Strangulation and sex: How horror films reflect the darkness within us

I have always gravitated towards the horror genre because I admire filmmakers, actors, and screenwriters within the genre that are willing to take film to new boundaries and explore the depths of our darkness. Admittedly, I have only seen one Alfred Hitchcock film, North by Northwest, but I am fascinated by what he was able to accomplish as a director. There he was exploring necrophilia, incest, strangulation, and the loss of childhood innocence, but presenting it in such a mainstream and accessible way. Certainly though, what further fascinates me about other, more daring films and directors, is that the sole purpose of the film is to explore the depths of our darkness without a care for its mainstream appeal or accessibility.

However, it is worth staying on Hitchcock for a moment longer. It has been quite noted how obsessed Hitchcock was over the dark contours of the human psyche and condition, and the manifestation of this obsession was apparently harshness directed towards those working on the film with him. Since I am not too familiar with Hitchcock, I am curious about what exactly he was known for doing on set and his behavior on set. For instance, in the book The Spectacle of Isolation in Horror Films: Dark Parades, “Stories are legion of his cruel treatment of actors and others in the industry” (Royer and Royer 25). It seems to me almost perverted in a sense, the manner in which Hitchcock creates his film in terms of the actual process and the stories in the film itself. I do not think it would be too reaching to suggest the films are a reflection of Hitchcock’s own deficit psyche and perhaps, he enjoyed subverting the mainstream audience into not noticing the underlining darkness of his films.

Moreover, in the aforementioned book, there is a great deal mentioned regarding the relationship between strangulation and sex, especially in the Hitchcock films. I could not help, but think about another famous movie with a classic scene involving such a relationship. John Carpenter’s Halloween has a scene where Michael Myers, the sexually repressed sociopath, goes after one of Laurie Strode’s friends, Lynda. Myers had just killed Bob, Lynda’s boyfriend, then walks into the room where Lynda is naked with a white bed sheet over his body. Lynda tries to entice him (whom she thinks is Bob) by unveiling her breasts in a provocative manner. She gets frustrated and calls Laurie on the telephone. As she does this and as Laurie picks up the phone, Myers comes up behind her and strangles her with a telephone cord. For an agonizing few minutes, you hear Lynda gasping and moaning for air. In a somewhat darkly comedic, but unsettling line, Laurie says, “I’ll kill you if this is a joke.” Then after Lynda is dead, Myers briefly picks up the phone and continues the diegetic motif of heavy breathing. Laurie’s line was based on the presumption that Lynda and Bob were having sex. Likewise, Myers’ heavy breathing could be taken as a reflection of his sexual repression.

Strangulation is used again later in the climactic scene between Michael Myers and Laurie Strode. Laurie thinks she had just killed Myers and wanders off to the dark hallway and slumps against the wall. Myers sits up, walks over to her and begins strangling her. For a brief moment, in a desperate attempt at defense, Laurie pulls the William Shatner-painted white mask off of Myers. It’s an interesting shot because Myers is associated with evil personified, but then you see this innocent, almost baby-like face. Moreover, during the entire struggle Michael is breathing heavily again, exuding that thrust for lust, if you will. Not to mention, the whole film is based on Michael Myers stalking young, beautiful women babysitters. There is also something to be said about the fact that the more promiscuous women (Annie and Lynda) are killed, as was Myers’ sister in the beginning and the embodiment of innocence and virtue (Laurie) is saved from the onslaught of evil.

One final note, I am glad that Hitchcock and others integrate comedy into their suspense/horror films. Life does have its apparent darkness (and not so apparent), but life is also comedic at times – in fact, many times. Maybe it is not always necessary, but it is a relief for the viewer to have certain segments of comedy rather than a full force of horror shoved at them. Then sometimes, horror itself becomes entirely comedic, but still slightly terrifying at times, like with Shaun of the Dead. Other times, I do like horror films that push the envelope and keep pushing it until the credits roll and do not relent at any moment in the film. A recent horror film like Martyrs did that brilliantly to the point where I cannot shake the ending of that film from my memory. It just depends on what the filmmaker is trying to accomplish when attempting to engage the viewer.

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