Might in Fright: Trends in horror films worldwide and in the Philippines

14 Sep

Claimer: My Comm 100 (Introduction to Communication and Media) prof divided the class into groups, each with the task of reporting on one facet of media — film, broadcast communication, journalism, development communication and advertising. After every report, we were required to submit a reflection paper on an issue involving the media aspect discussed. The text below was a reflection paper on film, and step one in my endeavor to eradicate my aversion to the horror genre.

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Horror has clawed its way into becoming one of the most recognizable film genres. Despite the varying states of distress it causes, audiences from Tel Aviv to Reykjavik revel in horror films as a response to their fear of and desire to characterize the unknown. Besides the familiar plotlines of humans confronting or coming to terms with supernatural forces, horror has come to encompass thrillers and slasher films, thereby rendering spectacles of crime, blood and gore cinematic.

While the belief in the existence of elementals is universal, the range and number of paranormal creatures – as well as their depictions on the silver screen — vary across cultures. The first horror films utilized Gothic and supernatural elements that have since been associated with the genre (i.e., the setting of the grand haunted abode enveloped by fog, the appearance of “sinister” animals like bats, the existence vampires and werewolves, or other such grotesque monsters).

Filmmakers of late are challenged to redefine genre conventions in keeping with the artistry of their craft. This gave rise to subgenres like the psychological horror, which aims to understate the shock value by focusing instead on story techniques that build up to terror in the psyche (as in The Sixth Sense). The Hollywood remaking of Asian fright flicks like Ringu and Sigaw by Filipino director Yam Laranas is representative of the acclimatization of Asian horror to Western sensibilities. As viewers reached their point of saturation and the genre cycle inched towards denouement, industry movers responded by making horror something to laugh about. Spoofs like Scream and the films in the Scary Movie franchise succeeded in turning fright into something blithe, and angling the diabolical to appear comical, a welcome breath of fresh air for fear-ridden audiences.

In its online write-up about Philippine cinema, the Expedia travel agency touted the local horror film circuit as “initially influenced by the ongoing trend of Asian horror movies.” I find this statement erroneous and unfair, because it downplays and downright disregards the early contributions of Filipino filmmakers to the genre. After all, the Philippines is no newbie in the scream screen scene. As early as 1949, the multi-talented Richard Abelardo helmed El Diablo, an adaptation of a comic book story with satanic overtones. Similarly, a number of films during that period were cinematic reworkings of komiks plots and chapters of radio serials, as was the case with Satur starring Manuel Conde and the anthological Gabi ng Lagim.

Endemic folkloric creatures like the tiyanak, aswang and manananggal are the Filipino counterparts for generic vampires, witches and ghouls of the West. As director Peque Gallaga puts it: “Filipinos have a far richer and scarier culture than what the Americans are selling us through Halloween. We grow up with scary stories in our homes, and they are part of our culture. That’s why Pinoys love horror films; they’re so real to us.”

By the time the credits roll, malignant unnatural forces would have been vanquished – such a conclusion is a recurring theme in Filipino horror. The messianic functions of holy water or the well-timed brandishing of a crucifix betray our collective brand of Folk Catholicism. Gallaga muses, “Scratch a Filipino Catholic and you will find an animist who still believes in diwatas underneath. Altars are still populated with magic charms – amulets and dried palm stalks to keep the aswang away.”

The onslaught of heinous crimes during the 1990s spurred the production of semi-biographical massacre films. Among the most popular directors in this field is National Artist for Film and Visual Arts Carlo J. Caparas, whose works include The Vizconde Massacre Story (God Help Us!), The Maggie dela Riva Story (God…Why Me?), and The Marita Gonzaga Rape-Slay: In God We Trust!, among others. Such movies cash in on the morbidity of the felonies, and the “based on a true story” peg takes advantage of the viewers’ curiosity about atrocities that hit close to home. In 2009, the artfulness of Caparas’ “massacre” films came under fire in line with his proclamation as National Artist. It is worth noting that then Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) chief Dante Jimenez came to the films’ defense, pointing out that the latter were not mere displays of sensationalism, but effective means to augment public awareness on the prevalence of crime.

Recent years have seen an increase in films that engage in genre bending. Horror comedies like Ispiritista and Cinco provide lighter alternatives for Filipinos who might better fancy the sight of blood in dinuguan than on the big screen. Although horror films have temporarily taken a backseat to the more marketable romantic comedies, no coffin is as of yet in sight for the industry. For as long as they draw from Filipino roots and fears and magnify the monstrosity of real-life events, fearsome flicks will ensure a firm grip on the audience, drawing them in like aswang victims to garlic.

***

 

References:

De Ramos, Tante. “Pinoy Horror Films.” Film Academy of the Philippines.

16 Aug. 2010 <http://filmacademyphil.org/?p=449&gt;.

Dirks, Tim. “Horror Films.” 16 Aug. 2010 <http://www.filmsite.org/horrorfilms.html&gt;.

Gomez, Carla. “Growing Up with the Forces from Beyond”.  Sunday Inquirer

Magazine 26 Oct. 2008: 8.

“Watching a Philippine Movie.” Expedia, Inc. 16 Aug. 2010.

<http://www.phil-ip-pines.com/philippine-movie.html&gt;

One Response to “Might in Fright: Trends in horror films worldwide and in the Philippines”

  1. therevellious December 20, 2010 at 6:53 pm #

    Thank you for reading!🙂 I know what you mean. There are a couple of projects I’ve started but never got to finish because of schoolwork. All the best on your writing endeavors!

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