomes unbearable you have people turning to religion to save them, not only that but they are turning to a twisted version of religion that leads to more problems. But it’s not religion that’s the bad guy in this movie, its humans and the organisations they create. What can be beneficial is turned into something evil because humans tend to take things too far when fear is involved. Moving away from The Mist and heading over to Romero land. When the zombies attack it’s a threat that we should be able to handle yet the resistance that we organise often falls to hell thanks to people. Scientists go to far in their search for an answer, the military just wants to shoot it all to hell cause that’s all they know, and that’s just a few examples. Horror stories can be very effective when they show the dark mirror of our organisations. Sometimes it can be scarier than the stuff they are trying to fight.
Now I’ve talked about things as a group but what about the individual? Surely there are some works of horror fiction that have the ‘you can’t win’ feel without having to involve the whole universe or an organisation? Well I’m sure there are plenty but the one that keeps coming to mind is the horror comic Hellblazer. The back story of John Constantine the main character of Hellblazer is epic, he’s dealt with nearly every type of demon, deranged human and god you can think of. But his personal story is a very sad one and no matter the victories he has, he seems to get screwed from every corner. John has lost many people, friends, family and lovers and even though he tries to drive people away his charm works against him. Just when he feels safe with being solo, someone comes into his life and often will die thanks to the current supernatural threat John is dealing with. Sometimes it’s John’s own fault but seriously he can’t catch a break. How would you feel constantly saving the world yet never being able to save those you actually love?
Anyway that’s a look at the depressive side of horror, and I know I’ve really only scratched the surface. I think that the reason why the no win scenario intrigues me more in horror movies, is that it sadly closely resembles the real world. Sure it’s often used in situations that will never happen but I think that failure is sometimes more realistic. If you think about how we iconize heroes because they are a symbol of succeeding where others have failed we are not that far from the truth.