Talking Movies: What lurks behind fear?

Talking Movies
It’s time for a Halloween edition of Talking Movies! — photo by Rachel Jessen

Warning: In honor of Halloween, this edition of Talking Movies is very, very spooky. Those with weak or cowardly hearts should be apprised of the extreme amounts of spookiness contained herewithin.

I don’t need to tell you how important my job as a film critic is, but I will anyway: It’s so important it’s spooky! For you, the average dum dum, movies exist (spookily) as a sort of Schrödinger’s cat, simultaneously good and bad, until people like me tell you how to feel about the film you just saw. You’re welcome. However, besides saving you from having to think about quantum superposition (with the cat thing), did you know that film critics can do plenty of other critiquing tricks? It’s true! “Good” and “bad” are the black and white terms, but we critics can use every color in the box to shade your perception of a film. Anyway, here are some different ways critics have interpreted film … spooky film.

Freaky Feminism

You know how to survive a knife-murderer, don’t you? No? The secret is to be a tomboyish girl who doesn’t do sexy partying or sexy sex, (for example, responsible babysitter Laurie Strode in Halloween or responsible camp counselor Alice in Friday the 13th). After you run around scared for an hour and a half, you grab a big phallic knife and use it penis-ily to kill the bad guy, and as a bonus release all of your pent-up non-sex-havin’ rage. The lady responsible for identifying this trope, called the “final girl,” is a film critic named Carol Clover who outlined the trend in her book Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. Yes, women in horror films are often pieces of meat, their naked bodies presented to be drooled over like a velociraptor drools over a goat, and then butchered like a velociraptor butchers a goat. Clover argues though, that the “final girl” might be a positive for the ladies in that you get dude audiences identifying with the girl on screen as the protagonist. If you ask me (and I do like myself a lady protagonist), the girl lead in horror films is a product of society being able to accept a chick screaming and crying all over the place and not a hysterical snot-nosed bloke.

Spooky Psychoanalysis

Monsters are spooky. Ghosts are spooky. Devils are spooky, too. But some of the scariest creatures around are those wily human beings. Think about it: Most of us have similar brains and reactions, brains and reactions that generally keep us from flipping out and murdering each other, but some of us just love going nuts and stabbing other people. The scary thing is that we all have the capacity for going berserk. It can happen to regular Joes. Some critics, like Charles Derry in his book Dark Dreams, like to think that horror films are a way to bring subconscious social fears to the surface in order to confront them. Kinda like on Fear Factor—how they’d put you in a box of snakes if you’re scared of snakes … or they’d make you eat a sheep testicle at least. Anyway, Derry argues that in films like Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, we’re dealing with not only our fear of other people with knives, but of our own capacity for lunacy. Norman Bates seems fairly “norm”al, not like a serial murderer with an Oedipal complex, or at least mostly relatable, so it’s extra freaky that not only is he stabbing ladies to death, he’s also his own mom. That’s what we’re all afraid of: Turning out to be our mothers.

Mysterious Miscellanea

Think it’s easy to be a critic? Just sitting there, pointing out which things are like penises, telling people why stuff is scary and how some dudes are crazy? You’re dead wrong, baby! It’s a terrifying rabbit hole from which there is no return. Por ejemplo, the 2012 documentary Room 237 (Rodney Ascher) elucidates the depths of madness spawned from amateurs trying to interpret film. These poor loons watched the same exact film and one says it was about the Holocaust, another says it was about the Apollo 11 moon landing and yet another swears it is about the genocide of the Native Americans (and there are a couple more that say it’s about other stuff). Which movie did they see? Why, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, of course. Are they right? Can they all be right? Perhaps, but doubtful. You don’t want to mess with this stuff, kids. Film analysis becomes a dangerous obsession that can consume your very sanity. And The Shining was obviously about the Titanic.

Kit Bryant lives in Iowa City with her valid alibi and several innocuous non-lethal pastimes. Outside the workplace, she enjoys sarcasm, light spanking and fleeting moments of hope and levity. Her blog is

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