You thought horror films were all about cheap thrills, but they'd be nothing without sex, politics and forbidden desires. From Dracula to Scream 3, something more sinister is going bump in the night.
Words: Steve Cramer
'NOBODY EVER LOST MONEY BY GIVING people a good trip to hell,” Clive Barker once said. Taking him on his word. Edinburgh's Filmhouse is luring unsuspecting innocents into its horror weekend. Dead By Dawn. Showing eighteen films, largely to audiences of that age or greater, it mixes premieres with
classics, and providing a three-day history of
this oldest of ﬁlm genres.
And an intriguing history it is. liar from being simply blood. fangs and bumps in the night, this most restrictive of genres shows us life in social, sexual and political microcosm. Whenever Western culture has changed its course, these films have mirrored its upheavals and obsessions.
The haunted house movie. for example. is a metaphor for our guilty memories: the past that keeps returning to the old dark house is
an analogy for history itself. So many of
these films are about uncovering secret histories of guilt, often sexual in nature. Just as the high watermark of the ghost story was reached in MR. James‘s late-Victorian narratives, when sexual repression was being identiﬁed by Freud as the source of psychic disturbance, so early (30s films such as The Haunting and The Innneents made uncertain forays into the sexual revolution. They implied that their female protagonists were haunted, not by undead spirits, but by their unreleased sexual hang-ups. Forget the supernatural, little happens in these films that can’t be accounted for by the natural; it‘s just that it’s been repressed. The ghosts
20 THE LIST 30 Mar—13 Apr 2000
aren't out there. folks. they‘re in ours heads. part of our buried pleasure principle.
That‘s why the recent remake of 'I‘he Haunting didn't work. Aside from its over— reliance on special effects. the film located an all—too-real ghost whose particular sexual desire — paedophilia ~~ is not something that many of us empathise with. With no vicarious desire to repress. we find little pleasure in the destruction of the evil spirit.
By the 70s. most of us began to feel less
FiVe Great Horror~Fi|ms About Sex
1. DON'T LOOK NOW: Nicolas Roeg's film boasts the most erotic sequence in the movies, since the encounter between the couple at the centre (Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland) is not glamorised, but realistic, showing affection and sensitivity as part of sexuality. ‘ 2. FRANKENSTEIN: Gay director James Whale's 1931 classic, which shows the isolation of a creature made monstrous by society's perception of-him.
3. ThE INNOCENTS: A Victorian governess experiences delusions of supernatural experience brought on by sexual repression.
4. THE HAUNTING: More sexual repression in the 1961 version, this time including lesbianism, as a woman visits a haunted house with a group of parapsychologists and comes face to face with her own frustrations.
5. DRACULA: Tod Browning’s 1931 film sets the agenda for a succession of sexy vampires to follow.
hung-up about our sexuality. so the haunted house film took us on other guilt trips. ’l'he Shining. for example. made us feel bad about our family relationships and our repressed desire. as Stephen King put it. to ‘nail the children to the wall‘. King complained bitterly that Stanley Kubrick had turned his ghost story into ‘a domestic tragedy‘. but that‘s precisely what it is. not a ghost narrative but. as Kubrick put it. ‘the story of one man going mad with his family‘. Once again. little happens in the film that can‘t be explained by hallucinations brought on. in
the case of Jack Nicholson's protagonist. by
his being in the lumber business (lumbered with a wife and kid) and therefore having to work to sustain his family. All work and no play makes Jack a rather violent boy.
Such hostility to the young is a common thread throughout the post-war history of the genre. [n the latter 50s this was manifested in the likes of] Was A 'Ieenuge Werewolf. where the dark desire of its star Michael Landon (at this point in his career as a kind of sub—James Dean figure) is often interpreted by critics to be of the homosexual kind. The only form of purification for this is death. so the little fairy on the prairie is destroyed. and after death returns to his ‘natural‘ state; a rebel vv ithout his paws. Indeed. the Werewolf and the Frankenstein figure are often seen as gay guilt metaphors. The former sees himself as a victim with an illness to be cured. the latter is shunned by his community and branded 'unnatural'.