Monthly Archives: October 2013

Helianthophobia (Three Images of Fear)

by Seán Hudson

In the spirit of the season, let’s look at how horror works. I think we can isolate three images that recur in horror films, each creating affect in its own way. By “image”, I don’t mean a specific delineation that can only be static and visual, but a general delineating type that includes movement and affect. As a disclaimer, I’ll say that any systematising on my part aims not to provide a finalised explanation of how stuff works, but to provoke further thought on the matter at hand – that the following ideas lack rigorous analysis and a dedicated methodological origin can be foreshadowed with the knowledge that I identify precisely three images of fear on the basis that Three is the Magic Number, and it’s that playful time of year when illogical ritualism seems as good a reason as any to go about one’s thoughts.

First image: repulsion. The one that the popular consciousness most readily associates with the horror film. This is the reason that people will hide behind their hands, or if they’re nimble behind their sofas – what we experience is a fear of the image itself, testified to by the fact that we try and protect ourselves from the threat by not looking. This image has enjoyed a recent notoriety in the emergence of the “torture porn” sub-genre, which is all about the threat/promise of showing us what most people would not want to see. Films like Hostel (2005), in which we are forced to watch characters strapped to chairs undergo all manner of painful bodily disfigurement, while we are stuck in our chairs at home daring each other to watch. This voyeuristic image creates an interesting oppositional effect: it’s spectator versus image, the spectator taking on the role of hero and the image taking on the role of monstrous Other, only to be overcome by braving your way through the whole film, surviving in the face of so much death. Continue reading Helianthophobia (Three Images of Fear)