Splice (2009)

Splice (Hoban & del Toro 2009) is a simple film, a modern lesson in the complexities of creating new organisms with human DNA and fostering mutant children in hostile environments. In this classy piece of cinema, a biochemist power couple -- in danger of losing laboratory funding! -- create a new hybrid organism in hopes of a genetic breakthrough. Things take a turn for the worse when the “father” falls in lust with his mutant daughter and his wife catches him having sex with ‘it’. 

This of course causes marital problems, until the mutant daughter spontaneously changes sex, kills the father and rapes the mother. Finally, the distraught mother - only survivor of her freak-child’s murderous rampage - deals with her pain by donating the resultant fetus to corporate science. Confusing? Yes. Freudian? Yes! Though I was shaking my head violently during this film, and my eyebrows were furrowed for so long that my forehead hurt, Splice does do us a service. 

This confusing piece of misfired psychoanalysis hints towards a number of issues related to the role of biological sex in determining behavior, and capitalizes on the media’s fascination with the idea that testosterone, the hormone that assists in transforming a fetus into a male, is related to aggression. The spliced mutant human-fish-duck-bat child ‘Dren’ (affectionately named by her mother) demonstrates a number of radical changes when ‘she’ becomes male, some of which are actually supported by empirical evidence (see McIntyre & Edwards, 2009 for a review). For instance, after the infusion of testosterone, she demonstrates a strong desire for dominance (by killing every other male in sight) and she shows a clear reduction in empathy (violating her mother despite her pained cries).

However, as we take in all the Freudian phallic symbolism and lose track of the all the gene swapping, we must remind ourselves that the science of sex differences is not so clear-cut. We cannot forget the role of interactions between genes, behavior, and environment during human development. And most importantly, in Dren’s case, we cannot overlook the role of mixing human DNA with the DNA of slugs, kangaroos, armadillos, and overbearing mothers!

Check out Splice (2009) here:

Hoban, S., & del Toro, G. (Producers), Natali, V. (Director). (2009). Splice [Motion picture]. Canada,France: Dark Castle Entertainment.
McIntyre, MH., & Edwards, CP. (2009). The early development of gender differences. Annual Review of Anthropology, 38, 83-97.


Hatchet (2006)

The film Hatchet (Green, 2006) claims to be an “Old school American Horror”, and that’s exactly what you get. A group of strangers, lost after their boat tour turned sour in the Louisiana bayou, are relentlessly hunted by a giant, crazed (perhaps non-human), and deformed angry lunatic with, that’s right, a hatchet. The small group must try to overcome their differences as they navigate the dark and unknown woods. Unfortunately, each of them meets an ignoble end -- one-by-one their heads are torn off their necks, their arms are ripped off their torsos, and one of them gets a nice mouthful of frothy lunatic vomit. This movie follows rather gracefully in the footsteps of its predecessors like Black Christmas, and the Friday the 13th and Halloween franchises, among others.

The formula is decades old, and audiences never grow weary of watching scantily clad teenagers trip over themselves while running from a dark and brooding stalker. The popularity of these films teaches us something very simple about the psychology of the horror genera: some individuals are ‘sensation seekers’. These types of individuals tend to seek new experiences, are more likely to demonstrate uninhibited behaviours, and are more susceptible to boredom than others (see Zuckerman, 2006, for a review on sensation seeking and horror film watching!). Those that seek sensation may find that there is just enough novelty in watching people get ripped to shreds, just enough mystery in the darkness of the woods, just enough excitement in trying to resist and fight against the animal rage and strength of their hunters, and just enough make believe in Hatchet to keep their cortisol levels high, giving them the vicarious rush that they desire.

Check out Hatchet here:

Green, A (Producer), Green, A (Director). (2006). Hatchet [Motion picture]. United States: Anchor Bay Entertainment.
Zuckerman, M. (1996). Sensation seeking and the taste for vicarious horror. In J.B. Weaver III & R. Tomboroni (Eds.), Current Research on Audience Preferences and Reactions (pp 147-159). New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. 


Peeping Tom (1960)

Released in Britain around the same time Hitchcock's Psycho, Peeping Tom (Cohen, 1960) turned theaters of curious onlookers into voyeurs spying on a mild-mannered young man, Mark Lewis (Karlheinz Bohm), who is determined to create the ultimate documentary on human fear. Seducing women into quiet, secluded rooms, he turns a video camera on them as they are impaled by the cold impersonal blade at the end of his tripod. On film, he captures their contorted and terrified faces as he snuffs out their lives. 

Though Peeping Tom is arguably one of the earliest 'slashers', it is more complex than many films in this category, and has inspired film makers both within the horror genre and otherwise since its release. The motivation for Mr. Lewis's macabre film project comes from his own experiences as a child. The subject of his father's indecent and unethical experimentation on the effects of early fear on the nervous system, Lewis matures into a man obsessed with the concept. Indeed, Mr Lewis reveals that his father filmed his reactions to all sorts of psychologically traumatic stimuli, including forcing him to share a bed with an unwanted lizard.  Mark's father was unquestionably more concerned with his career as a psychologist than with his duties as a father. 

Interestingly, experiments of conditioned fear in humans were not unheard of in early studies by behaviourists. The most famous case, that of 'Little Albert', claimed to demonstrate that you could train a child to fear an animal (and animal-like things) by pairing presentations of the animal with startling, frightening noises (see Watson & Rayner, 1920). Further, it is often suggested that Little Albert's fear lasted into his adulthood. Whether this is true or not, we are pretty certain Albert did not venture into the world of snuff documentary film-making as an adult, though (as the video below might suggest) he probably was never quite comfortable around video cameras, men in suits, or white rats.

Check out Peeping Tom (1960) here:

Learn more about the 'Little Albert' Experiment here:

Cohen, N. (Producer), Powell, M. (Director). (1960). Peeping Tom [Motion picture]. United Kingdom: Anglo-Amalgamated Film Distributers.
Watson, J.B. and Rayner, R. (1920). Conditioned emotional reactions. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 3, 1, pp. 1–14