IMO: Feeding the Gators

Have you ever read Stephen King‘s essay “Why We Crave Horror Movies”? The one where he explains watching scary movies is a way to test ourselves, similar to rollercoaster rides and going to haunted houses? Inside we are monsters living in a world that rewards pleasantries and virtues while it sanctions misconduct and malicious acts of violence. I agree with him. BTW, if you missed the essay, just google it, and you can read the short essay in its entirety.

We are violent by nature. What’s popular to see and discuss today has been so since our human predecessors gathered around stones or looked at the stars for answers: good spirits, evil spirits, the battles of kingdoms and empire. The gore and the disgusting intrigue many, why? Is it to test oneself to see if we can handle the state of fear? To imagine the pain and compare oneself to the aggressor and the victim? We are both. Horror movies give one a chance to experience that violence vicariously since we are bound by the mores of society to behave ourselves.

I rented a horror film last weekend and broke it up over two days watching it during the day. Pathetic, I know, but there you have it–I am a scaredy-cat. I have read Hereditary reviews and everyone seemed to think it was well made, so I tested myself to see if I could handle the fear.

credit: Reid Chavis/A24


It is a psychological film about a woman’s inability to handle grief like The Babadook. And then the house was possessed like the Amityville Horror, complete with flies and window-like eyes. And then Annie Graham (Toni Collette) turned into something out of The Conjuring/The Grudge.  And then the story turned into a Wicker story. Poor men. And then the last scene came with some slasher elements thrown in,  and I laughed. I don’t think I was supposed to do that. People criticize ambiguous endings, but this ending was predicted a long time before the last scene played out. In other words, Hereditary wasn’t sure what kind of horror movie to be. I loved the front half of the film full of fine tension and enough scary scenes to keep me biting my nails. By the time the moronic husband (Gabriel Byrne) finally realizes his wife is mentally ill, I wasn’t scared anymore.

I loved the score. I loved that the setting was beautiful–nothing better than the ironic twist of a fall setting with evil lurking in the gorgeous home. I loved the symbolic little house Annie Graham (Toni Collette) made. What a perfect vocation to illustrate she had an obsessive need to control her environment. Toni Collette‘s performance was outstanding. She showed a robust range of emotions and body language.  Milly Shapiro as Charlie Graham stole the show with her creepy expressions and clucking.  I just wish writer-director Ari Astersh stuck with the genre of psychological thriller.  I’m sure if I had watched it at night in a dark theater in one setting, I would have been scared shitless. 4/5.

Stephen King ended in his essay by asserting we like to be scared because it feeds the alligators inside, that is, it keeps the balance between the good and evil in us.  Personally, I think we watch horror movies because we are bored. It is a peculiarly effective way to recharge ourselves and feel the adrenaline rush as a result. What do you think? What was the last good scary movie you watched?

36 thoughts on “IMO: Feeding the Gators

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  1. Interesting discussion Cindy. I’m not sure that “We are violent by nature”; if we were, the forces of nature would impel us to act violently, yet in reality, we act towards each other in the hope that others will not aggress against us. So our survival instincts are biased toward peaceful interaction purely out of self-interest. I think,however, that the horror genre works its magic by acting as a reality boundary-marker. It actually creates comfort as well know it will stop or we can walk away. I agree Hereditary stands tall in its genre. Had it maintained the realism-based terrors of the first half and resisted the temptation to go down the path of schlock-spook-fantasy in the second half, it would have been outstanding. Toni Collette gave a phenomenal performance, which raised the film to a higher plane. Regards, Richard

    1. Hi Richard,
      Thanks for contributing! I’m guessing you are a Transcendentalist and the glass is half full. I look to the 20th century as an example and see how destructive we are which makes me an anti-transcendental. Self-interest often leads to greed and destruction and the preservation of power. Anyway, horror films– I don’t like them, truth be told. I try to live in the light and I think there’s a danger in indulging in the dark. As far as the film goes, I was intrigued by the manipulation of the mother to the daughter and the abuse to the children. I thought Annie’s character was fascinating. I do believe Toni elevated the film to a higher plateau. For sure, we agree!

      1. I suspect this point is more about politics than philosophy. From my Aussie perspective, your country is awash in negativity at present so your relationship to the horror genre may be very different to other parts of the globe. What we bring to film is more complex than what film offers us. At this critical moment I hope the horror settles into melodrama.

        1. As a history teacher, I’ve become jaded over the years to think we are inherently good. Yin Yang makes a lot of sense to me. Anyway, today is Halloween and my five-year-old granddaughter is excited! She can’t wait to dress in costume and play outside in the dark and knock on doors. Somehow the holiday of spookiness has become a national celebration. Scary is exciting.

  2. I do believe we are violent by nature, I’ve felt it myself and had to restrain myself , I am so averse to conflict. I don’t care for horror movies, I don’t find the thrill of being scared a thrill, or even entertaining at all, and the real horror of what’s happening in the world today makes ‘horror’ movies all seem a bit stupid. There are many movies, some good, depicting the real stuff, that’s enough for me.

    1. Hi Fraggle, I don’t like them either, yet there psychological thrillers get awfully close. Horrifying scenes and situations cross over into a lot of what we watch these days. I know a lot of people who go to horror movies as a kind of dare, “Come one, scare me!” That’s not me. I don’t like the residual effect. I agree, life is scary enough. How sad then, that there are so few good comedies to see.

  3. Yes, this is a thought provoking post. Well done. I believe we are largely good, that we receive gifts of social decorum and morality from our creator and yet, within that is a tendency to revert to a primitive state of might makes right. There have always been rogue individuals who do not wrestle with their demons but entertain them instead.
    Perhaps horror movies, roller coasters, extreme sports and pushing various envelopes are our way of flirting with that baser instinct. Perhaps it is a way for us to let off steam. It sounds like a reasonable thesis.
    Horror movies I’ve watched this Halloween season? I ran these by Pete the other day. An American Werewolf in London, Peeping Tom and The Bride of Frankenstein.

    1. I LOVE American Werewolf in London. What a sublime dark comedy! That scene in the tube always gets me. I love the classic horror movies, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the pop-culture king, the vampire. What it says about us that we are attracted to the intelligent, seductive anti-hero…

      1. Yes, that particular depiction of the vampire is sultry and alluring, no doubt. I really like Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Gary Oldman is hardly Paul Newman or Ryan Gosling but he is so mysteriously sexy. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but it is what it is. That said, Keanu Reeves almost ruined that movie.

      2. One of our great family stories is my dad taking my mom to the theater to see “American Werewolf”. She is NO horror fan but he told her it was a straight comedy. She WAS NOT happy and listening to them still talk about it some 37 years is simply hilarious.

        1. LOL> Thanks for sharing that, Keith! I like your Dad’s taste in movies. I remember you told me he loved The Patriot and The Ghost and the Darkness. Congratulations to them for 37 years!

          1. They are pretty awesome. If my math is correct I believe next year will be their 50th Anniversary. Yet they still talk about “American Werewolf”. HA!

  4. Probably the last one I watched was in my teens or thereafter. “The Birds” and I think that would be Hitchcock and I was sufficiently horrified at the time. LOL. I stopped watching horror after reading some high brow stuff about the brain and how it functions. Everything we do in life is imprinted in memory, most of it stored away and forgotten like putting your historic files on a back up drive and forgetting them. They are however there for recall on HD if you plug it in and select the file. Doctors do that with probes and can bring back memories long “forgotten.” 🙂 The point is these suppressed memories do have an influence on our sub conscious and have a large role in directing our actions. So I look for stuff that is not likely to feed the negatives in my life. I have enough of them already to deal with. The effects of what we watch stay with us most times without our knowledge. I feel sorry for those in our police forces around the world who have to scan the internet and view child and other exploitation in order to gather evidence on those who are out to destroy children and innocents. Now that is genuine horror. I’m given to understand they need de-briefing and can’t be on that job for too long as it destroys them in time. I wonder how Stephen King would deal with that in an essay? Would he explain that as a natural outgrowth of our common violent nature? If those poor police thought it was natural they wouldn’t be so terribly affected by that job would they?

    1. Ian, thank you for your thought-provoking contribution. I think we are inundated with negativety and the horror of life. I agree with you, that one should be choosy about what one feeds the brain. I think horror movies are more for your younger folk. I’m in my mid fifties and have seen enough to last me a life time. Still, there I was in the daytime watching one because everyone said it was really good.
      Mr. King would say that horror stories (for I assume he wants you to read his books) are an escape. First responders live the nightmare. That’s a whole different kettle of fish. I think about PTSD or those soldiers, too, who you hear about becoming addicted to the adreneline rush the horror causes, and I feel sad for them.

      1. I was thinking of soldiers too. For the sake of protecting their country they are subjected to the most horrendous sights. Then they return home expecting those who sent them out to fight will give them a nurturing homecoming. The plight of many returned soldiers tugs at the heart strings. They cannot rid themselves of the horrors they’ve witnessed and those who sent them into that situation are too callous to care for them on their return. It is so wrong! Now and then a politician fakes a caring attitude, but the nurturing comes from soldiers who’ve fought along side them not from those they’ve served.

    1. Yes, and reading history is horrifying enough, too.
      I am attracted to good story lines. I’m in it for the story. As far as this one goes, the first half of the film was a good story.

  5. Mr Gray has a point, and one which is demonstrated clearly by European history from 1939 to the present day. The secret with horror movies, for me, is to remember that they are just movies. The real monsters are on the news programmes.

  6. I have seen trailers for this film, and discounted rushing to watch it. It seemed to be too formulaic, and I was wondering if it had any new ideas to tempt me. Perhaps when it gets onto TV, I will watch it.

    Humans? I’m with Fraggle. I think we are naturally violent. It is instinctive. Not that long ago in terms of time, we would have had to be violent to survive. To eat every day we would be violent to animals without compunction. Then to keep what we had hunted, we would be instantly violent to anyone we thought might take it away.
    Even now, the reaction of many people to the slightest thing is to reply with violence. Hence people being shot dead over car-parking spaces, or punched in the face for getting out of a queue. Anyone who believes that the inherent violence isn’t lurking inside them should consider examples like the Balkan War in the 90s, where neighbour turned on neighbour, and atrocities were committed by both sides with no hesitation. The rules of common decency had been suspended, and almost everyone joined in the free for all.

    Look at tiny children, in a nursery/kindergarten playground. Take away a toy, and the first reaction is to hit out, push over, grab. It’s still there.

    The fact that 95% of us restrain that violence and keep it locked inside doesn’t mean it isn’t in there somewhere, waiting for an excuse to explode..Only the rules of society control us.
    So I think King is correct. Those alligators need to be fed, and we need a vicarious outlet.

    Best wishes, Pete. x

    1. It’s worth watching just for the acting of Toni Collette. I enjoyed the directing and the score and the setting–it’s just not a pure story so loses its effectiveness.
      My kind of horror movie are the old 1960s Vincent Price films like “The Pit and the Pendulum” or “The Tell Tale Heart”. Mr. Poe was awesome for grabbing your attention and sustaining it. Ioved his vocabulary and his protagonists. That kind of creepy is the best. My gators like this food…

      1. I saw that film at the cinema. I was too young when it came out in 1961, but got to see it when I was around 15 years old. For its time, it was very good. Not so sure it endures though. 🙂

  7. Great topic and discussion. I once read that there are evolutionary explanations for our love of horror. We just love to experience horror in the safe environment – in the past this safe play prepared us to experience horrors in real life and survive because we had that preparation. That is why kids play hide and seek, etc., which involves scary predator – victim scenario. The last good horror I watched and enjoyed was French “Eyes Without a Face”. I now want to read the novel as well.

  8. Well, the last scary movie I watched for October was Peter Medak’s absolutely masterful The Changeling (1980). Saw this years ago, first-run, and it’s never left me. Love this movie. I remember reading that SK essay and both of you have some great thoughts to add on the subject. Happy Halloween, Cindy. 🙂

  9. Great post 🙂 I loved Hereditary and I also read that Stephen King article which was really fascinating. As you might have guessed, I too am a huge fan of horror films 🙂 How was your Halloween? 🙂 Mine was pretty good 🙂 Believe it or not, I gave out candy to 115 trick-or-treaters 🙂 Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

  10. Great write-up of horror in general and review of Hereditary. I would say that the director/writer did all they could to avoid horror formulas and, as you say, delivered a fantastic work of suspenseful horror up to the final act. I agree the ending was just ridiculous and actually did not really make much sense logically. Of course you can force the pieces together to make it work but it was a bit silly at the end. I did not think the brilliant Collette’s character was mentally ill though. She was going through so much grief that such a diagnosis was not possible; unlike say in the film The Babadook. I agree though that her character deserved a better ending as her nuanced character was thrown to the evil spirits/cult conspiracy way too easily at the end. Still a great bit of work from the filmmaker though.

    1. Welcome back, Paul. I’m glad we agree. I can’t imagine another actress giving the role more passion. When she stood there at the dining table and confessed she had never wanted to be a mother and then slapped her mouth trying to take the words back–I was moved. Just one of many times Collette made the character realistic. There were too many good things going on with the film to discard it because of the ending. I look forward to more projects done by Ari Aster.

    1. Our talk about monsters yesterday–I thinking they are inside and you asserting it’s the sin we ignore or grapple with…well, I saw the preview for Baskin, and there’s no way I could watch it, but it looks intriguing for those who like horror movies.

  11. the images dont tell you much about the movie, but the quotes from the reviews are very accurate..and yes, i agree that you shouldnt watch it. it was nearly too much for me, and watching it scared me.

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