A few days ago I was at one of my favorite hangouts when a friend of mine received a gift, a mural of actor Crispin Glover. The recipient was understandably thrilled. As we talked about this mural, I mentioned one of my favorite films with Glover, a little scary movie named Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. My friend recoiled at the mention of the film, in spite of having never seen it.
“I am not really in to horror stories.” she said.
It is something I hear far too often, and I was never sure why. I hear many of the same arguments. Why not spread some positive feelings? The real world is scary enough, so why should our stories be scary too? Isn’t it almost sadistic to do something just to scare someone? Isn’t that delighting and profiting off of someone else’s suffering? I disagree. Horror may well be the most noble genre of all.
Funny thing for me to say since horror isn’t even my favorite genre. That honor would go to stories of swords and sorcery. Still, just because that is my favorite genre though doesn’t make it my best. As much as I love a good fantasy, the story of Zhyx the dragon and his cohorts is the only one I have, and probably the only one I ever will.
Horror on the other hand has always been close to me. Those were the first stories my demented six year old little mind concocted whilst bored silly finding out what 12 X 32 was. I had a collection of drawings of movies I wanted to do growing up, and pretty much all of them were horror stories. It Came from the Bog, Thunder Eyes, Slasher, Shark Flood, Under the Sahara, titles and concepts that were as ridiculous as they were creative. Since I have an attachment to this genre that is more than little sentimental, I would like to take this time and make the case for horror.
One of the reasons horror is great is because it takes us into another world, like all great stories do. I remember growing up and being a big fan of the Land Before Time series. Whenever the movies ended I was always so sad the characters I loved were going away yet again. Even sadder when it dawned on me I would never meet them. I am sure all of you have read or watched or played the stories you would like nothing more than to live. We all wanted to go to Hogwarts, trek Middle Earth, ride in the Millennium Falcon, explore the stars in the Enterprise, be a Pokemon trainer or fight alongside the Avengers. Horror has one key difference.
Nobody wanted to be Sally running through the Texas underbrush with Leatherface at her heels. The difference with horror is it isn’t a world you would like to stay in. We all have had those days where we wish we could go to another world and escape our troubles, but what horror does is it shows you another, more cruel and frightening place, so the life you are currently in doesn’t seem so bad anymore. You get up at 5, go to your 6 to 3 job in retail, then come home exhausted with no idea how to spend the rest of your day, but then you think ‘At least a phantom pedophile burn victim isn’t trying to kill me in my dreams.’
At least we all hope.
Horror makes you appreciate what you have by reminding you things could be a whole lot worse.
Horror is also one of the most imaginative and creative of genres. I can name plots from some horror stories that will make your head spin, stories like Videodrome, Call of Cthulhu, Nightmare on Elm Street. Horror is ripe with creativity and inspiration. It would have to be, as you need to get very creative to scare someone proper.
Some of you may disagree and point to those so called ‘Screamer’ videos and a slew of modern horror movies where the baddie makes you jump out of your skin with little more than a shriek and a loud noise. That isn’t horror. That is startling the audience. You can do that with pretty much anything from a blow horn to throwing a kitten in someone’s face. Once you are startled, it is over and you feel an immediate sense of relief. What successful horror does is stick with you even after the turning of the final page or the fade to black at the end of the movie.
Horror boasts some marvelously inventive ways to make your skin crawl, and a lot of them help us deal with some of our most intimate fears. Alien for example deals with the fear of sex and molestation. Halloween deals with losing your sense of security in a familiar place. The Shining deals with our fear of our relatives and ourselves.Fears of the body, of the unknown, of mutilation and molestation. Horror teaches us about these things, personifies them in the form of a villain, and helps us better deal with them since it now has a face we can stare down.
Most importantly, horror deals with the ultimate fear of that inevitable thing that will eventually happen to us all. Stephen King said it best when he said horror was a “rehearsal for death.”
It is more certain than the sun rising the next day. Death is something that will happen to all of us. Sure, some of us believe that a spirit of some sorts survives bodily death, and that may be true. Unlike death however, that is uncertain. Right now, what lies beyond the veil of death is the ultimate unknown. Does consciousness just end? If so, for how long? Does it start back up somewhere along the line? Will we experience an altered state of being after death? If there is life after death, will we still persist as individuals or will we become unrecognizable from our former selves?
These are questions all of us ask about death. It is the unknown thing that lies in the dark, awaiting the day it makes a fateful visit to us. We are all going to die. Our bodies are going to get old and decay, or we will die from some kind of illness, or God forbid we will all die in some violent accident or crime. Horror takes all of these things, brings them out into the light and says “This is what will happen to you. I know you are scared, so let it out.”
Horror helps us deal with that fear by giving us a release valve, so when our time comes, maybe it won’t be so bad. Once all is said and done, you always just kind of feel better. I have heard horror called many things. One person said horror was the story equivalent of a sadist, taking glee in watching its audience suffer. Nothing could be further from the truth. Rather, horror is like that friend who takes you out on a camping trip and tells you a scary story over the fire. It may give you a scare, but it is always out of love.