Copyright 2011 by Gary L. Pullman
Having provided both Freudian and Christian definitions and examples of erotic horror, I would now, in the final installment of my “Sex and Horror” series, like to offer my own thoughts concerning this subgenre of horror fiction (or, depending upon one’s point of view, this subgenre of erotic fiction). Although I fervently disbelieve in psychoanalysis, I also believe that Sigmund Freud’s theory of personality does provide some insights that may be, in some sense and to some extent, valid and applicable to the horror genre in general and to the erotic horror subgenre in particular. I likewise believe that the Christian criticism of such fiction, both Catholic and Protestant, offers valid insights concerning sex and horror.
Freud’s emphasis upon unconscious drives and impulses as wellsprings of human behavior is certainly valid, as is the Christian insistence that non-reproductive sex necessarily involves one in human relationships and possibly human-divine relationships as well and may constitute “sinful” conduct. Unless masturbatory, sex must involve at least two individuals, after all, and even masturbatory sex doesn’t occur in a vacuum--a whole web of social and cultural values, taboos, and inducements, including religious ones, apply--even in the commission of solitary sexual activities.
For me, however, sex and horror merge mostly in the duality of human beings as, on the one hand, material-animal beings and, on the other hand, as spiritual-human beings. As ghosts inhabiting machines, men and women are both part and parcel of the natural world and, at the same time, transcend the natural world. As minds, or spirits, people are able to freeze experience in thought and to react or respond to it emotionally and imaginatively; they can project themselves forward in time and imagine a variety of sexual pathways, alternatives, and futures, both for themselves as individuals, for others as individuals, and for society.
In addition, one may find that he or she does not measure up to the expectations of others, whether the “other” involved is one’s partner or one’s society. Perhaps a man may discover that he is impotent, that he cannot perform, or please his lover; a woman may find that she is more highly sexually charged than society deems correct or that she prefers one of her own, to the opposite, sex. Men and women may have trouble relating to anyone else, male or female, on intimate emotional, physical, and sexual levels. They may fear not sex itself but what it will reveal concerning innermost secrets of the self which they would conceal at all costs.
Moreover, social mores shift from time to time, and what is permissible in one era may be impermissible in another; what was once “right” may now be “wrong”--or what was impermissible or wrong in an earlier time may be acceptable or right today. The recognition of the relative and ethnocentric nature of morality is usually disturbing, whether it occurs through reflection upon one’s sexual behavior (or sexuality) or upon human experience in general, and erotic horror is often a product of a character’s discovery of such limitations.
Sex is a physical act in which the heart rate increases as muscles flex and contract, blood flows more copiously, the lungs pant, and body fluids, ultimately, are exchanged. In short, sex reveals human beings’ animality, an aspect of themselves that, in polite society men and women generally take pains to obscure, preferring to think of themselves as “a little lower than the angels” rather than as “higher animals.” Paradoxically, sex, which can generate life, is also a reminder of death. People are animals. They are meat. They will die. Sex brings men and women close to the physical--and, indeed, the visceral--components of themselves and, in doing so, with their own imminent mortality.
But sex is also about power, too. It is about conquest. It is about seduction. Men sometimes regard themselves as conquerors, sex as a means of conquest, and women as the conquered. Sex is, such men suggest, a "war" in which, sooner or later, women are likely to become "casualties." Sex is a series of ongoing "battles" in which the strongest will survive, and men are stronger than women.
Some women, on the other hand, consider sex a means of seduction. In nature, the male animal is bright, beautiful, and alluring, but, among human beings, women adorn themselves, attract and lure, seduce, and claim as their own the suitors who fight among themselves for the exclusive claim to women’s charms. In either vision, the male or the female, sex itself is about power, especially the taking of it from one person--and from one sex--and the conferring of the taken power upon oneself--and one’s own sex.
Many of the icons of horror fiction are used to suggest the multivalent nature of erotic horror: the demon, its amoral quality; the ghost, the repressive social and cultural limitations associated with it and the personal and psychological responses to such restrictions and taboos; the vampire, its predatory aspects; the werewolf, its animality; and the witch, its seductive character. Often, scenes of so-called bondage and discipline highlight the sexual, the social, and the sadomasochistic qualities of sex, suggesting that it is emotionally, physically, and sexually painful and that there is a dynamic of power and powerlessness, of dominance and submission, involved in every expression, of whatever variety, of the sex drive.
Sex is primal and instinctive; sex is personal and secret; sex is social and cultural; sex is revelatory and fearsome--it is a complex set of behaviors, including thoughts and emotions, because humans are themselves complex dualities which are neither exclusively physical or material nor completely incorporeal or spiritual. Men and women live in a number of twofold worlds, but they are defined by none of them: the material and the spiritual, the animal and the human, the temporal and the eternal, the private and the public, the barbaric and the civilized, the natural and the cultural (and, indeed, it may be, the natural and the supernatural). These crossroads of being come together, as it were, as many intersections, the centers of which are often sexual.
Sex unifies us, both as individual persons and as societies and cultures, just as, at the same time, it separates us, both from ourselves and one another. At the heart of erotic horror is our duality as material-spiritual beings who have a foot in both the world of nature and the world of the supernatural, ghosts in machines for whom neither oneness with God or the universe nor oneness with our own fleshly existence is completely comfortable or sufficient. Therefore, sex will always be both a delight and a horror, the center and the fulcrum of erotic horror.