Sensor Scan: Hellraiser and Hellraiser III

The psychology behind horror movies interests me. I know there have been studies done that show a link between fear and endorphin release, and that a lot of their popularity has been attributed to the rush your brain gets when the pleasure and fear senses get crossed. But do we actually watch horror movies to get scared? There’s a whole massively popular genre of campy, no-budget horror movies that no one could possibly be remotely frightened of, yet is beloved precisely because of how cheap, fake and ridiculous it is. Then there are people who just really like seeing blood and guts splattered all over the screen: They’re not getting anything deep or meaningful out of the experience, they just like the lurid spectacle.

I know for me, while horror is not a particular favourite genre of mine, the bits of it I partake in I enjoy because of the way they build atmosphere. That’s sort of been a defining theme in all of my various media interests: I like things that can build a mood and a feeling. A lot of the reason I’m so partial to the German Expressionist movement and the early Universal Horror movies is because of the way those films use light, colour and design to craft a surreal mindscape the convey certain themes and emotions. I mean, that’s no real surprise at this point and by now I really need to come up with some new words to describe what I like to see in media.

But I also like horror movies that use their horror trappings to explore something that’s horrific or somber in real life, like how Alien made generations of men uncomfortable with themselves by turning rape culture and patriarchy into something repulsive and monstrous. The original Godzilla should really be considered a horror film, and there the horror comes from not just the obvious allegory (atomic weapons, natch), but in that classic Japanese trope of modernity’s shortsighted disconnect from the natural universe. But as much as we’re supposed to be horrified at the destruction of Tokyo, we also sympathize with Godzilla herself, and take pity on the tragic plight she endures. As much as we’re aghast at the destruction left in her wake, we want Godzilla to win.

Which, weirdly, leads into the Hellraiser series. An adaptation of Clive Barker’s novel The Hellbound Heart helmed by the author himself, the first Hellraiser film is an examination of the role pain and violence play in the human psyche as conveyed through a horror movie. It concerns a magical puzzle box that, when solved, opens a portal to the realm of the Cenobites, creatures of a monstrous visage who practice a form of ritualistic sadomasochism and self-mutilation in an effort to explore and understand carnal experience, them seeing no distinction between pleasure and pain. It’s definitely an intriguing concept, especially for a horror film in 1987. With a set-up like that, there’s a lot of potential for metacommentary on the whole genre, filtered through an examination of real-world S&M lifestyle.…

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