Horror goes in cycles. Vampires, serial killers, the shambling undead. What we see varies, what we fear varies. This is not exactly news. While part of it is riding on coat tails—as far back as Nosferatu, movies were trying to cash in on other popular works’ success—part of it is also that, after all, there’s a reason the first one was a success to begin with. We are drawn in by different things depending on what’s going on in the world at the moment.
Yes, this thought is in part inspired by yesterday’s examination of The Bad Seed. The idea of the sweet, innocent child’s being filled with—let’s be real—evil was one that struck home for a generation paranoid about the spectre of juvenile delinquency. If, as Stephen King posited in Danse Macabre, that’s the secret villain in I Was a Teenage Werewolf, etc., so too is it the villain in The Bad Seed. In The Only Film Class I’ve Ever Taken, there was a lot of discussion as to whether the theme of Invasion of the Body Snatchers was anti-Communism or anti-conformity, and either one would make sense.
I’m not sure you can be sure what a movement in horror means until you’re out of it, and goodness knows I’m not as capable as King of analyzing the horror of any particular era. But it’s not surprising that The Amityville Horror and Poltergeist and similar came out as the Baby Boomers were growing up and buying houses and so forth. The Giant Bug Movies of the ‘50s were a fear of radiation; many killer animal movies of the ‘70s were a fear of pollution.
King himself finds Pet Cemetary to be one of the most frightening of his own works, and of course it’s about the fear of losing a child. I’m a parent myself, and I get that. And if King is far too Freudian in Danse Macabre, he’s certainly well aware of how his own fears changed as he grew, from Sputnik to parenthood. Because of course there’s what scares us on a societal level and what scares us on a personal level.
Do I know what’s behind my own terror of realistic portrayals of cannibalism? I do not. I will say that I can watch and laugh at the tender subject of Eddie in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Watching Alive is not the same thing for me—yes, I know that Alive is not a horror film, but no horror films trigger that particular reaction from me. On the other hand, I fully understand why Gene Siskel had such a visceral reaction to movies that put children in danger for cheap thrills.