Tag Archives: Fear

Greatest Halloween Films of All Time #4 The Silence of the Lambs

“Well, Clarice – have the lambs stopped screaming? “

Believe it or not Anthony Hopkins is in this 2 hour movie for only 16 minutes. Only 16 minutes of Dr. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter. A slight bit over one eighth of the film. But he seems to be in every scene. And what makes him so creepy is how oddly polite he is, even when being horrifically evil his demeanor is always calm and somehow considerate. What is so frightening about Lecter is that he isn’t easily placed in a box. He isn’t the devil who is evil for the sake of evil, all the violence he commits in the film is directed with the goal of achieving freedom (not that this makes it forgivable, but it isn’t evil for evil’s sake). He’s not a psychopath (like the other serial killer in this film) who acts in an irrational manner he’s quite rational in everything he does. He’s not a sociopath as he seems to have great empathy for Clarice, wanting to help silence her inner demons (although he replaced the screaming of the lambs in her mind, so I’m not sure if that’s a step forward). As Clarice says “They don’t have a name for what he is” because something as self-contradictory as Lecter doesn’t, probably can’t exist, but the fact that we can’t wrap our minds around the layers of contradictions that define Lecter is what makes him so disturbing. (Harris did a great disservice to his character with the back-story that tried to explain Hannibal in “Hannibal Rising.” He was far more horrifying when we couldn’t understand him).

I remember seeing this movie when it first came to VHS (just spelling those letters seems so long ago) at the time it was the most disturbing thing I had ever seen…it’s sad that re-watching it now it comes off as tame compared to some of the movies that come out now (which is a sad statement about how Hollywood has degraded into just cheap thrills).

There are no more supernatural monsters in this list…why? Because the supernatural in many ways is comforting, it allows an excuse for the terrible things they do, they’re just that way…but human beings being that perverse…that’s so much more frightening. We may not ever see the likes of Hannibal the Cannibal in real life, but there are sadly just a few too many in the vein of Buffalo Bill for comfort and that’s what makes this movie so terrifying an evil we can’t understand and one we can understand all too well…

…and that’s also why we like Clarice she is willing to both stare in to the abyss, let it stare into her, and not become the monster she fights…


Up tomorrow…well, we all go a little mad sometimes… followed of course by the single greatest Halloween movie ever made. The one movie that no Halloween is complete without…

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Best Halloween Cinema #30: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

So begins the list of the #30 best things to watch for Halloween (I by no means claim this is a definitive list and the ordering is rather arbitrary).

We start this month of horror films off with a TV show. But not just any TV show, the single greatest TV show in the history of human civilization (at least up to this point…Whedon could easily come out with something new that would surpass it in a few years). That show is of course Buffy The Vampire Slayer. High tragedy, high comedy, deep understanding of the human condition, skill in writing, acting and directing, and of course a hopeful view of humanity that forgiveness is possible and that people can grow and improve themselves. There is simply no show in the history of television that has dealt such profound philosophical themes without being heavy handed and with characters who were human and never just two dimensional cutouts who were allowed to followed a predictable pattern.

The reason such a great work of art gets put last in this list is that it’s really not a horror story. Yes there are vampires and werewolves and monsters of all stripes. But even though it has all the tropes of horror, it is not focused on death as any good horror story is, rather Buffy is focused on life, specifically the growing up part of life. And in this respect it works as a good counterbalance to everything that’s going to come after, but that does not mean it does not have its horrifying moments.

So let’s do a quick rundown of some of the more terrifying episodes.

The Gentlemen from “Hush”

“Hush”: Possibly the most horrifying episode of Buffy. Corpse like emaciated men dressed in 1920’s style suits come to town, steal everyone’s voice and rip out their hearts. It’s frightening for several reasons. The first is the villains, The Gentlemen. The scariest monsters are always the ones that look human but are just a slight bit off, the fact that they were so concerned with manners and courtesy in their actions toward one another just adds to the horror because it is so out of place when you’re about to cut out a live and awake person’s heart. The other reason that it’s such a terrifying episode is that it takes away from the characters something they take for granted: their voice. The idea of not having something we have been so dependent on that we take it for granted, like our ability to communicate brings up the simple question in our minds: “what would I do in that situation?” It’s not a pleasant question. We use our voice for so many things and the idea that we should have to live without it–not a pleasant thought. And of course there is the fear of death. Few episodes have shown people so helpless as this episode when being killed, they’re restrained almost immediately so they can’t run away; they have no voice so they can’t scream for help and then they feel everything as their heart is cut out. One of the things that frighten people so much about death is that they think it is something out of their control, that it will come in the night without warning or rhyme or reason and there is nothing they can do about it, and they are utterly powerless in the face of the unknown. It’s powerlessness against it that frightens them (it’s why waiting for the diagnosis of cancer is worse than the diagnosis itself, when you know what it is, you have a name, an MRI, an idea you can fight against or give into, it’s your choice—but when you’re waiting you still have no choice about anything). It is this powerlessness that the scenes of death in this episode capture so well, and remind most of us of our own fears of death.
Helpless: People run a lot in Buffy. But either they’re one episode’s extras whom we’re not really all that invested in, or they’re main characters and we know Buffy will save them. But when it’s Buffy who is doing the running because she has had all her powers taken away, that adds a lot more terror. The safety net of “Buffy will save the day” is gone, and being Joss Whedon, we never had any reassurance that he isn’t willing to kill main characters, so there’s not that usual safety net either.

“Restless”: There is something terrifying about the unknown and the bizarre to most people. If they can’t understand and make sense of it, it frightens them. So putting our four main characters in a rather symbolic and random dreamscape with an unknown assailant killing them, is quite terrifying. Oh and there’s cheese (if you’ve seen the episode you’ll get that).

“Fear Itself”: Finally my favorite Halloween episode in Buffy. The Scooby Gang faces off against a demon who makes them live out their worst fears and then face the fear demon itself. Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” This episode shows how foolish that is. Why? Because the fear demon is three inches tall, which is possibly the most insightful and genius representation of fear I have ever seen in of all of literature. Fear is something small, something insignificant, and something if you use reason isn’t worth worrying about…yet we let it control us because we refuse to look at it. If we did confront it head on we would probably find that most of our fears are so small and so insignificant that they can just easily be squashed and ignored.

Xander: Who’s the little fear demon? Come on, who’s the little fear demon? Giles: Don’t taunt the fear demon.Xander: Why? Can he hurt me?Giles: No, it’s just… tacky

Honorable Mentions:

None these are exactly great films (not that the top 30 are all Oscar Winners) but they get trotted out every Halloween and I would say they do meet my criteria of an unhealthy obsession with death.

Constantine: An epic battle between good and evil with a poorly executed story of redemption.  Fun but ultimately pointless.

Stigmata: It’s not exactly a horror film, (and I’ll probably deal with it later in my blogs about movies for New Agers) but with all the blood and suffering it has many of the tropes of a horror film.

Bless the Child: Certainly not as dense and preachy as the novel it’s based on, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still just a little preachy.  And then there is just the rather low quality direction.

The Shinning (TV movie 1997): You know the Nicholson/Kubric version of the film is actually well done, the problem is that it seems to completely ignore that there is actually a great book that it’s supposed to be based on. The TV movie, while not without its flaws was more true to theme and characters of the book and thus I prefer it to the older version.

Fringe: Again it’s not really about the fear of death, but there are some truly horrifying moments.  Like in the first episode where everyone’s skin is melting off, that’s frightening at levels I can’t begin to describe.  And that 3rd season episode where they guy is playing with a corpse and through levers and pulleys make it dance ballet, that’s disturbing at a level I seldom see.

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Weekly Meditation: Fear is the mind killer

“I must not fear.

Fear is the mind-killer.

Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

I will face my fear.

I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.

Where the fear has gone there will be nothing……Only I will remain.”

 

I know I’ve quoted this before in a previous meditation, but It’s one of those points that never gets old.

Many of you may recognize it as the “Litany Against Fear” that appears in just about every single volume of the Frank Herbert’s Dune series (I think they’re up to some odd 15 or maybe 500 volumes in the series, it’s so hard to keep track these days)…

The concept is pretty self explanatory, fear is a paralytic to our behavior.  It causes us to not act, or worse, act irrationally and destructively.  When we act from fear we act from the worst within us and it leads to the worst results.

And I bring this up because I am seeing fear more and more right now.  Be it in my personal life or on the internet or news, I see people acting from the negative, from the worst possible interpretations, looking for the how it will all fail.  And I won’t say I’m afraid of what the results are going to be—I’m not, I believe everything will always work out in the end—I’m just annoyed because when people act out of fear it delays that ending that actually does work out…and you know if I have a choice in the matter I’d like the happy ending sooner rather than later.

So how do we confront this fear with meditation?

Well it’s not going to be just a five minute process in the morning, while quiet meditation will help, the best thing to do is follow these steps during the day when something you fear actually occurs.

First, if you can repeat the Litany as it appears above.  It will center your mind to analyze the fear dispassionately and rationally…and taking that step back from the emotion of fear is going to best thing you can do to weaken the fear.  Now this will also be the hardest step.  When we get into a period of fear, recognizing it and disengaging is the last thing that you’re willing to consider.  Thus I recommend if you can, repeat the litany every hour on the hour.  Doing it on a schedule may help you disengage from a fear you didn’t even realize was bothering you and this gives you  power over it.

Second, when you recognize a fear that is bothering you I want you to ask “What’s the worst that can happen.”  Let me go with an extreme example I’m seeing more and more on the internet right now: all of Europe goes into a whole new Great Depression and the U.S. feels the shock waves.  (There are other wacky conspiracy theories on the net that are even worse than this one, but reason would always dismiss those).  Okay, so.  Time to tighten the belt again, la-de-dah.  The poor in this nation still live lives that the Caesars would envy.  Here let me cut to the chase and go with the worst of worst case scenario: You die.  So?  You’re looking at a meditation on a New Age website, I’m guessing you have some belief in the immortality of the soul—so your body dies, you’re still around, and always will be.  In fact, there is only one ending possible, after some odd number of lifetimes you reach Enlightenment and eternal bliss—any version of New Age belief pretty much holds that this is the only possibility.  Same for most Eastern religions. And if you believe in Heaven and Hell, I think you’re a little foolish, but what do you have to worry about if you’ve led a good life (and if you haven’t I believe the core belief of the Western religions is that it is never too late to change, so get to it).  I know initially that might come off as callous, but hey, everyone pretty much agrees that the worst case scenario still ends with a very happy ending.

But if you don’t want to go that far…look at it this way, most of your problems aren’t at the level of whole nations crashing down.  You lose your job or your spouse leaves or you go bankrupt.  Worst case.  You have friend, you have family, you have things you can sell.  Will it be painful, yes, but you’ll still be alive and you’ll eventually land on your feet, and worrying about it won’t help.  Run the worst case scenarios out in your head, I promise you every time if you extend it out five, ten years you’ll be doing okay.  Yeah, maybe you won’t have that house on the French Rivera, but happiness isn’t dependent on external things.

Are you afraid you’ll never find someone to spend your life with?  Worst case scenario, you don’t.  Can you still be happy?  Yeah.  In fact if you happiness is dependent on someone else it isn’t happiness.  You want someone to share your happiness with, not someone to give you happiness, because no one can.  So if you don’t find someone, it doesn’t matter because it’s not the key to your happiness, you are.

You aren’t going to be successful?  Eh.  Worst case, if you did everything you could and failed, you have the comfort that you were still the master of your fate and learned from the process.

I promise if you run the worst case scenario out for several years into the future, you’ll be fine.  There’s nothing to worry about.  You may not have everything you want, but you’ll still be here and still moving through life, and that’s what matters.

Third  now that you’ve seen the fears to be momentary, that while there may be some temporary hardship and suffering, that life isn’t a stream of misery and failure, you can now kill that final bit of fear.  What is in your power to avoid that worse case scenario?  Don’t worry about the things not in your control, they’re not in your control and worrying won’t help.  The more you think about what you have control over, the more you will realize that event the worst case scenario won’t happen.

So now you know the worst case can’t happen and it is in your power to stop it.

Now look back and see if the fear remains…or if only you remain.

Try this thought process every time you realize you have a fear about the future and you will help to end fear’s control over you.

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