A Culture Fascinated by Horror Movies
In 1895, inventor Thomas Edison made an 18-second movie using the same technology that brought us the light bulb. Titled “The Execution of Mary Stewart,” the film depicts the real execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, who was sentenced to death in 1587 for treason against Queen Elizabeth I. While some consider this short film a historical documentary, others say it is the first foray into the horror genre.
Despite the gore of watching Queen Mary lose her head to the ax, many historians agree the first horror film in production is “Le Manoir du Diable,” which translates to “The House of the Devil.” Georges Melies of France made this film in 1896. It runs approximately three minutes and is black and white and completely silent. By today’s standards, the movie’s inclusion of ghosts, devils and witches seems tame, but Georges Melies is heralded as a visionary for making the extraordinary leap into horror movies.
People have long clamored for entertainment from the macabre. In the early 19th century, public executions were considered spectacles. A hanging could draw tens of thousands of viewers, and the social atmosphere was further enhanced by the sale of souvenirs and alcohol.
Horror from a Distance
Today, the horror film industry provides the same sort of enjoyment without the inhumane conditions. This genre seems to have found a niche in not only showing the macabre, but also in depicting true events of hauntings and possessions. The gore of violent murders and the horror of creatures that won’t die is entertaining; true stories brought to life on the big screen inspire a tickling sense of fear.
Fear is a curious phenomenon in that it produces a delicious but conflicting combination of vulnerability and excitement. Just as walking through a haunted house at Halloween is thrilling, so too is watching a horror film. But movies inspired by true stories go one step further and force you to ponder this question: If it happened to one person or one family, what’s to say it can’t happen to anyone?
However, the real draw might be in witnessing the age-old battle between good and evil. It’s easy, in everyday life, to forget about the existence of Heaven and Hell. Paying bills, plowing through work, and caring for children usually take precedence over practicing God’s word. Horror movies remind us that entities both holy and unholy are also part of life. Just because we don’t always see these entities doesn’t mean they aren’t there. We must remember that being human and participating in human activities aren’t the only facets of this world.
Horror movies intelligently written – not the slasher kind with Freddie Krueger and Jason – also show us how quickly life can change. A family that moves into a beautiful new home switches instantly from ordinary happiness to suffocating terror when they find that home is haunted. A 19-year-old girl is yanked from everyday college experiences to losing her soul when she is possessed. These situations are so scary they sound almost humorous, but they are proof that evil lurks. Even if for the duration of the movie, that proof brings us sharply back to reality and invites us to consider what we would do in these situations if they happened to us.
Horror movies might be less about entertainment and more about showing us what we already know: Nothing should be taken for granted. The life you have today may not be the life you have tomorrow, so enjoy it for all it is worth. Equally appealing in these films is watching good prevail. When that doesn’t happen, such as when a person who is possessed does not survive an exorcism, we are reminded that life is not guaranteed and the world is not perfect. Evil wouldn’t exist at all if either were true, and the horror genre would be just as commonplace as that of comedy or drama.