The middle-class is the space in which horror consciously chooses to stalk in. Transgression in horror is, almost always, class-directed. I am talking in this instance about films but it can be extended (I presume) to other genres as well. Horror shares a lot of placental connection with metal music. This is not hard to see nor hear. Indeed many bands in the past arrived at a particular mix of both: bands like Cradle of Filth, Children of Bodom, Slipknot, Rob Zombie come to mind. Both horror and metal still force people out of their comfort zones, they still offer experimental and experiential space for the enthused newbie and seasoned aficionado alike. Both might be read as rejections of middle class moralities. Both are, primarily, about transgression against the middle class and middle class values. Both ‘rebel’ and in a way both add unconventional tensions against pervading power structures in society. The distortion of metal music is actually a rebellion against ‘pleasant’ musical taste. It must be this that many (Shillong) metal bands seek to articulate in their music as well. I do not know if these tensions challenge power though.
Look at the Wes Craven films ‘Last House on the Left’, ‘The Hills Have Eyes’. Both films are about the disruption of the commonplace and ‘typically’ (American, of course) middle class – a camping trip, going to a concert – and both explore the ensuing horror that such a disruption brings. The homes that are destroyed could very well be ours and the violated people are surrogates suffering in our place. Nor is this just an American phenomenon. A while back I watched the Dutch film ‘Borgman’ and I immediately thought of the quiet, casually violent horrorof Haneke’s ‘Funny Games’. Both films are not classically what you might call ‘horror’, but both deal with the disturbance of a middle class setting, the breaking of bourgeois ‘peace’ – the favourite material of the horrorgenre.
Bourgeois homes, in fact houses, feature prominently in horror films: everything from oldies like ‘People Under The Stairs’ to newer films like ‘Babadook’. The ‘homes’ that these houses could have protected and nurtured within their four walls are warped instead into something insidious and shelter terrible things away from the sight of the unsuspecting neighbours and passer-bys. This secrecy, I think, is actually upheld by the middle class ‘divine right’ to “private property”, the same privacy which we enjoy so much turns on us and ultimately destroys our lives. Nor is this true only in the movies either, after all would the Nithari (Noida) murders have happened without a walled, private and ‘secure’ compound? And what about the murder of Aarushi Talwar?
Most horror films occur in ‘private’, they almost always happen in a place which is removed from the public eye. The ‘evil’ woods or desolate deserts act almost like a stand-in for the middle-class house; no one, from the outside, ever sees what happens in them. The film ‘It Follows’ does a radical take away from this trope by moving the ‘private/invisible horror’ away from any fixed geographical location; the ‘home’ becomes ‘mobile’, horror follows us. As Satan says in Paradise Lost : “which way I fly is hell, myself am hell”.
Because the common brand of ‘horror’ is ‘private’ and the suffering ‘personal’, I sometimes don’t know how to feel about ‘public horror’. Very different emotions come to the fore when I watch the massacre of scores of people like in Spielberg’s ‘War of the Worlds’ or when I read Ito’s ‘Gyo’. There is definitely horror in such scenes/works as well but often they make us move away from mere self-preservation to collective survival, escape from doom flows on to the possibility of a new genesis: that the culture, the species must endure. In that sense, such genocide films seem to me, more hopeful than ‘private’ horror. They make us forget that the individuals whose lives have been ruined, now have the truly arduous task of moving past the events which have traumatized their once placid existence. In the aftermath of such cataclysms, after their faiths have been terribly shattered where and to whom do they turn to? Maybe this is what people allude to when they say that “misery loves company” and maybe that ‘company’ is not such a bad thing. It could actually be therapeutic in such cases.
Even though, as I mentioned earlier, horror films are directed towards and meant for the middle class, in real life the most horrible and brutal things are most often suffered by the poor and struggling. The cases of ‘higher-ups’ who abuse their office to molest/rape children are still as frequent today as during the time of Gilles De Rais. In India, numerous horrific crimes are perpetrated daily against the poor whether we turn to cases like the Nithari and Stoneman murders or even when we look closer to home as well. This is where ‘horror as art’ breaks down.
N.B. What is truly horrifying about ‘revenge’ films like ‘Last House on the Left’, ‘I Spit on your Grave’ is how closely they echo real-life calls for castration, genital mutilation and/or death sentences on rapists. They feed a lynch-mob mentality which assumes that such measures would thwart these violent crimes but in reality they are nothing more than blood-lusts.