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M Is for Murder

Mhand1 Several possibilities presented themselves here (a strong case could be made for Monster, for example), but I’ve gone with murder not just because it’s the single most important action in horror movies (they pivot around it the way other movies tend to pivot around love and sex) but also simply for the way the word SOUNDS.

Murder and murderer are both old, strong words. Often as they’re used, they can still, if uttered correctly, carry a charge of the genuinely forbidden and uncanny.

Fritz Lang knew as much. M, his ancient, grainy, yet strangely undated film about a child killer – or kindermurderer, as the line runs again and again in the German of the film – made Peter Lorre into one of the first true screen monsters (even though, like Hannibal and the rest of his modern cinema successors, he was really just a mere disturbed mortal).

Stanley Kubrick knew about the weird ancient magic that the word murder possesses as well. The accusation that he’s a murderer, uttered by the visiting inspector, is the turning point for Alex in A Clockwork Orange, and all of the final action of The Shining is anchored by the at-first-inexplicable psychic charge carried by the word redrum as uttered, then scrawled, by catatonic, all-knowing Danny.

According to both Freud and the Bible, a murder or set of murders – specifically of a relative – lie at the beginnings of all human culture. If no one had killed anybody back at the beginning of time, both parties submit, things might all be much better than they are today.

But of course, it didn’t work out that way. The act of murder is the ultimate proof that there’s something wrong with human beings — and with the world as well. That’s why horror movies are so often built around it. Horror movies are about our secret but ever-present suspicions about what the world really looks like when the façade of normalcy we try and paste across it falls away, and we see to the true heart of things. What’s the core act we see in that terrible moment of vision?

Just ask Danny.

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