Last night, I watched Ghost, the Patrick Swayze/Demi Moore movie, with my wife. If you haven’t seen it, it’s mostly about pottery and Patrick’s soulful eyes, with just a daub of romance and the supernatural mixed in for good measure.
It was my first viewing, to my wife’s surprise, and I think its familiarity has blinded people to what a strange movie it is. Here is a romance, a story of love from beyond the grave, that has at least 3 gruesome deaths and ends with the protagonist literally walking into the light. Swayze also spends a decent portion of the movie acting like Rocky, if Rocky’s hands were incorporeal and he was murdered before the big fight.
Ghost, in spite of its title, isn’t a scary movie, although it has a couple creepy bits, what with the evil characters being pulled into Hell, but it got me thinking about the relationship between horror films and what I’d like to tactfully call “tear-jerkers”.
I enjoyed Ghost, but it’s undeniably designed to make you cry. In fact, at its Mexican premier, boxes of tissue were passed out to women in the audience. It has a nice story, some funny bits, Patrick Swayze’s abs, but mostly–mostly–it’s supposed to make you bawl like there’s no tomorrow. And it’s pretty effective in spite of its undeniable 80-ness.
Horror films, on the other hand, may sometimes have romantic subplots–though they’re usually there to add a minimal amount of pathos when said love interest is pulled into 4 pieces or whatever–but, although their body count is usually a little higher than Ghost‘s, they aren’t trying to make you cry–they want to make you scream.
So maybe what I’m getting at is painfully obvious to everyone. Maybe I, like Demi Moore, am the last person to realize the truth. But regardless, I can’t help but conclude that horror films and tearjerkers are basically aiming for the exact same thing. They want to cause a deep, visceral reaction, and not one that’s normally considered desirable. They also tend to go at this in a similar manner–by exploiting the fears of their audience. If we weren’t afraid of death, or at least losing someone we cared about, neither genre would be effective. But we are, all of us, and so, when we leave the latest Nicholas Sparks sobfest, we sell it to our friends with “Man, I sobbed like a colicky infant”. And if our friend responds, “Paranormal Activity 17 kept me up all night last night”, well, maybe instead of recoiling, we should move in for the hug. We’re all in this together, after all.