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The Dartmouth
May 29, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

The ‘Primal Fear on Film’ series features eight movies designed to showcase what really scares us

The Hop’s ongoing film series features both classic and recently-released movies that encompass some of the most fundamental fears in modern society.

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Still from "Cat Person."

The “Primal Fear on Film” series — presented by The Hopkins Center for the Arts — features eight films inspired by the seasonally-appropriate question: What really scares us? The selection of films was carefully curated with the intent of showcasing some of modern society’s biggest fears. 

The series’ curators include director of film at the Hop Sydney Stowe, film programming and operations manager at the Hop Johanna Evans and film programming coordinator at the Hop Travis Weedon, in conjunction with the Dartmouth Film Society. The series features films that address several aspects of modern-day fear: the fear of being watched, the rise of artificial intelligence and the dangers associated with online dating. 

The lineup of films includes: “Rear Window,” “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “Get Out,” “The Wicker Man,” “Terminator 2: Judgement Day,” “El Conde,” “Cat Person” and the original 1933 “King Kong” shown on 35mm film. Each film is shown on a designated day, ranging from Oct. 1 through Nov. 11. They are screened chronologically in the order in which they are listed above. 

For some Dartmouth students, the “Primal Fear on Film” series is an opportunity for a fun night out with friends. 

“Watching scary movies with your friend is one of my favorite bonding experiences,” Gemma Stowell ’27 said.

Apart from the seasonally-appropriate theme of fear, the inspiration for the series’ theme derived from recent global events. Evans explained how the COVID-19 pandemic was a significant inspiration in the creation of the “Primal Fear on Film” series. 

“We’re getting close to getting back to a new normal post-pandemic, but it feels like that new normal involves a significantly higher level of anxiety and fear than what we had pre-pandemic,” Evans said. “We thought that an interesting way to explore that lingering sense of fear that we’re all carrying around us is to look at how our deep fears have been reflected in cinema over time.” 

In light of the pain that the pandemic has caused, the Hop Film Office decided to focus the idea on an emotion — fear — instead of a singular film genre such as horror or thriller. Stowe explained that the series aims to target the essential question — what are people afraid of — as a driving motivation for the series in attempts to go beyond a genre and into human emotion. 

The Dartmouth Film Society aided in the selection of the films to capture a wide range of topics, according to Evans. The result is a diverse series designed to attack the complex notion of fear as well as include films in which there is something for everyone to enjoy.

“We really worked with the students to kind of brainstorm different titles and put together something that felt balanced,” Evans said.  

The first film of the series, the 1954 film “Rear Window,” screened on Oct. 1. The film’s inclusion in the series was motivated by an interest in the students from Film Society, according to Evans. Evans draws a parallel between the helplessness experienced by audiences in this film and the feeling of powerlessness felt by individuals on a global scale during the pandemic. 

“The students, in particular, were excited to include a Hitchcock film,” Evans said. “It is an interesting film in that you are very aware as an audience member that part of the horror is the feeling of watching something and not being able to do anything to help the characters on screen. And thereby it taps into a general fear that anybody has of not being in control.” 

Another film in the “Primal Fear” series was Jordan Peele’s “Get Out.” The film, screened on Oct. 14, provided representation of how ideas of fear can be experienced and perceived differently based on demographic features such as race. 

“‘Get Out’ I think is one of the most astonishing horror films ever made, and definitely a stunning example of horror and comedy both working in tandem with each other,” Evans said. He added that he wanted to include the film because its “comedy opens your brain in a different way” and it “portray[s] the terror of being a Black person in America and having to deal with the threats of violence in the structural racism that we’re living in.”

Other films included in the series cover other complex aspects of fear. “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” highlights the rise of artificial intelligence in modern society. 

Further, “Cat Person,” based on a 2017 short story published in ‘The New Yorker,’ also showcases how online dating creates additional layers of distrust, ambiguity and danger. 

“[Cat Person] goes even further than ‘The New Yorker’ story did,” Evans said. “It does a really interesting job of capturing the fear that the short story explores of being a woman in the modern dating era. Meeting somebody online or someone you barely know, feeling like you get to know them via text message and then realizing when you're alone in a room with them that you don’t really know who they are. And all of the ways that that can frighten you and that things can easily go wrong from there.”

The final film of the series, which will be shown on Nov. 11, is the original 1933 “King Kong.” The film’s inclusion is in honor of Bill Pence, the director of Film at the Hop from 1983 until 2016. On a trip to France, Pence noticed that the version of “King Kong” that was playing contained scenes that had been cut from the American screening of the film. 

“He argued to put the film back in the way it was originally made in 1933 … He believed that if the director made this movie, you have to sit through the stuff that you either love and hate, because that is the way the director wanted the film to be,” Stowe said. 

With this motive, Pence bought the 16mm original version of “King Kong” and made it widely available to college students through the distribution channel of his arthouse film production company Janus. 

“Bill pioneered the idea of putting movies in college film societies. And so colleges everywhere were suddenly getting all these cool European movies or hard to see movies that they would never have gotten.”