Monday, 4 March 2013


“As much horror as we have always created, we are a species that keeps moving forward, seeing new sights in new ways, and enjoying the journey.” - Martha Beck

We watched Bradley Parker’s 2012 film “Chernobyl Diaries” starring Jesse McCartney, Jonathan Sadowski and Olivia Dudley at the weekend. This is a standard Hollywood, B-grade, horror potboiler, but it’s done fairly well and thus it is enjoyable in its own manner. It has one suitably interested, tense and anxious, pleasantly horrified with the film until its gory dénouement. One should not expect much, it is twaddle after all, so if the expectations are low, it can provide some mindless entertainment for an afternoon matinée viewing.

The young cast is tolerable and does an acceptable job of being stupid and bringing upon themselves the horrible fate that no amount of forewarning could prevent. True to genre, the heroes and/or heroines will do what no sane person would do, against all sober advice and against all wise warning. Nevertheless, this provides the basis for the movie’s plot to the titillation of the audience’s baser instincts. There is certainly gore enough in this film, although not excessive by the genre’s standards.

The plot is thin, but adequate for what the movie. Three Americans, Chris, his girlfriend Natalie, and their friend, Amanda leave the USA for a holiday in Europe. They go to Kiev, in the Ukraine to meet Chris’ brother Paul who lives there. Chris and Natalie are on their to Moscow, where Chris plans to propose Natalie. Paul proposes instead an “extreme tourism” adventure, convincing the girls to visit Chernobyl instead. Chris grudgingly accepts the majority vote. Extreme tourism agency is run by ex-soldier, now turned tourist guide, Uri. He tells them that they can go to Pripyat, the derelict city near the Chernobyl nuclear station, due to the level of radiation being acceptable for short periods at that distance. Zoe and Michael join the group and they travel in Uri’s van to Pripyat. On arrival, they find the road blocked by the military and they are forbidden entry. Uri uses a back way through the forest to reach the town. The tourist group spends the day visiting the area and the abandoned buildings. An encounter with a wild bear worries Uri and he decides to return to the van. The van does not start and Uri realises that the wires were chewed. Soon they discover that they are stranded in the town and that they are not alone...

Horror movies, the gorier the better, are a well-recognised and popular genre that repels and fascinates the viewer. Humans are fascinated by evil and horror, as long as they’re not personally involved. In the comfort of the cinema or in our own living-room in front of the TV we love to see monsters, ghosts and ghouls threaten people like us and we cringe as the inevitable gruesome plot develops and the forces of evil claim more and more victims.

People respond to the viewing of such films with similar physical and psychological symptoms to actually experiencing a genuine stressful situation: Increase in heartbeat, rapid breathing, and tensing of the muscles. The viewer is experiencing fear and their body is releasing adrenaline. Despite the unpleasantness they cause on viewing, the continued popularity enjoyed by the horror genre, both in literature and in the movie industry, tells us that we like these experiences of fear and distress.

A fascination with horror and evil has a long history. In all cultures there tales of the supernatural. Myths and legends based on the places of the damned and the restless dead, like graveyards and cemeteries have been told by people for centuries, robbing them of sleep and causing reactions of fear and disgust. At the same time, however, many of these stories have a triumphant conclusion, where good defeats evil and the forces of darkness are overcome by light and righteousness. A mirror of the world, perhaps, where we wish (and expect) favourable outcomes in situations that may well be out of our control.

Tension and excitement are often seen by people as positive, and in this context we talk of the ‘suspense effect.’ Besides this tension people experience when they come into contact with horror stories, however, there is another factor at work: The fear that is kindled in us by coming face to face with the supernatural. Human beings show an affinity with the ‘spirit world’, and even in these times of high technology, hard science and debunking of myths, millions upon millions of people still believe in ghosts, evil spirits and the supernatural.
People first encounter ‘spirits’ in their dreams, when they dream of someone who has died for example. This can cause absolute terror if the ‘vision’ is in the horrifying context of a nightmare. We wake up in a cold sweat with the events we have ‘experienced’ in our nightmare fresh in our mind and quite believable. It is a trick played by our brain as it discharges and processes information and data during our sleep. As human beings, we process knowledge and experiences on a metaphorical basis in our dreams. This is a culturally independent process. Furthermore, it is well documented that if people believe a curse has been placed upon them this can result in major physical consequences ranging all the way through to heart failure and death. Witchdoctors pointing the “bone of death” at susceptible individuals who believe in it wield enormous power.

As with everything that preoccupies people, these kinds of dramatic occurrences have become established in literature. There are any number of folktales in which the rogues and villains die from sheer terror when they see the ghosts who are out for revenge. When the movie was invented later on, horror then took up residence in the cinema. It serves a cathartic purpose and everyone of us can have safe cheap thrills in our own lounge room!

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