Sunday, October 11, 2015

'Horror Is Relative' New Article By Vincent Fitzgerald

HORROR     IS  Relative

Article By: Vincent J. Fitzgerald
     The moment I pick up our remote control, my fiancée knows she is in for the painfully familiar guide scroll. She is kind enough to abdicate power, and waits for me to settle on something of interest to us both. I abandon mutual interest when Night of the Living Dead (1968) appears on screen. It matters not upon what scene I enter the story. I am drawn in and absorbed. At the risk of rolled eyes and a sardonic stare, I make a silent plea, and offer a sheepish grin when she acquiesces, preferring another viewing of the movie to the contents of the guide. In 4 years she has seen all the ghouls her eyes care to ingest. Because the film remains in the public domain, it is available to any channel or digital platform, ensuring perpetual availability. Although several DVD versions sit on my bookshelf, I am compelled to drag Gemma into the grainy world with me; a world I visit to help digest childhood leftovers.
  When I was 9 years old, my babysitter sat me in front of a local broadcast of Night of the Living Dead. The film did its job and horrified me. Although I covered my eyes, I had to peek between my fingers to satiate morbid curiosity. The horror was familiar, as was the chaos, and the embattled relationships between several characters. The movie has pacified me and serves to reinforce reality. That the babysitter exposed me to such a film at my impressionable age calls into question not only her judgement, but the babysitter screening process employed by my yet to be divorced, but dysfunctional parents. 
However, without the lapsed judgement of the grownups in my life, I would be deprived the ironic comfort and protection I receive from that most claustrophobic and discomforting film. A more responsible sitter might have forced cartoons on me, or may have wanted to engage me in a game. I assume children left in the care of the less misguided grew to rely on The Wizard of Oz (1939) for reassurance monsters die, or the comedic violence of Tom and Jerry to learn pain does not endure. Such romanticism deludes those who wish to believe there is escape from real life.
  I was raised in the turbulence of frequent change, my home a place of buried emotions. Having ingested fear and uncertainty, I am now seduced by the allure of threat. Night of the Living Dead (1968) protects me from resurrected memories in the same way the demonic figurine in the Exorcist (1973) protects. The movie helps me employ the concept of “evil against evil.” When childhood memories try to rise from their graves, or I am mired in current tumult, I watch characters in far more dire circumstance remind me life can be worse. 
   The house to which I retreat stands solitary in a desolate field. It may seem odd to seek escape in a place with waning immunity to the undead, but idyllic is foreign to me, so I rely on what is familiar. Unprotected by grownups as a child, I developed a perverse comfort in the company of fear. The threat of zombies pales in comparison to rampant memories of narcissism and depression. Those are not just characteristics to which I grew familiar; they are labels I used to rename my parents. Even when they were together, and date night still lived in their marriage, I was left with an alcoholic uncle, or a neglectful neighbor who believed horror suitable for children.

     Behind the doors and windows of the isolated farmhouse, a makeshift family navigates a forked road on which survival waits at the end of one path, and ruin at the end of the other. The same forked road ran through my home. Because I grew up amidst adults of poor impulse control and limited communication skills, ruin was the road on which I was set. I retrace that path with the farmhouse squatters whose destructive behaviors recreate the turbulence of a broken home. Even as an adult, I imagine a different result, and delude myself by believing if I revisit the farmhouse often enough, the impromptu family will coalesce, but the result remains the same, and I am force fed acceptance.
     Although in the age of high definition and restored film prints, I am charmed by old DVD prints with scratchy film and crackling soundtrack overlaying low key black and white. I have learned to accept and even embrace imperfection. If I can tolerate fatal flaws in family, a worn print of a film is adequate. Home reflects the flaws of its leaders and beneath those leaders are the vulnerable, exposed like flesh waiting for the teeth of threat to bite.

     Now grown, I still feel waves of anxiety when I watch the movie and hear the groans of ghouls beyond the walls. The opening 10 minutes is harrowing, and displays the way in which danger lunges from nowhere. The final 20 minutes unravels in a way too familiar to me. People are torn apart, and a home is destroyed. The middle section of the movie has the soothing effect. It is during that portion possibility of a positive outcome exists. The family, entrenched in the fortified farmhouse, is out of harm’s way. When they first get together, the only threat to them exists outside of the home.
   I have mixed feeling about Ben. At times I perceive him as imperfect leader doing the best he can, considering the circumstances. He tries to fend off external threats while managing challenges within the walls. It isn’t long before those challenges overcome him, and threat creeps in. Ben combats Cooper’s petulance and resistance to authority, Barbara’s dissociation and depression, and Judy’s poor prioritizing when she insinuates herself into the Molotov cocktail mission. When family members take the road toward egocentricity, the family dies. I pity Barbara more than the others. She is mired in loss and disempowerment, has no voice or identity, and wears the state of insignificance. I saw that stare in my kitchen every morning. Barbara shambles trance-like, similar to the lurking ghouls. In that way she is indistinguishable from them. I witnessed that labored walk after every hug offered by one parent and rebuffed by the other.

    My complex feelings about fatherhood sometimes taint my perception of Ben. I can easily see him as self-serving and authoritarian, a despot of the ground floor who resorts to violence against "Barbara" and "Cooper," brandishing a weapon to achieve absolute authority. Yet I accept him and idealize him. In the moment he is all they have, and I have been forced to settle for whom I was given. To rationalize Ben’s deficits, I argue he does not act out of malice, and remind myself on the continuum of dysfunction everyone's a victim. Perhaps Ben was the son of an alcoholic who deserted his family. I accept Ben with his faults because he never leaves during crisis. He may not be perfect, but he is present. 
  My ambiguity toward Ben helped me realize my true affinity lies with the farmhouse. It is the character in the film from which I receive the most relief. It may be an inanimate character, but the farmhouse offers structure and safety, qualities most sought by children. The house is well-intentioned and provides necessities to be appreciated or abused. If the residents choose solidarity, survival remains viable. However, because more than one member goes rogue, chaos ensues. The potential for bedlam increases tension in me as I wait to see how the dire circumstances will be handled, even though I know the outcome. I am no stranger to mayhem and confusion in the home, and have navigated a Darwinian environment in which I learned selfishness as a means toward self-preservation. Confusion and mayhem are the offspring of weak leaders. When authority figures stand on shaky ground, a scramble for survival ensues. Not all men are born to lead. When thrust into the position, they sometimes desert with disregard for collateral damage.  
  Ben fortifies the structure in a ramshackle way using materials at his disposal. We all try to make do with our allotted tools, and live with deficit. The gaps and cracks left unattended allow danger to permeate. In both man and structure, a strong foundation reduces the chances of crumbling under extreme pressure. Ben’s limited tools and resources lead to an imperfect and easily penetrable façade of safety. His best simply was not good enough. 
      I revel in scenes that depict the mundane in between shots of impending doom. When the impromptu family members stare in horror at the news and squabble over house rules, life seems normal, even in the absence of discourse venturing beyond the superficial. No one knows anyone else, and each person functions as a self-absorbed individual. When watching footage of the mob set out to destroy zombies, I am reminded of the way in which humanity insists on destroying itself. Havoc ensues in the absence of coalition.
   The most impactful motif is that of the real threat living between the walls. The members of the impromptu family lack cooperative skills necessary to rebuff external threats, and are therefore swallowed by them. The larger system turns on each other. The Cooper subsystem betrays itself. They are cancerous cells growing in a susceptible host environment, and eventually the home is destroyed by the monsters within. Remove the zombies roving about outside, and those same people behaving in the same manner, would still end up destroying each other.
     Every viewing intensifies my desire to rewrite the ending of the film. I scrutinize it, looking for the moment it all went horribly wrong, and then create a different result. I do not just watch Night of the Living Dead; I process it, and experience a naïve hope the outcome will somehow change for the better, and the makeshift family will remain intact instead of being torn apart. The end remains the same, but I retain my childlike optimism things can be different. I mention only in passing I became a therapist to help my clients rewrite their own endings.

   When the ghouls penetrate the walls and windows, threats external and internal conspire to immolate the protective sheath that is the farmhouse. It is decimated, and safety is incinerated. The house becomes a turbulent nightmare of disarray. A child attacks Ben when he is at his most vulnerable. No creature rebels quite like a wounded child. In the end Ben is alone and misunderstood, and in being misunderstood he is destroyed without ever having the opportunity to make his intentions known.
    The conclusion of the film best describes my reasons for retreat into the morose. Had Ben decided to walk out of the farmhouse and been rescued, I could be duped by the hope of romanticism. Ben’s death is tragic, but it displays realism, and we only learn to cope with life through the real. Night Of The Living Dead lends perspective by soothing scars I’ve buried in a cemetery of memories where headstones read: family, fidelity, and father. 

     I am certain to visit the farmhouse in perpetuity to be reminded things could be worse. There is no other horror film to which I have ascribed such personal meaning, and I know I take license in so doing, but such ideas of reference are not a new concept, even those that border on deluded. When posed with the suggestion Ben is African-American to reflect the civil rights movement, and his death a symbol of white oppression against the movement, Romero provided a simplified explanation of his casting: “Duane Jones was the best actor we met to play Ben.” I imagine Mr. Romero appreciates the extent to which fans will go to personalize his legendary work. 
                                 - Article by: Vincent J. Fitzgerald

Diabolique News Break: Take 7 minutes out of your busy schedule and read Vincent J. Fitzgerald's Exclusive New Article HORROR IS RELATIVE here
About Vincent J. Fitzgerald

   Vincent is a lifelong resident of Jersey City and a married father of 2 children. He holds Bachelor's Degrees in Psychology and English from New Jersey City University, and a Master of Social Work Degree from Fordham University. Vincent currently serves as a Psychotherapist for the Nutley Family Service Bureau. 
   Aside from Horrorblogspot, Vincent's work is included in the "Writer's Circle" online Journal here. "Dads Behaving Dadly 2" is a new book and the forthcoming piece in the Winter Edition of Longridge Review (January 2016)

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