The commercialization of terror is an old story. It goes back to at least 1764 and Horace Walpole’s novel, “The Castle of Otranto” (how come no one’s made it into a movie?). Scary sells, but that’s because it’s so exotic.
The domestication of terror is something far more recent. Making scariness normal, that’s a very different proposition.
Prior to last month, say, was it even conceivable that a TV commercial — let alone a TV commercial for something as mundane as pistachios — might announce itself with those screeching notes from Bernard Herrmann’s score for “Psycho” and then offer up a 15-second black-and-white mini-parody of the shower scene in Hitchcock’s slasher classic? The butcher knife gets used on pistachios, not Janet Leigh; and instead of blood circling the drain, it’s nut shells.
That’s pretty weird. Still, it’s not the most terrifying ad currently being seen on TV. That would be the T-Mobile commercials featuring the middle-age married couple identified only as Jeremy’s parents. “The horror, the horror,” as Mistah Kurtz would surely have said if subjected to the sight — worse, the repeated sight — of this stratospherically annoying pair hectoring their son by video link. Aaargh. Bad as the father is, the mother is worse. If Mrs. Bates had been like her (speaking of “Psycho”), no wonder Norman ended up the way he did — or, come to think of it, she ended up the way she did.