Hey folks. I thought I’d write about a few horror movies I have found inspirational or influential in my own writing. I’m guessing those of you who’ve read my books probably won’t find this list much of a surprise, but this should be fun all the same. Note: I believe these are all spoiler-free, but in examining these at some length, there may be inadvertent clues at least as to themes. My apologies if I gave something away unintentionally.
1) In the Mouth of Madness – this movie was discussed last week, so I won’t go too much into it again, except to say that as it is, IMO, a brilliant homage to the godfather of monster fiction, it is in itself as much an influence as its own source material. What I admire about this movie (besides Lovecraftian tentacled otherworldly monsters, of course) is the surreal approach to bending, blending, and transposing the boundaries that define fantasy and reality, sanity and insanity. It, like Lovecraft’s best work, focuses more on the effects of the horror, the mental deterioration and loss of security and control that knowledge brings, than on the cause of the horror.
2) Session 9 – This movie, directed by Brad Anderson, is another absolutely brilliant study of the line between sanity and insanity, between what you know — what you’re sure you know about you and your friends and family — and what you think you’re sure about. A lot of Anderson’s work in this genre (The Machinist, Sounds Like) approach the same kind of theme but in unique and unexpected ways. Like those two aforementioned movies, the protagonists are incredibly sympathetic in spite of their (sometimes sizable) flaws, and it’s their supreme will of compensating for those flaws with their fundamental good-heartedness that draws you in and makes you a part of their reality (and unreality) as the story progresses. Unlike those two aforementioned movies, Session 9 also tackles the supernatural in the subtlest of ways, and fully explores the heart of the reason ghosts, spirits, and other entities still frighten us: we are all haunted (excuse the pun) by things in our past, our present, even our future — things that pass peripherally like shadows in the rooms of our minds. Ghosts are the representation of hurts and fears we can’t let go — or that can’t let go of us. This movie explores the complexity of our minds with an effectiveness rarely seen in most movies.
3) A Nightmare on Elm Street – Swinging to perhaps the other end of the horror movie spectrum to the king of slasher movies, this essential boogeyman movie had a profound effect on me from childhood that never quite dissipated. The concept of the boogeyman is perhaps one of the oldest of…folklore or myth, I guess you could say and most difficult to rationalize away. Like Stephen King’s It, another near-perfect story of a boogeyman monster, this movie touches a nerve in the most primal of our fear centers. Nearly all cultures for centuries have had a concept of an entity of malicious intent and supreme cunning. This entity withstands time and circumstance, and, regardless of its being bound to certain rituals, still manages to exist in the hearts of people as an apex predator to our most precious thing in the world — our children. What Craven’s film does differently than many ghost-story framework boogeyman stories is to marry the idea with another that was gaining notoriety at the time and causing increasing alarm to parents everywhere — the seeming increase in appearance of another, more substantial, and most terrifying monster, that of a child-predator. Incidents of child abduction/molestation/murder were somehow more prominent in the news, or seemed to be happening more often than ever in the past. Freddy Kreuger, child molester and murderer, himself burned to death by angry parents concerned for the surviving children of their neighborhood, is the embodiment of everything parents and children are terrified of. That he finds and kills people in dreams — well, to me, as a parent, sleeping children look like angels, like innocence, and their being asleep is one of the only times parents can usually be sure they’re home and safe and okay. Except in this movie….
4) The Thing – Ohhhh, yes. This movie centers on an idea I have always found terrifying, ever since I was little – the idea that the people you trust are not who you think they are. That this is a monster movie, and a kick-ass, shapeshifting alien monster at that, is just bonus squee. What makes this movie terrifying is the characters’ paranoia that evolves from discovery of what the thing can do, what it is doing among them. There are a number of stressors in their environment to begin with: miles of snow and icewhere one can get lost and/or freeze to death in minutes, isolation for months on end from the rest of the world, lack of variation and to some degree, sunlight, and dangerous land work. If you add slightly unstable personalities, people who are tired and perhaps eager for a break from their work, you get a team of unique personalities on edge. Now, if you tell them that at least one of them, or maybe more, is a murdering, absorbing non-human looking to pass through their number and leave nothing of earth life uninfected, and you give these men guns…well, you’ve got a tense, dark, moody movie about survival. Where does the line fall between trust and paranoia when human interaction and connection in that environment is as crucial to staying sane as warmth is to staying alive?
That’s it for Part I of movies that have influenced my writing — stay tuned next week for Part II, in which we discuss four more movies! And as always, thanks for reading, and please, feel free to share your thoughts on these movies or any others you find inspiring or influential.