Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Review Part One : The Horror Genre

Horror is often described as a genre that transforms in order to embody changing cultural anxieties and nightmares, and what is suggested is often more frightening than what is revealed.

Dating back to the German expressionist films of the 1920’s, influenced by the English Gothic novel, were among the first examples of this genre.

Creatures like Vampires, Werewolves and Zombies are the three most common examples of interpreting the Horror genre best in the minds of the general public.

There’s something relatable in everybody of an interest of some sort to gothic horror or monsters because when viewing a film or television programme it creates suspense and thrill, which consequently conflicts with the chemical activity of the brain. “Fear is the unpleasant feeling that we get when we are aware of danger or if we are anticipating danger. And what’s actually happening is the brain is releasing chemicals through the body; giving us that human built in – flight or fright response.” – Lewis (2009) and furthermore Film and or TV provides a very strongly visual medium because what is being viewed produces pictures in the mind of the viewer which will stay for a very long time.

It is the intention of the filmmakers to produce scary things, but not just for the imagination, but also to pick up on fears that are in the real world ‘The history of the horror film is essentially a history of anxiety in the twentieth century’ – Wells (2000: 3) It is key to identifying the different diversities of the horror narratives in how they reflect the cultural moment. An example of this is the joke about peeping through the crack of the door or over the top of the sofa or through the crack of your fingers. That’s all to do with being frightened but enjoying being frightened. We fear real invasion of our personal space and attacks by hostile forces. The films, because they are entertainment, take the real fear out of these threats.

Having identified what fear is, how it manifests itself and how to hide from it, the ways that films and or television programmes trigger this needs to be looked at. To do this it would be useful to anaylise scary moments in a Film or TV programme.

“The Walking Dead”, for example, is a horror drama television series developed by Frank Darabont and based off a comic book series of the same name by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard. 

Set in a post apocalyptic world, the main character “Rick Grimes” wakes up from a coma to find a desecrated world dominated by flesh eating zombies or as they’re referred to in the series as ‘walkers’. Rick sets out to find his lost family and on his journey he meets other survivors along the way.

The bleak, grey landscape reflects a dying world, which is a picture everyone fears. The huge change between two worlds experienced by Rick is very shocking and he is quite distraught by it.

In addition to the setting it involves the survivors going to extreme and thrilling lengths to see through the apocalypse and stay alive for as long as possible. It is noticeable to reference small groups of people and large groups of Zombies showing the stakes to be very high knowing that there are more Zombies than there are surviving humans. As well as that it is easy to picture a small group of people in a secluded place, which they cannot get away from. They are trapped and coming at them from all directions are a vast number of Zombies. This reflects the fear of personal space being invaded. This theme continues in ‘The Walking Dead: Episode 2 – Guts’ when Rick and other humans are trapped in a shopping centre.

In acts of panic and desperation people are fleeing across the country to various refugee camps. This reflects the desperation and degradation people in the real world experience as migrants. Everyone can recognize the desperate position that the main characters ‘the survivors’ are in.

What is effective about Zombies is that there is a simplistic yet horrific point of identification that can be portrayed. These are people who used to be like us, ordinary members of the society who have died and have been resurrected with only one thing on their mind: to eat the flesh of the living. They are brain-dead and lifeless in movement as well as appearance. “Re-animated corpses with an unstoppable craving for human flesh, especially brains have invaded pop culture like never before. For staggering, slow-moving monsters, zombies have become quite a force in the entertainment industry over the past decade.– Radford (2012) this in turn reverts to the description of Zombies being “Real flesh and blood creations that shamble through the shadows and our nightmares”. – Swancer (2014) symbolically Zombies link to everyone’s basic fear, which is death.

What makes it quite unnerving for an audience is Zombies are also linked to illness, infection and plague and like plague and infection they spread rapidly. So in ‘The Walking Dead’ in a cliffhanger to the first episode ‘Days gone by’, Rick gets attacked by a vast number of walkers and tension rises in a moment of panic, desperation and thrill. It is a pivotal turning point in the timing where these moments of panic and desperation happen because it is a character in peril and the Zombies themselves look like an overwhelming threat. “For a split second, you were so afraid that you reacted as if your life were in danger, your body initiating the fight-or-flight response that is critical to any animal's survival. But really, there was no danger at all.” – Layton.

In the real world, this would not actually happen but it is the possibility of the ‘what if’ scenario which is very believable while the viewer is watching. The possibility of being overrun suddenly and unexpectedly is a primal fear and adds to the drama of making it more real. This also applies to “Dead Set”. In Charlie Brooker’s “Dead Set” (2004) the setting is the modern day and uses the Big Brother style images of ‘somebody’s watching you’ using a well known reality TV show as the background, which makes it all the more realistic for people to believe in.

At one point in the story everything is natural and the next minute a mass of zombies attack from nowhere during an eviction from a Big Brother House and the Zombies themselves appose a composing threat. “Zombies are the misanthrope's monster of choice. They represent fear and disgust of our fellow man. The anonymous animal masses. The dumb, shuffling crowd. Them - the public. They're awesomely stupid. They have an IQ of one. Proper zombies can't operate a door handle or climb a ladder. Toss one a Rubik's Cube and it'll bounce off his thick, moaning head. All they do is walk around aimlessly, pausing occasionally to eat survivors.” – Brooker (2008)

“Dead set” reflects a well-known reality or TV reality show that nearly everyone watches. It links its horror very directly to real things. It’s about the dead returning to life and attacking the living. Curiously there a few people left in Britain who aren’t worried about any of this that is because they are the remaining contestants in Big Brother.

Featuring cameos from ‘Davina McCall’ and several former housemates “Dead Set” is described to be a cruel and twisted take on one of TV’s biggest reality shows. Having cameos from actual celebrities star in a horror drama specifically one like “Dead Set” makes it all the more believable to relate to the everyday and makes the ‘what if’ suggestion all the more influential on the viewer and causes great dramatic effect. 

As Chris Moran of The Guardian describes it to be “A perfect example of the benefits of aiming low. A lot of the mechanics of the plot are familiar from its many predecessors, but the new context and the care lavished on it holds the attention. A lot of the weight falls on Jaime Winstone's shoulders, and she pulls it off with aplomb, bringing just the right blend of vulnerability and strength.” – Moran (2008) this shows that a viewer who has watched the show has gained an atmospheric understanding of the authenticity of what is being presented in front of him.

The Main character Kelly, who is a production runner working on the fictional series of Big Brother, finds herself trying to fend off the walking dead alongside her producer boss Patrick, boyfriend Riq and the remaining Big Brother housemates. The drama in Dead Set very quickly escalates and spirals out of control and the interchange of events is quite traumatic when the Zombie threat happens. What the viewer believes to be the set up of a well known real reality TV show to change into this weird post apocalyptic world within a matter of minutes is really daunting and gripping and what it eventually becomes is a Do or Die situation where it is kill or be killed.

The Zombie threat that Brooker presents in “Dead Set” is very similar in comparison to the way the Zombie threat is presented in “The Walking Dead”. The Zombies are covered in blood, their eyes are dead shot and they are quite slow and ridged in movement and in vast quantities of numbers the threat becomes all the more menacing for the survivors. It is highlighted in “Dead Set” from the main character Kelly that to kill a Zombie you must remove the head or destroy the brain, which she shows by beating a Zombie to death.

And comparing it to the Zombie menace in “The Walking Dead” like the walkers the Zombies in “Dead Set” are attracted by high frequency sounds such as: loud banging or a car alarm for instance.

If you look at the main characters of Rick and Kelly and how they react to the crisis which is presented in front of them. Rick is a Police Officer and therefore a member of the authorities, so it is natural for the viewer to have confidence in him because he is the man who will pull through and find out all the solutions to the multiple problems, which are faced. Where as Kelly is in no position of authority both in rank and her job and when the viewer watches the way she reacts to the apocalyptic crisis you gain an understanding that she is very much as clueless as the viewer is and it is Brooker’s writing that gives the viewer the interest in investing in this character into finding out how she deals with the situation at hand. She is an opposite to Rick as she is portrayed as being an ordinary, normal girl who has her life changed by catastrophic events and lashes out in moments of dire peril as part of a do or die desperation to stay alive, having said that Kelly is like in Rick in some ways because she is intuitive to the circumstances and her surroundings, she is a tactical thinker and she is good at making decisions where other supporting characters around her in the Big Brother house are clueless.

Looking back in relation to the real world and how it is in “Dead Set” It is portrayed to be Brooker’s way of pointing a finger at society and the way of life and showing off to an audience ‘this is the world and look how awful it is now and how is it any different in comparison to an apocalyptic world with a bleak landscape and polluted air and heavily populated by flesh eating monsters who want to eat you’ and using a setting like ‘Big Brother’ for instance shows of the depravity of the world we live in as it is a show which is a common form of bear bating for only the purposes of entertainment and we take pleasure out of watching shows like that for our own personal pleasure.

As Brooker describes when coming up with the ideas for ‘Dead Set’ “I was watching Big Brother when another thought struck me. All zombie movies eventually boil down to a siege situation. What better place to hide than a fortified house thronged with cameras? Every person in the country must've fantasized at some point about what would happen if some terrible apocalypse occurred during a run of Big Brother, leaving the contestants oblivious. So that would be the starting point.”– Brooker (2008) it plays on the viewers mind and the creative thinking but also having a gripping motive at the heart of it, which is the Zombie threat.

From a viewer’s response Simon Pegg says, “Despite my purist griping, I liked Dead Set a lot. It had solid performances, imaginative direction, good gore and the kind of inventive writing and verbal playfulness we've come to expect from the always-brilliant Brooker. As a satire, it took pleasing chunks out of media bumptiousness and, more significantly, the aggressive collectivism demonstrated by the lost souls who waste their Friday nights standing outside the Big Brother house, baying for the blood of those inside. Like Romero, Brooker simply nudges the metaphor to its literal conclusion, and spatters his point across our screens in blood and brains and bits of skull. If he had only eschewed the zeitgeist and embraced the docile, creeping weirdness that has served to embed the zombie so deeply in our grey matter, Dead Set might have been my favourite piece of television ever. As it was, I had to settle for it merely being bloody good.” – Pegg (2008) from a viewer’s point of view it shows how Brooker can represent his ideas on the world and society we live in and turn it on its side through the power of suggestion and creative thinking and create a drama that influences the right reactions so well.

In conclusion to defining horror and the media influences on how this popular genre engages its popularity on an audience and embodies changing cultural anxieties it is a matter of an apposing threat Zombies for example attacking the everyday society and people looking scared it creates a message to the viewer that ‘these are monsters, they are a threat, they are meant to be scary’ and the viewers gains an understanding from this and a connection is made triggering off a chain reaction in the brain that starts with a stressful stimulus and ends with the release of chemicals that cause a racing heart, fast breathing and energized muscles.

This chain reaction is triggered off by a sequence of scary moments or a scary moment in a horror film or TV programme, which creates an image of a monster that is implanted into the mind of the viewer and the viewer believes that it is real because their minds are telling them to believe it. But because its fiction it is clearly demonstrated in an obvious way of relating to real fear in a fictional reality.

NEXT WEEK:  PART TWO - What is Genre?

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