The Poseur’s Guide to Horror Films, Part One

The poseur comes to the world of horror films with a recognition that they are one of the most time-tested genres in film history. What the poseur needs to understand is just how far back in time the horror film genre really goes. Once you latch onto the primal importance of horror and how it relates to psychological development, your job becoming a poseur will become all the easier.

The Devil’s Castle
The horror film poseur can grasp the respect of any audience by informing them that the prototype of the horror flick traces back to 1896; the very infancy of the medium. Toss around the name Georges Melies like you know what you’re talking about because Melies is the single most important name in early movie history. Thomas Edison may get the press, but he neither invented the movie camera nor perfected it. The poseur who wishes to fit into the horror film category at a convention had best understand that the French filmmaker Georges Melies–the guy responsible for that trip to the moon silent short parodied in the Smashing Pumpkins video–was was the very first horror film auteur. The English title of that very first horror movie is roughly translated as “The Devil’s Castle.”

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
A good poseur in the film biz always benefits from a knowledge of the Academy Awards. The first actor to win an Oscar for a part in a horror movie was Fredric March. The horror movie in question was “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” The poseur benefits from two particular aspects of trivial knowledge regarding this point: 1) the transformation scene that takes March from handsome leading man to butt monkey ugly was done without cuts or special effects and instead relied on changes in lighting and the application of makeup, and 2) March had to share his Best Oscar victory with Wallace Beery for “The Champ” despite having won gotten one more vote than his competitor.

What is key to an understanding of the power of the horror movie for the poseur as well as the expert is the recognition that all great horror is about unleashed repression. What is not acceptable to society is repressed. What is repressed must always attempt to rise to the surface. When what is repressed rises to the surface it must then be either assimilated or annihilated. Translate this into the world of horror movies through metaphor. The vampire is a metaphor for repressed sexuality and the werewolf is a metaphor for repressed primal behavior unencumbered by cultivation of society. Any creature that creates horror must at its core be a symbolic representation of something so horrific to society that the only way that society can function is if it is repressed. The success of the horror film is dependent on the audience being interested in facing its fear of the unleashing of the repressed within the safe confines of the theater so that the fear is not real while ultimately working to confirm our suspicion that civilization as we know it is doomed without authority available to actively suppress and annihilate that which has escaped from the bondage of repression. Get it? The poseur who fails to understand this central element of the horror film is doomed to failure.

German Expressionism
The first entry in the horror genre that achieved artistic expression was, aptly, German Expressionism. The poseur had better get over his fear of silent movies in order to understand the value of this horror genre. Get ready to experience and enjoy dislocation and disorientation of the psyche that is reflected in the language of cinema. German Expressionist horror is stylized and often anti-realistic. Shadows, weird angles and glimpses into the disturbing states of the inner mind sit at the forefront. Check out iconic German Expressionist horror films like “Nosferatu,” “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” and “The Golem” to become a fully informed poseur.

Universal Studios
Warner Brothers had their gangsters. MGM had their musicals. Republic Studios had their westerns. And Universal Studios had all the best monsters. The horror movie monsters that occupy the central universe of America’s consciousness are all rooted in the 1930s and 1940s movies produced by Universal: Dracula, Frankenstein’s creature, the Mummy, the Wolfman. A poseur unfamiliar with these horror movies has no chance of intelligently discussing horror movies with anyone other than teenagers unacquainted with any scary movies made before they were born. The poseur needs to allow names like Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, Jr., James Whale and Tod Browning to trip off his tongue like inner city youths drop the names of the latest rap stars to be forgotten by next week.

The Wolfman
The horror movie poseur can impress by educating his circle of acquaintances on the unique contribution to monster mythos by Hollywood screenwriter Curt Siodmak. Siodmak wrote Universal Studios’ original “The Wolf Man.” In the process, the poseur must confidently express, Siodmak actually invented Werewolf legends that most people believe go back centuries. Among the werewolf attributes that were created by a Hollywood screenwriter are such elemental aspects as death by silver bullet, the necessity of a full moon for the transformation, the curse of turning into a wolf after being bitten by a wolf and several other items. The poseur can stand to make some bar money by challenging the uneducated on how far back in time these myths go back.

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from: TV Store Online

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