The worst horrors come not from boogeymen or werewolves or vampires, but from the mind. Yes, our minds are tricky things that can plague us with terrible things, and nowhere is this more clear than in these tales.
It's clear from the opening frames of this influential horror film that something is wrong with Carol (Catherine Deneuve). She appears to be in a fugue-like state as she goes about her job as a beautician, but her beauty and passivity keep others from inquiringly too deeply about what goes on in her head. Slowly we come to realize that Carol is, in fact, deeply disturbed. The clues pile up: her reactions of fear and loathing to anything dealing with men and sex, her fascination with a crack in her apartment's wall, her nightmares/fantasies that hands are coming out of the walls to clutch at her, her withdrawal into catatonia as food rots in the kitchen, and more. We're never directly told the cause of Carol's state of mind (though we can make some educated guesses). It's a fascinating, elliptical film, whose influence in use of sound in particular can be felt in movies to this day.
The Yellow Wallpaper
Charlotte Perkins Gilman's famous short story takes us into the mind of a woman who is, by her own admission, suffering from "a slight hysterical tendency" (and possibly from postpartum depression). She's more or less confined to a single room and forbidden any reading material or visitors, as her patronizing husband deems these too stimulating and will impede her mental recovery. But the narrator soon becomes fixated on some particularly ugly yellow wallpaper in her room, and the more she ponders it, the further her mind unravels. The ambiguity of the story makes it all the more intriguing and worrisome.
Assorted films by David Lynch
Lynch's films often feature protagonists in considerable mental distress, at the mercy of the horrors their minds foist on them. There's the last days of Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, as she free falls through the toll of years of sexual abuse. There's the in-denial split personality of Fred Madison in Lost Highway, who's running from the consequences of his murderous jealousy. There's the consumed-by-guilt actress who conjures a fantasy to avoid facing the fact that she's had her lover murdered. And let's not even get into the psychodramatic horrors of Eraserhead. Despite the surrealist trappings, these stories are very much tales of ordinary madness, and in their own way, horror movies.
Next week: Humor and horror!