Not Quite Horror: “Happiness” (1998)


Not Quite Horror contains reviews of films not traditionally considered horror films. By analyzing them as horror films (identifying the monster, discussing the shared worry for the audience and the main characters, and understanding the depth of horror available to the viewer), who knows? There’s more than one way to watch a movie.

Happiness (1998)

The Monster: Within Bill Maplewood’s (Dylan Baker) troubled mind, a battle rages. His self-destructive loathing is at war with his desire to become a sexual predator. When he offends and is revealed as a criminal, he must answer difficult questions from his son.

In a film with an obscene phone caller, adulterers, and a murderer, Bill Maplewood still manages to make stomachs turn. His slow preparation and obsessive planning before the crime make viewing uncomfortable, to say the least.

The Horror: In spite of his unspeakable awfulness, Bill Maplewood could not be more mundane. At times, Dylan Baker manages to provide charm to a character whose actions make him horribly upsetting. In short, Bill Maplewood could not be more real if he existed.

The Shared Fate: Unfortunately, there are hurtful people in the world who use their averageness to mask their crimes. Few films spend as much time with the abuser as a mundane citizen.

Happiness is a clear reminder we won’t always see bad things before they are connected to our lives. At over two hours of running time, it forces audiences to live with this threat for much longer than they would like.

— I am indebted to Noel Carroll’s The Philosophy of Horror for his ideas on defining horror, as well as John Skipp and Craig Spector’s article “Death’s Rich Pageantry, or Skipp & Spector’s Handy-Dandy Splatterpunk Guide to the Horrors of Non-horror Film” in Cut! Horror Writers on Horror Film for a similar idea.–

–Axel Kohagen