Aristotle. Ancient Greece. Horror Movies.
They fit together, right?
Let me explain.
Greek Tragedy Theater and Horror Movies aim to get a specific reaction from the audience. This is where the concept of Catharsis, as described in Aristotle’s Poetics, becomes important. Maybe this Greek Legend would throw a book at me, offended because I’m using this concept in Horror, but I want the reader to see why this genre has more value than it’s often given.
Plus, I don’t think he was the violent type.
Aristotle thought that Tragedies were useful for the audience, because it purged them of the negative emotions they felt as they watched the play unfold. These emotions were pity and fear. The audience feels pity for the Hero and his sufferings, but they also fear those situations happening to them. Sounds familiar? We’re getting there. Enjoy a random moody picture first:
So… The Hero needs to have a few traits: he or she should have good qualities and be realistic, so the audience can identify with them, but the most important trait is their arrogance, or Tragic Flaw, which is the cause of his or her fall from grace. The Hero needs this, so the audience can learn from the character’s mistake and feel a Catharsis. Remember all those times a Horror Movie character has done something stupid and you get annoyed? Let’s say that’s their Horrific Flaw, and you too can learn from it. Or simply scream at the screen, “Get out of the house, you fool!”. Either way, we’re all having fun and releasing emotions.
For example, we suffer with Nancy in Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, as she realizes she has to fight the monster on her own. But, we then survive with her. This is valid too if the character doesn’t live, since we are safe at all times regardless. We can let our fears free during the movie, be present with them, explore them, “exercise” them, as Stephen King says in Danse Macabre; then, we release them as the movie reaches a conclusion.
Some horror movies linger with us days or weeks or months after we watch them, as I’m sure it would have happened with a Tragedy after seeing the horrible experiences the Hero goes through, such as gouging your own eyes out, as it happens in (spoiler alert) Sophocles‘ Oedipus Rex, but the issues raised by the story are safely explored through the duration of it.
I would like to end this article with a quote from a master:
“You don't enter the theater and pay your money to be afraid.
You enter the theater and pay your money to have the fears
that are already in you when you go into a theater dealt with
and put into a narrative.”
Thank you for reading!