Eric G. Wilson, author of Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck, explains:
February is one of my favorite months of the year, a time to appreciate romance with all manner of crimson-colored trappings—hearts and roses, of course, but also, for those most drunk on love, blood. What’s a Valentine’s Day, after all, without an affectionate recollection of one of the greatest cult horror films of all time, My Bloody Valentine? Show your sweetheart your true devotion by screening this 1981 slasher—Quentin Tarantino’s favorite in the genre, by the way. Nothing says “I love you” like a man dressed as a miner sending people to hell with a pick-axe.
Below, I try to understand why such gory films remain so popular in our culture and wonder if watching horror flicks—the good (Rosemary’s Baby, for instance), the bad (My Bloody Valentine, alas), and the ugly (savage fare like Hostel)—might actually be good for us.
Many challenge the catharsis theory, and not for the same reason Pauline Kael does (it’s confusion, not purgation, that draws us to horror). A popular argument against the idea goes like this: Watching violence doesn’t cleanse us of destructive impulses at all, but actually exacerbates them. Certain reformers, usually right-leaning espousers of “family values,” are of course in love with this notion, since it justifies their projects to clean up our smut-filled and violence-ridden society (going to hell in a handbasket) through censorship laws. Some studies have shown that violence in media does indeed cause aggression in “real life.” But the evidence, as we saw in the earlier discussion of Gerard Jones, is far from conclusive. Meanwhile, regardless of scientific data, many humanists and artists continue to take Aristotle seriously, maintaining that the catharsis theory convincingly explains how we experience violent media and why macabre spectacles are valuable.
I put myself in this last category, and not because I’m a fan of Aristotle (really more of a Platonist), and not because I want to close ranks with my fellow humanists (English professors are some of the most tedious people on earth), and not because I’ve never really met a social scientist that I liked (I’m sure the problem’s with me), and not because (am I lying to myself?) I need to ennoble what I like to do anyway: watch horror films.
Hint: the key components of fictional narrative play a role. Read the full article in Work in Progress.