by Kyle Mendelsohn
Horror films may be perceived as mindless gore without depth, however this is not the case. Horror films, as well as other genres, are rich with psychological themes called archetypes. Be sure to look for these themes the next time you decide you’re in the mood for a horror film. Psychological archetypes in horror films are closely related to the fear of losing control in a mental or physical sense.
The mother and child archetype is based off of psychological damage the mother figure has done to manipulate the child and turn them into a monster. The child becomes a psychologically impaired young adult that does not have the mental capability to defy the mother, which gives the mother the ability to manipulate the child.
The persona archetype, known as the mask archetype is used to set the monster apart from the other characters in the film. After concealing their identity, the villain is no longer obligated to conform to societal expectations. The mask allows the monster to give into animalistic instincts as opposed to behaving in a civil manner. One of my favorite movies that uses this archetype is the Scream series. The killer conceals their identity, but is a member of the community. This allows the killer to act like an average citizen during the day, and slit throats by night.
The magician or sage archetype is a knowledgeable figure that becomes powerless in their area of expertise. The magician can be seen as an exorcist that loses control of an exorcism, or a doctors that lose control of their monsters. A film that perfectly conveys this archetype, is the Conjuring. In the film an exorcist loses control of an exorcism, and becomes possessed. The exorcist in this case, represents the sage archetype.
These are some of the most commonly used archetypes in horror films, and to learn more about them I highly recommend reading, Psychological Reflections on Cinematic Terror: Jungian Archetypes, by James F. Laccino. After obtaining this information I have found that these archetypes appear in almost all horror films. Archetypes draw upon human fears because losing control of a situation or one’s sanity can create unthinkable monsters. Monsters cause utter chaos and corruption of mental stability; therefore, they illustrate the fear of losing control. Such monsters, are the inspiration for the scariest horror films ever made. The frequently quoted line “All monsters are human” from the popular TV show, American Horror Story, illustrates a deeper fear that monster make up cannot convey.