It’s been over a week since the senseless massacre in Las Vegas, and many of us are still feeling wounded and dismayed. There were times over the past few days when I had difficulty covering horror news, as the pervasive mood of the country and the world was so low. It’s something many of my peers wrestled with.
Dread Central’s Jonathan Barkan penned a poignant essay in the immediate aftermath of the Los Vegas shooting; he offers, not simply a justification of horror coverage during times of grief, but an explanation of the genre’s importance, even during periods of national tragedy.
Per Dread Central.com:
The Greek philosopher Aristotle was believed to have coined the term “catharsis,” which he described as using performing arts of the time, such as plays, to purge ill thoughts and negative emotions from one’s self. It’s an incredibly powerful concept and one that is all too necessary and precious in times like these. In his piece Violent media may have a cathartic role in healthy lives, Virginia Tech Associate Professor of Philosophy James C. Klagge wrote, “It seems likely that [violent video games, horror movies, and heavy metal] tap something in us, or in some of us.” Meanwhile, in their 2005 Journal of Media Psychology paper The psychological appeal of movie monsters, Fischoff et al. stated, “Movie monsters provide us with the opportunity to see and learn strategies of coping with real-life monsters should we run into them, despite all probabilities to the contrary.”
This is merely an excerpt of Barkan’s powerful editorial; I recommend reading it in its entirety, HERE.
As all film connoisseurs will attest, cinema, like music, is something that makes the pain of life bearable. The events in Vegas and Barkan’s essay got me thinking about specific horror movies that can actually help us heal during times of tragedy. No, this isn’t a list of horror comedies designed to make you forget your troubles with a laugh; these are genre films that deal with grief and grieving, films that will ring especially relevant in the aftermath of events like the Las Vegas Massacre, films that can offer perspective and, yes, even comfort.
Have a read and let us know what you think in the Comments section. Are these horror movies that you turn to in times of tragedy? Can you think of other genre offerings that offer a healing message along with thrills and chills? Let’s discuss!
And to everyone feeling loss following the events of October 1st, all of us here at Horror Freak News offer our sincerest condolences.
House (1986, Directed by Steve Miner)
Official Synopsis: A mounted fish moves, household objects levitate, and monsters haunt a troubled novelist (William Katt).
House is a horror comedy that tackled the issue of PTSD even before the term was widely known or recognized. The film can be seen as a metaphor for the psychological processes necessary in order to recover from atrocities. There is a hopefulness to House, as confronting his darkest fears allows the protagonist to reconnect with his shattered family.
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Donnie Darko (2001, Directed by Richard Kelly)
Official Synopsis: In a funny, moving and distinctly mind-bending journey through suburban America, one extraordinary but disenchanted teenager is about to take Time’s Arrow for a ride. After surviving a freak accident, Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal) begins to explore what it means to be alive, and in short order to be in love, he uncovers secrets of the universe that give him a tempting power to alter time and destiny.
Everyone fears death and dying alone, but Donnie Darko presents a comforting look at universal happenstances, suggesting there’s a hero within us all, just waiting to be called to action. The sorrow of the film also illustrates the connections created by grief, and how one person’s death affects us all.
Related Article: “Donnie Darko” Director Explains How He Came Up with Frank the Bunny
The Orphanage (2007, Directed by J. A. Bayona)
Official Synopsis: Laura (Belén Rueda) has happy memories of her childhood in an orphanage. She convinces her husband to buy the place and help her convert it into a home for sick children. One day, her own adopted son, Simón (Roger Príncep), disappears. Simon is critically ill, and when he is still missing several months later, he is presumed dead. Grief-stricken Laura believes she hears spirits, who may or may not be trying to help her find the boy.
The protagonist of The Orphanage is haunted by not knowing; after losing her son without a trace, she’s trapped by a lack of resolution, unwilling to accept his possible death, and therefore unable to move on with her life. We may never know why the Vegas shooter did what he did, but we can all find the strength to move forward—even if it means experiencing the full brunt of sorrow.
The Babadook (2014, Directed by Jennifer Kent)
Official Synopsis: A troubled widow (Essie Davis) discovers that her son is telling the truth about a monster that entered their home through the pages of a children’s book.
The titular Babadook is a manifestation of grief itself, and the protagonists battle with the nebulous villain is a metaphor for dealing with the 5 stages of grief: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance. Follow the link below for a more detailed explanation of The Babadook, including an examination of the film’s perplexing conclusion.
Related Article: How “The Babadook” Represents the 5 Stages of Grief
Swiss Army Man (2016, Directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert)
Official Synopsis: Being stranded on a deserted island leaves young Hank (Paul Dano) bored, lonely and without hope. As a rope hangs around his neck, Hank prepares to end it all, until he suddenly spots a man (Daniel Radcliffe) laying by the shore. Unfortunately, he is dead and quite flatulent. Using the gassy body to his advantage, Hank miraculously makes it back to the mainland. However, he now finds himself lost in the wilderness, and dragging the talking corpse named Manny along for the adventure.
While Swiss Army Man is a downer of a flick, it’s an engrossing meditation of grief and isolation. Ultimately, it illustrates that everyone processes tragedy in different ways, but makes clear that healing can only truly begin when we connect with those around us.
Related Article: WTF? Confusing Horror Movie Endings Explained: “The Boy”, “Swiss Army Man”, & “Blair Witch”
The Butterfly Effect (2004, Directed by Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber)
Official Synopsis: College student Evan Treborn (Ashton Kutcher) is afflicted with headaches so painful that he frequently blacks out. While unconscious, Evan is able to travel back in time to difficult moments in his childhood. He can also alter the past for friends, like Kayleigh (Amy Smart), who was molested by her father (Eric Stoltz). But changing the past can drastically alter the present, and Evan finds himself in nightmarish alternate realities, including one where he’s locked away in prison.
We all wish we could go back in time to change the past, especially after events of unimaginable violence. During times of grief, The Butterfly Effect speaks to the universal agony of powerlessness and the desire to change things for the better, all while delivering an allegory that promotes selflessness and acceptance of things beyond our control.
Related Article: 15 Best Deleted Horror Movies Scenes We Never Saw
Colossal (2017, Directed by Nacho Vigalondo)
Official Synopsis: Gloria is an out-of-work party girl who leaves New York and moves back to her hometown after getting kicked out of her apartment by her boyfriend. When news reports surface that a giant creature is destroying Seoul, South Korea, Gloria gradually comes to the realization that she is somehow connected to this far-off phenomenon. As events begin to spiral out of control, she must figure out why her seemingly insignificant existence is having such a colossal effect on the fate of the world.
There are aspects of American popular culture that promote desensitization when it comes to difficult and emotional issues. The character Gloria (played by Anne Hathaway) self-medicates with alcohol to avoid feelings of hopelessness. Throughout Colossal, she comes to understand that even seemingly insignificant actions can have tragic consequences and find the power within to end the destructive tendencies that affected everyone in her orbit. It’s a deceptively heavy flick, but ultimately, it promotes empowerment over succumbing to the entropy of depression.
Related Article: 15 Incredible RECENT Horror Movies You Probably Missed
Citadel (2012, Directed by Ciaran Foy)
Official Synopsis: An agoraphobic widower (Aneurin Barnard) receives help from a rogue priest (James Cosmo) when the same hooded predators who slaughtered his wife abduct his infant daughter.
After suffering a brutal assault, Tommy (Aneurin Barnard) succumbs to his fears, gives up on the world, and imprisons himself in his home. Citadel illustrates how, unprocessed, tragedy can fester; Tommy’s anxieties become crippling manifestations. It’s only by confronting his darkest fears that he can overcome his victimization.
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016, Directed by Dan Trachtenberg)
Official Synopsis: After surviving a car accident, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up to find herself in an underground bunker with two men. Howard (John Goodman) tells her that a massive chemical attack has rendered the air unbreathable, and their only hope of survival is to remain inside. Despite the comforts of home, Howard’s controlling and menacing nature makes Michelle want to escape. After taking matters into her own hands, the young woman finally discovers the truth about the outside world.
A character who runs from conflict is forced into a claustrophobic powder-keg of potentially fatal violence. Like many of the films on this list, the protagonist overcomes fear/grief/insecurities through a process that’s harrowing but ultimately triumphant. 10 Cloverfield Lane also shows how surviving tragedy makes us stronger, as Michelle will never flee a challenge again.
Stand by Me (1986, Directed by Rob Reiner)
Official Synopsis: After learning that a stranger has been accidentally killed near their rural homes, four Oregon boys decide to go see the body. On the way, Gordie Lachance (Wil Wheaton), Vern Tessio (Jerry O’Connell), Chris Chambers (River Phoenix) and Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman) encounter a mean junk man and a marsh full of leeches, as they also learn more about one another and their very different home lives. Just a lark at first, the boys’ adventure evolves into a defining event in their lives.
While steeped in nostalgia, Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me is presented as an epistolary; it’s a flashback, an exposition triggered when a man finds out his best friends from childhood has been murdered. Stand by Me illustrates how sorrow can also promote reflection, understanding, and personal epiphanies.
Jacob’s Ladder (1990, Directed by Adrian Lyne)
Official Synopsis: After returning home from the Vietnam War, veteran Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins) struggles to maintain his sanity. Plagued by hallucinations and flashbacks, Singer rapidly falls apart as the world and people around him morph and twist into disturbing images. His girlfriend, Jezzie (Elizabeth Peña), and ex-wife, Sarah (Patricia Kalember), try to help, but to little avail. Even Singer’s chiropractor friend, Louis (Danny Aiello), fails to reach him as he descends into madness.
The central thesis of Jacob’s Ladder is summed up in a monologue delivered by Danny Aiello: “If you’re frightened of dying and… and you’re holding on, you’ll see devils tearing your life away. But if you’ve made your peace, then the devils are really angels, freeing you from the earth. It’s just a matter of how you look at it, that’s all.” While there are no easy answers when it comes to processing grief, and Jacob’s Ladder is a harrowing, disturbing film, horror fans will also take solace from the film’s promise of peace to those who seek it.
Spring (2015, Directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorhead)
Official Synopsis: An aimless young man (Lou Taylor Pucci) takes an impromptu trip to Italy and becomes involved with an alluring genetics student (Nadia Hilker) who harbors a transformative secret.
Spring is a film that speaks to the resiliency of the human spirit and the ability to overcome even seemingly insurmountable obstacles. It doesn’t address grief specificall but touches on a universal melancholy juxtaposed against a testament to the healing power of love.