Morality, Murder, and Loving The Monstrous
“It’s disgusting in ways that are not entertaining; as opposed, for example to the great disgusting moments in Alien or Dawn of the Dead… are there really people who want to see reprehensible trash like this? I guess so. It’s in its second week.”
--Roger Ebert’s review of David Cronenberg’s The Brood; June 5, 1979
Every horror fan has probably experienced this: someone else, often a family member or co-worker, doesn’t like horror movies and thinks that something is seriously wrong with you because you want to watch nothing else. Horror fans often complain that we’re ostracized, mocked, or misunderstood. Women seem to have it way worse, since we’re so often expected not to like “that sort of thing.”
But let’s face it: horror is hugely popular right now. Don’t think so? What about the fact that The Walking Dead is one of the most-watched shows on TV? Or the fact that Dexter – a show about a sympathetic serial killer – lasted for eight seasons? What about the Fannibals?
Now it feels like it’s longer cool to mock horror fans but rather to mock us for what kind of horror flips our switches and worse, cast moral aspersions on us for the kind of horror we like. It’s not like this is a new thing, and even the most sainted of film critics wasn’t above such petty name-calling (see above).
David Cronenberg was criticized for the alleged misogynist streak in The Brood at the time the film was released (and even sometimes to this day). He’s been open about how it was his nasty divorce that provided inspiration for the film, which raised a lot of eyebrows when he stated that the scene where Frank Carveth tries to strangle ex-wife Nora (spoiler alert!) was “very satisfying.”
So by extension, when we watch and enjoy The Brood, are we also misogynists?
A few weeks ago, Peter Counter wrote about “Horror That Says Hello,” remarking that our relationship to the horror media that we consume is one of “enablement.”
By turning on Carrie and watching all those teenagers burn to death, we are implicitly responsible for the on screen horror. When we watch Kubrick’s The Shining, we are agreeing to watch the poor old psychic groundskeeper to get axed right in the back. We watch the horrible things happen and we don’t do anything to stop it.
Obviously this is not a moral indictment of horror fans. The fantasy of horror is enabled by a safe space. We allow anything to happen on screen under the tacit agreement that everyone, including us, is safe despite what movie magic might imply.
Not everyone thinks that enjoying movies that present problematic ideas or display extreme violence is morally suspect. But some do, and this is troubling in the same way censorship is troubling. It allows moral self-righteousness to trump artistic expression.
It’s not just that horror is a safe space for us to feel fear or to examine our relationship with the world; horror also allows us to explore things that are considered deeply taboo. Like strangling your ex-wife. Or Murder Husbands.
I referenced the Fannibals earlier and anyone who knows anything about Hannibal knows that there are thousands upon thousands of examples of fanfiction devoted to the show, most of it slashfic between Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham (Hannigram existed before the Bryan Fuller version of the show, in case you were wondering). Besides the eternally intricate configurations of Omegaverse, there’s another segment of Hannigram that might make even the most staunch splatter film connoisseur blush: Murder Husband fics.
I won’t make any definitive statements, but I’ll assume that Murder Husbands fanfiction is not considered socially acceptable on a widespread scale. But it’s also not real. Those of us who enjoy it don’t really want to go on killing sprees and have bloody, post-murder sex, but we do want to explore this option by reading fictionalized depictions of it in slashfic.
Judging fictional characters for their fictional bad acts is ludicrous enough; judging people for enjoying the act of reading and/or watching these fictional characters engages in these fictional bad acts is not only ludicrous, but feels more dangerous than the bad acts themselves.