He specifically mentioned Hannibal Lecter, the cannibalistic psychopath of “The Silence of the Lambs” and subsequent movies.
"Is he a figure that has any good in him?" Sederholm said. "Probably not. I mean the way he is presented in the stories is as bad as it gets, but the thing is that people were interested in was the way he worked. I think part of a good villain is the inexplicability of their motives.”
Sederholm and Cherry both mentioned a shift in the 21st century, after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. The rise of movies that center around torture, like "Saw" and "Hostel," has no true explanation, but several theories. The gory body horror, depicting extreme violence and torture as a game, may have been inspired by current events, Sederholm said.
“There was waterboarding and debates about Dick Cheney and whether he was moral in authorizing torture,” Sederholm said. “So one of the theories about the emergence of torture-type films in that period was it's a way for horror movies to address the morality of torture.”
The original “Saw” film, which is very graphic and violent, did pose some interesting moral questions, Sederholm argued. He said the “Saw” sequels threw the concept out the window in favor of even more bloody violence. Unfortunately, Sederholm said, this is a common trend.
Imagination creates terror
Killings in horror movies have become more over-the-top, with higher stakes and lower probability. There almost appears to be an element of competition between filmmakers over who can make the most memorable death scene.
However, the truest horror, the kind that really scares people, is far more subtle.
“I think it's supposed to linger,” Sederholm said. “I think it needs to be subtle. I mean, ideally it needs to trigger in your mind the fear so that you are filling in the blanks. It's scarier to say ‘There might be something behind that door, but don't check.’ But you always check. So the walk down that hallway is scarier than even the creature standing in front of you, because when the creature is standing in front of you, you can start to process whatever you think that creature means."
Masters of suspense, like Alfred Hitchcock, know that our imaginations become our own worst enemy in scary situations. If nothing is held back, often the payoff is weak. The monster is not as scary as we expected or seems to have a discernable weakness to exploit, Sederholm said.
Jacob Forman wrote the movie "All the Boys Love Mandy Lane." Although the film gets an R rating for extreme language, violence and sexual content, Forman said "The entire team felt that suggested violence was far more effective than graphic, shown violence.
"And I'm not sure this will ever change," he said. "The things we imagine are generally far, far scarier than anything we'll see onscreen.”
The purpose of gore and violence may be to simply gross out the audience. It leaves a strong impression on the viewers, and according to Sederholm, sometimes that's the best a filmmaker can do.
“If films reflect the time in which they were made, then if society becomes more violent, so will entertainment,” Cherry said. “There is not necessarily a demand for more violent entertainment — it has probably always been there. There will always be people who seek it out, and there will always be groups who condemn it.”
Cherry also pointed out that many fans of horror movies reject violent films, and do not consider them part of the genre.
Sederholm doesn't advocate watching "the most violent and filthy thing," but he does feel that there is still good to be found in the genre.
"I think horror still works generally in very similar ways; it's just that some writers or directors prefer to amplify certain elements over others," he said. "I think the morality is still there.”
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