I’ve always hated horror films. And by ‘hated’ I really mean I have a legitimate fear of them. It’s that awful gut-wrenching feeling in your stomach that makes you want to cry and throw up at the same time. The horrible feeling that despite the fact you know it’s not real, you’re scared and nervous and you can’t shake the feeling.
Everyone reacts physically and mentally different to films, especially when it comes to body genres (horror, pornography and melodrama). I don’t know if anyone else ever feels or felt the same way I do, but horror films really get to me. I was always a total pansy as a child and every time my mother said ‘bedtime!’ I would get that slightly nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach. Bed meant darkness, and sleep meant nightmares. This feeling stayed with me even when I got older, but it was limited to a particular medium – horror films. I never watched many as a teen, mainly because the first few I watched gave me that sick feeling and caused me to have nightmares for literal months. Afterwards, just thinking about horror films in general was enough to give me that sick feeling, and only after studying films at university has it started to lessen a little.
The point of this background info is that it comes down to how we mentally place ourselves inside a film (usually by feeling empathy for a character), therefore react a certain way in response to what we see happening. It is all relevant to this week’s topic of skin and touch in cinema. However, this isn’t even at the point where I can discuss how horror forces you to cognitively and physiologically respond to fiction as if we can feel it ourself. I’m physically reacting before I even watch the film. This is how deeply body genres can affect people – and as much as it’s obviously not fun for me, I do find it super interesting and truly impressive that cinema can have such an impact.
I’m going to use a very recent example to further discuss this. I’ve sworn off horror movies for life (clearly) so it’s not about a horror film, but rather a 1978 children’s film called Watership Down (based on the well-known book). A quick disclaimer: I don’t believe the film was created purely for children, as the book was actually made for an adult audience, however being animated, a lot of people mistook it for a children’s film and still refer to it as so, therefore that’s the label I’m sticking with.
I saw a few tumblr posts about the film airing on Easter Sunday and parents complaining so I decided to watch it for myself a few days ago. It follows the story of a group of rabbits that flee their home in hope to find a safer place to live – however it is not all fun and adventure. The whole film has this overlying feel of dread and doom, you constantly feel like something bad is going to happen, then suddenly there’s all this violence and gore. Bunnies – a seemingly happy and harmless species – are turning on each other and fighting to the death. You get a few happy, calm moments during the film but it always goes right back to being a straight-up thriller (except the rush of adrenaline you usually get from a thriller film is replaced with bewildered thoughts of ‘man, this is messed up’). At all times someone is being chased, someone is going to die or someone has a premonition that something evil is coming. Now it may seem ridiculous that I am talking about an animated ‘children’s film’ here, but this is honestly how I felt whilst watching it. As a 20-year old, I found the movie horribly eerie and disconcerting. The creepy, dark, old animation style mixed with the dramatic orchestrated music are definitely a big part of the whole experience and part of the reason I find this film so uncomfortable to watch. It obviously wasn’t at the level of horror-movie-sickness, however this is where the plot thickens.
My grandmother used to record television shows on video tape for me and my brother, and I have this distinct memory of one show in particular I was terrified of and refused to watch each time it came up. It had rabbits and other animals in it. That’s all I could remember. A quarter of the way into watching Watership Down, something felt so familiar to me, but I knew I had never seen the film so I did some research. Lo and behold, there was a TV-series based on the same book, made 20 years after the film – which was the same show I was terrified of as a child. The TV show was no where near as dark and gruesome as the film, however if it was based on the same book, it’s no wonder I was afraid of it. It most likely contained that same sense of dread and doom that the film contained. Thrillers may not be explicitly discussed as a ‘body genre’ like horror or melodrama, but I believe in some ways it definitely is. Not only do they keep you on the edge of your seat, but they can cause a panic in your stomach, a nervousness that doesn’t go away until the problem is solved or the time is up. Watership Down may be tame, but for a child (or an adult who is a total wuss – aka, myself) it can elicit those physical reactions.
Despite that I find Watership Down interesting to discuss, I wouldn’t actually recommend people watch the film, as it’s not particularly interesting, the voice acting is oddly quiet and there is hardly any exposition at the start to give you a sense of the characters and setting (it begins with a fable, then is straight in with a premonition of death). Above is an example of the film’s darker moments. All I have left to say is that I am extremely happy I didn’t watch the film as a child, because if the much tamer television show affected me like it did, I don’t know how I’d have survived the film.