Compared to supernatural thrillers, or ghost stories, horror as such, is a wider genre. Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’, especially when he steps into is mom’s wig, is bone-chilling horror but not supernatural.
Hollywood’s tryst with supernatural, ghosts, demons, zombies or mere inexplicable, however, tells a different story. It begins with an innocent victim, either possessed or pursued by a vengeful spirit. Introduce a hero with a past, and let him investigate the evil. Your brew of supernatural horror is ready. Add blood, gore and violence according to taste.
Or, bring out an army of undead, vampires or zombies, and let then loose in a killing spree. Or, let some someone innocently discoverer some dark secret. Or better still, invite Satan to earth in his desperate wish to have a baby with a human female. And let Hollywood explore the possibilities of inexplicable and scare you.
In the beginning there were Count Dracula and his friends fated to meet Van Helsing after much blood has been spilt, or consumed. Then we come to the midst of vampires themselves. The struggle of supernatural breeds reaches its crescendo with Blade, where Wesley Snipe’s Blade, a vampire himself tries to save the earth from the clutches of his evil kinsmen.
Michael Jackson’s Thriller popularised the zombies. Soon they began to haunt deserted mansions and sleepy towns, and forest areas, coming to a full circle with George Romero’s ‘Dawn of the Dead’, when these undead visit a shopping mall and wreck havoc.
But nothing interest Hollywood more than the Biblical fallen angels, Satan the devil and his band. From ‘The Exorcist’ to ‘The Exorcism of Emily Rose’, it’s the same old story. The myth is simple: the devil has enmity with god, he wants revenge, and most importantly he wants a son so that he can create hell on earth. He speaks either Aramaic, or Latin, but knows English too. Though he has his own shape, he mostly comes in human form. He’s looking for his victim, and all we need is a heroic figure to save the day. In ‘End of Days’ it’s Arnold Schwarzenegger and in ‘Constantine,’ it’s Keanu Reeves. But in films such as ‘The Exorcist’, or ‘Omen’, or ‘The Exorcism of Emily Rose’, things get uncanny, inexplicable, and gruesome presenting evil for evil’s sake.
The evil, devil or ghost must have reason to exist. But Hollywood does not have a ready explanation. In ‘The Ring’, Samara’s ghost haunts through the videotape for a reason. Her mother had killed her. But it’s never explained why and how she needs to come out of a television set to commit a murder.
In ‘What Lies Beneath’, the wife comes to realise her husband’s secret through a ghost. But must the ghost meet Harrison Ford under water in the last scene? Or, in the classic ‘Don’t Look Now’, why the dwarf in red pursues Donald Sutherland?
The theory is, you stumble upon evil. But in ‘The Children of Corn’, or in the numerous part of ‘Chucky’, the story about the vengeful doll, evil has no reason. You don’t always need a ghost in gruesome makeup to scare you. Suspense of the inexplicable is enough. In Roman Polanski’s ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, it is the unseen, that Rosemary’s pregnancy, is part of a satanic ritual, that gives you the creeps. In Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shinning’, based on a Stephen King novel, there is no apparent ghost. But the deserted hotel where the Torrance family lives is scary enough. So is the Maryland Woods of ‘The Blair Witch Project’. In Danzel Washington’s ‘Fallen,’ the demon talks to you through people you have never met. Nothing can be scarier.
Blade provided the idea of presenting ghosts from inside. So we meet Haley Joel Osment in ‘The Sixth Sense’, who can see ghost. The ghost of Bruce Willis takes the chill factor to the level of saddening pathos. We don’t fear him, but feel sorry when he finally removes his coat and finds that he is long dead. In ‘The Others’, we fear for Nichol Kidman, till the last ten minutes, and then we are scared ourselves, oh, no, she is the ghost herself.
In Hollywood, the fallen angels and the inexplicable ghosts are a reality. And they no longer haunt old, deserted mansions, but our lives.