Thursday, October 01, 2009

SGM Month of Halloween 2009: Worst Fears

Yep, Halloween is back, baby! It’s time again for our annual, oft-maligned tribute to the month that spawns images of creatures and ghouls; of blasphemy and terror; and of course, fear.

This year, it’s a new direction we try, in our quest to keep things fresh on the S to the G-isM. As I sat down to compile this year’s list of horror film candidates, the films that I would be subjecting myself to during the Month of Halloween marathon that I so gladly embrace & document as I go, I started thinking about the basic concepts of fear. Fear, arguably, has its most basic origins in the dark; the shadows and the unknown that they could be hiding. In fact, horror writers point to the strength of the early days of horror cinema, the way that the black and white film would bleed into the dark, shadowy confines of the theater, making patrons feel as if monsters could be lurking right beside them.

Fears, left unchecked, become phobias. Little childhood traumas – a snake racing over one’s foot, or a spider creeping ever closer to the face of a sleeping, defenseless child, or a cascade of bats flying into the face of a hiker unlucky enough to disturb their sleeping grounds – later manifest into full-blown panic attacks when even the simplest of comments are made about the subject of the fear in the presence of the scared. My grandmother, who dealt with a phobia of snakes, would balk and shy away from any discussion of tall grass in the back yard, for the grass could house snakes that had to be somewhat related to one that tormented her at one significant episode in her life.

Ah, phobias. Beautiful in their variety and multitude. Jonathan Crane, the fictional character of Batman comics, established his affinity for invoking fear in the populace, under the guise of the Scarecrow. He knew the score. Control a person’s fear, you control the person. Usually, the treatment for phobias is accomplished by a systematic desensitization of the phobic response to the stimulus. Show an ailurophobic person, say, a picture of a cat, and get them to rate their anxiety response. Follow this up with a story of a cat, and get the client to rate their anxiety response. Eventually, you put the person in the same room with a cat at, say, ten yards away, then five yards, then ten feet; at each step, the person has total control to stop the exposure exercise, as the anxiety rises to a level too intense to manage. Ultimately, though, the goal is to get the client as close to the cat – the fear stimulus – with as little anxiety as possible.

But we don’t care about treatment right now, do we? Halloween is, nor has it ever been, about preventing fear, but rather promoting it, exposing it ... hell, reveling in it. With each movie that made the list this year, I reviewed an online resource, the Phobia List, and categorized each film under a phobia that could be triggered, exacerbated by scenes from the movie. Along the way, I also throw in a few recommendations for further watching, just some ideas to further expand on the exposure to the phobia in question. As in times past, there are some true film gems, some stank ass clunkers, and classics beyond reproach. No matter the pedigree of the film, however, they all share one thing in common: Something in each one is almost guaranteed to scare the shit out of someone.

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