The older I get, the more I’ve come to appreciate life. At 41, I’ve likely lived about half of mine already, and I love every day I spend breathing and living. This really crystallized for me earlier tonight. My brother Al asked me to go with him to the wake of a friend of his. The friend died two days ago out of the blue, and I could tell it shook Al up. So I joined him on the trip to the funeral home, and once I got there it got me thinking. Thinking about just how important it is to live every day to its fullest, no matter how cliché that sounds. Al’s friend was around my age, and Al’s only two years behind me. His friend’s death was just one more reminder that life can go on you at any time. Even if you’re only 59, as my mom was when cancer took her a little over four years ago. Even if you’re younger, as a friend of my friend Brando’s was when a blood clot took his life recently.
As I’m a horror fan, my mind almost naturally turned to death in horror movies. My drive home had me sorting through the demises of several dozens characters in a number of movies. The more I sorted, the angrier I got. Here’s why: If death reminds me of how important life is, then presenting a flimsy cardboard character from the Generic Stereotype Generator not only cheapens death, but also cheapens life.
Example given: the last TEXAS CHAINSAW flick. Forget that the film is so fraught with continuity errors, timeline mishaps and an abundant dearth of logic. I could maybe get by all that if the flick had characters in which I was willing to invest. You know, some good people who had actually personalities and a bit of humanity. People who, when they spoke, interacted like real folks and had some integrity in what they said. People who cared about each other’s lives before they were faced with each other’s deaths. Instead, the flick offered me a flimsy interpretation of life that even the most moronic teens never live outside of poorly written, poorly acted horror movies. And I wonder why so many mainstream movie fans look at horror flicks as an ugly bastard child of film.
Sadly, this is not a new phenomenon. Horror movies have done this for ages, all for the advancement of cheap thrills. The 1950s programmers would send the giant spider to the sock hop, and the cardboard kids only got disturbed when the arachnid disturbed the dance. The 80s boom period were no better; I try to name FRIDAY THE 13TH characters who have even a second dimension of humanity, and I begin and end at Ginny in Part 2. Ever watch a Godzilla movie? I remember when I was young thinking that there were people in all those buildings that Ghidora and Rodan and Godzilla were demolishing. Talk about putting a different spin on what was essentially supposed to be a monster battle royale.
It’s enough to send a sensitive guy such as me into despair, if I hadn’t let my train of thoughts hop tracks to some horror films with fully developed characters. Look no further than Marion Crane, from Hitchcock’s PSYCHO. She’s an assertive woman trying her best to navigate a complicated situation in her life. She’s flawed, and a bit paranoid as she goes on the lam. She’s also caring, basically a good person who’s done a bad thing. She’s a fully realized human being before she ever gets to the Bates Motel. As anyone who read my overrated horror flicks article knows, I’m not a fan of PSYCHO, but I’m a huge fan of Marion Crane.
David Cronenberg is the master of body horror, and his take on THE FLY is a metaphor for the crippling effects of disease. But it’s also a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, because of Jeff Goldblum’s performance as the doomed Seth Brundle, and Geena Davis as his girlfriend Veronica. It’s a film about a guy slowly transforming into a fly, but it’s also the sad love story of two nice people whose romance cannot save them from devastating effects of sickness.
When the Freelings are under attack in Nicole Fiss’ favorite POLTERGEIST, I care for them, because their unit is a good one made up of decent people. I’m not rooting for the ghosts to tear them to shreds. I’m rooting for them to escape that damned house. I’m terrified just as they are, and if under the same circumstances, I’d fight just as hard for my family. Including Al, with whom I’ve never gotten along.
Which brings me full circle, and back to tonight’s wake. His friend’s death has Al thinking about just how short life is, and how death is waiting for us all. I can tell Al’s scared by this, and I hope the next time he hugs his son, my brother realizes just how beautiful life can be. It’s too easy to view the horror genre as a mass symposium for death. That only speaks half the truth. Horror is also about life, and for those filmmakers who are only interested in the spectacle of how brutal it can end, without offering any humanity to the lives they’re ending…
It’s Official! You Suck!