Friday, July 7, 2017

Random Article: A History of Ghost Movies, Part 1

Well, it's time for another write-up here, and the one I've chosen for this blog is one of the biggest, most impactful genres in all of horror in the Ghost Movie.

Now, first and foremost, the reason for this blog entry is particularly important as the decision is made to being timely in regards to what's going on in the real world. The timing of this is done to coincide with a special tradition in Asian culture known as Hungry Ghost Month, which like most other real-life traditions turned into a movie will require a brief history note first. Now, this is a concept in Chinese Buddhism and Chinese traditional religion representing beings who are driven by intense emotional needs in an animalistic way. "Hungry ghosts" play a role in Chinese Buddhism and Taoism as well as in Chinese folk religion. The term èguǐ, literally "hungry ghost," is the Chinese translation of the term preta in Buddhism and is not to be confused with the generic term for "ghost", known as guǐ for " the spirit of a deceased ancestor." The understanding is that all people become a regular ghost when they die and would then slowly weaken and eventually die a second time. Hungry ghosts, by contrast, are a much more exceptional case, and would only occur in very unfortunate circumstances, such as if a whole family was killed or when a family no longer venerated their ancestors.

In the Taoist tradition, it is believed that hungry ghosts can arise from people whose deaths have been violent or unhappy. Both Buddhism and Taoism share the idea that hungry ghosts can emerge from neglect or desertion of ancestors, while some believe that evil deeds will cause a soul to be reborn in one of six different realms. The highest degree of evil deeds will cause a soul to be reborn as a denizen of hell, a lower degree of evil will cause a soul to be reborn as an animal, and the lowest degree will cause a soul to be reborn as a hungry ghost. There is a belief that the ghosts of the ancestors may be granted permission to return to the world of the living at a certain time of the year, hungry and ready to take what they can from there, if these spirits had not been given sufficient offerings by their living relatives.

A festival called the Hungry Ghost Festival is held to honor the hungry ancestor ghosts and food and drink is put out to satisfy their needs. The Hungry Ghost Festival is celebrated during the 7th month of the Chinese calendar. It also falls at the same time as a full moon, the new season, the fall harvest, the peak of monastic asceticism, the rebirth of ancestors, and the assembly of the local community. According to tradition, during this month, the gates of hell are opened up and the hungry ghosts are free to roam the earth where they seek food and entertainment. These ghosts are believed to be ancestors of those who have forgotten to pay tribute to them after they died. They have long thin necks because they have not been fed by their families. Tradition states that families should offer prayers to their deceased relatives and burn "hell money". It is believed that "hell money" is a valid currency in the underworld and helps ghosts to live comfortably in the afterlife. People also burn other forms of joss paper such as paper houses, cars and televisions to please the ghosts.

And thus concludes our history lesson on the event. Now, this practice has actually been employed several times in horror films, most notably the found-footage effort Seventh Moon as well as the Singapore-based The Maid, neither of which actually explain the event but are rather set during this time of the year. So, the important part of all this is the fact that I'm going to be using this as an excuse for the rest of the month to talk about ghost movies which is a subject that needs some explanation.

For those that don't know me, like most of these genres, I'm actually incredibly anal when it comes to classifying what a ghost is. It might seem like a no-brainer what a ghost is, and to a large degree, this is some common ground. For me, it has to be a person or persons that have to have died without crossing over and still exists on earth, which I'm sure you all can agree on. However, there's one major difference to add on to that description in that they have to appear through simple circumstance. They cannot be brought into existence through a spell, witchcraft or any similar type of ceremony or ritual involving any of those elements, it has to already be in existence and the characters should simply stumble upon it or be specifically targeted for their actions.

Yes, it's a little specific and anal but that's just how I am, commonplace and there's some good to be had here from looking at and classifying films in that manner. Through this mindset, there's several different scenes and trends you can find here that fall under the general heading of a ghost movie. These are called Hauntings, Revenge, Righting Wrongs and Slasher styles, and we'll take a look at each of these before we get started.

The first style, and definitely the most prominent in the scene, are the Haunting efforts. They're the simplest and easiest to identify seeing as how it revolves solely on the ghost haunting a specific location. This can be anywhere, from an apartment complex to a hospital, a boat, castle or even a remote town, though other places definitely stick out as popular places to find ghosts. Surely, houses or mansions are commonplace while in Japan a whole series of films were made involving ghosts haunting schools. South Korea also stepped up with school-haunting films as well, while big contributions also come from Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines making this a truly global style.

After this, though, is where things start getting interesting. The first of these is the Revenge style, which carries with it a rather specific standard here in its considerations for the grouping. While there's certainly aspects of this style found here that does cross over into other styles as the main theme for its appearance, there's the distinct impression here of the titular ghost targeting a direct audience explicitly for a straightforward explanation. There are numerous reasons as for what fits into that explanation, yet that there becomes the sole reason as for why we're in a ghost movie is that it is actively seeking a specific person or group for a specific reason. Now, we'll get into what specifically later, so let's move on.

The other style here is the Righting Wrong style, which is a rather odd term to use in association with ghost films but there's a specific rationale to this. In this type of scenario, the ghosts become involved in the storyline as an ulterior force, instead of a driving force where their appearance spurns the main characters into action in order to uncover a long-buried secret. Essentially, the mere fact of having a ghost around launches the characters into an investigation of why they're around and that leads into the slowly-unfurling mystery that has been buried finally being exposed and thereby 'righting' the 'wrong' that had lead to its initial appearance. Again, we'll talk more about that later.

Lastly, the final subgenre style here is the Slasher variety, which again seems like a fake designation but frankly, this makes the most sense of these new styles. Unlike the Revenge and Righting Wrong styles, there's a frankness here to this one where the ghost is effectively acting like a slasher movie villain in just going on a rampage targeting random people. There's no real specific location that gets haunted, it doesn't seek revenge against anyone in particular or ends up forcing anyone to figure out why they're being affected. It's just a ghost going on a rampage and appearing to kill indiscriminately, much like a true slasher film villain. Along with all the other genres I've mentioned here, we'll get to those later.

Now, there's a healthy slew of films out there that do fall into these types of styles that it amounts to quite a significant part of ghost movies to tie them together here. Now, while it may occur that there's some cross-over to be found in some films, where some friends are stalked in an apartment complex to seek revenge on a family member moving in or terrorizing a couple in their new house to let them know why they're still haunting the area, but we'll soon find an easy way of determining things when we pick this up again.