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February 2000, Week 4


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John Dougill <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 22 Feb 2000 15:21:01 +0900
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The IMDb classifies The Sixth Sense as thriller/drama/horror.  I'm
interested in the thriller and horror aspects of the film and want to
explain the difference between the two in simplified terms to my students
here in Japan.  I'm having a little trouble so would appreciate any
insights from listmembers.

For those who have the time or inclination, below is the first draft of
something I've written for the students. Any thoughts and corrections would
also be much appreciated.

Thanks a lot

The difference between horrors and thrillers is not always clear.  Both
intend to make the viewer anxious and scared.  Horror films emphasise
things beyond understanding, such as ghosts, vampires, madness, wild
animals or aliens.  Thrillers create a world where no one can be trusted,
as when an isolated individual is pursued for some reason.  The viewer
takes the part of the individual and feels worried about whether he or she
will survive.
        The Sixth Sense has elements of both the horror film and the
thriller film.  On the one hand, it is a tale of ghosts, with dead people
covered in blood and vomiting, as in a nightmare.  On the other hand, the
film also shows a situation in which a young boy can no longer trust the
world around him. As the danger to him grows, the viewer becomes anxious
about his survival.
        Thrillers and horror films employ two main techniques: shock and
suspense. Music and sound effects are important to both. Shocks are quick
and temporary: they make the heart beat faster but the effect does not last
long. Suspense on the other hand can last for the whole film. It depends on
the viewer knowing something that the heroes are not aware of - we worry on
their behalf. Hitchcock explained this by saying that if a bomb goes off,
that's a surprise.  But if the viewer knows there is a ticking bomb under
the table and the hero does not, that's suspense.
        Why do people enjoy watching films that make them scared?  An
obvious answer is because this excites people and makes them feel more
alive.  Think of jet-coasters where people can enjoy the thrill of being
scared while knowing that they will survive and be safe.  This appeals to
young people in particular, who want to test how much fear and repulsion
they can tolerate.
        People are also curious about the dark side of the mind - 'the
beast' inside the human being.  What are the most terrible things that we
can imagine happening?  This kind of question allows for the exploration of
fears in the safety of the cinema - fear of going mad; fear of death; fear
of illness; fear of unknown creatures; fear of supernatural; fear of
powerlessness; fear of scientific experiments going wrong.  Films allow us
to face these fears and be comforted by the fact that we can survive them.

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