I’m not usually drawn to the gross-out, macabre elements of Halloween and goth culture (though I wear plenty of black and will dance to The Cure any day of the week). I have been seeing and writing about creepy body horror films during the first half of October (Eraserhead, The Elephant Man, The Fly). Horror films always seemed less serious, more predictable, the craft of their filmmaking less studied than the “serious” classics. Granted, the above trio are from established auteurs in a canon separate from pop slash flicks like Friday the Thirteenth or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but I’m wondering if there is something about 2020’s many-layered apocalypse that makes me more open to horror?
In each of the three films I mention, the monster is human, is ourselves. In The Fly, hubris and incomplete scientific knowledge is the downfall of Jeff Goldblum’s character. In The Elephant Man, body dysmorphia is a rare and uncomfortable fact of our fragile biology, frightening to civilized “normal” people. In Eraserhead, the world seems to be manifested by the subconscious; a mundane and bleak world coexists with biology gone wrong, out of control.
The pandemic is an invisible enemy. It is in the air. It turned ordinary social happenings and communal experiences like dance parties, concerts, and crowded movie theaters into dangers. So much simpler to look at a monster, know it is a monster, and run away, defend yourself, or kill it with a flamethrower or silver cross. Our other relentless crises: racism and authoritarianism are also impossible to get a handle on in quite the same way as a zombie attack.