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Healthy Horror

ART TIMES April 2007

I’VE JUST READ that a professor of psychiatry at Harvard’s School of Medicine has come out in support of a recent spate of horror films — “Saw” and “Hostel” are good examples though I guess most films of this genre would fit the professor’s argument. There have always been horror films. “The Cabinet of Caligari”, “The Golem”, and “Nosferatu” scared the pants off audiences in the early ‘20s. The first “Dracula” with Bela Lugosi had me hiding under the theater seat when I was a kid. The professor, however, is particularly interested in those films of the past few years that form a sub-genre popularly known as “gorno” — an illuminating union of gore and pornography, you see.
Buckets of gore are pretty much a staple of horror films; throwing in a liberal dose of pornography apparently raises the artistic — and according to the professor — therapeutic benefits. The professor is a Freudian by trade, a Jungian when it comes to films and you know what that can be like. He does have a son who is prominent among the young bunch of gorno film directors so possibly the professor has a stake in seeing the boys off to a good start. If he has paid his son’s way through a film school, I figure he’d like to see some return on a hefty investment. Having a son of my own in a similar program, I know what it’s like and don’t blame him one bit. Curiously, these filmmakers dislike the label ‘gorno’ yet they don’t seem to object to the collective term for them used by critics — ‘The Splat Pack.’
Now the professor thinks that these films give us an outlet for some downright questionable ideas lurking shamefacedly there in our unconscious minds. You know, the kinds of things you wouldn’t want your mother to stumble over when tidying up your room — and you most likely don’t want to know yourself. Once they’re projected in the screen though, boy, do you feel a whole lot better even if you’re not sure why — maybe it was the popcorn or that Snickers Bar. I’m not sure how this is supposed to work — the porno part sounds OK. I suppose if the old “Dracula” had a few spicy scenes — the vampire ladies chasing Renfield didn’t really cut it — I wouldn’t have spent so much time under the seat. The professor’s notion is that gorno films safely actualize to beat the band all that grubby material that infests our dreams and has nothing to do with Snickers Bars. He has a point there, all right. I’ve given this some thought and it occurs to me that a very basic issue that got tucked away in our unconscious is fear of camping out with teenagers.
This is an unusually common plot in horror films beginning at least with Wes Craven’s “The Hills Have Eyes”, right through the “Friday the 13th” series and up to “Cabin Fever.” It must be, I figure, that our ancestors long ago found that teenagers out in the open were something to steer clear of and rather than worrying about it all the time decided to bury the matter in the Id. And if you want to consider cannibalism, another horror film favorite since “Night of the Living Dead” and ever after, then we might guess that some of those ancestors simply had enough of teenagers and ate them.
There are a few porno situations that really don’t actualize anything for me. I can’t recall ever having been trapped in a bathroom with a maniac and chainsaw, but I’ll ask around my relatives. There are one of two that could fit the bill — well, the maniac with the chainsaw, at any rate. Burning off faces with a blowtorch doesn’t ring a bell either. The professor is more up to date on these things than I am. I suppose there are younger generations who have been adding to humanity’s hidden store of unspeakable acts so I would have missed out on those. To tell the truth, I don’t believe the Splat Pack would want to actualize any of my dreams unless they could make something of a man standing on the downtown side platform of the Hoyt-Schermerhorn station when what he wanted was the uptown side at Borough Hall. Being lost in Brooklyn can be pretty terrifying, you must admit. I have another in which Paulette Goddard is singing the ‘Caisson Song’ but I suppose that would only be good for the porno part.
Fully aware of the psychic service their art performs for filmgoers, gorno film directors take considerable pride in their work. As quoted in Variety by one of the Splat Pack, “When you watch people scream and almost vomit, it’s all worth it.”

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