So, the big question a lot of people ask me is, “Why do you like horror?” That’s a good question. I suppose I could answer with how horror has the peculiar ability to raise my pulse and get my adrenaline flowing. This is partially true. When I watch a scary movie, a definitely get the goosebumps, the elevated heart rate, the shallow and sharp breathing. But, I’ve watched a lot of action movies where I get the exact same thing! So let’s try again. I like action movies so maybe the action movie and horror movie experience are the exact same thing. No, that’s not quite right. I know when I’m in the mood to see some stuff get blowed up real gooood and when I feel like covering my eyes with my hands. It’s a different feeling so then why horror? The other thing people ask me is, “Why in the world would you want to be scared?” Again, I could answer with what I said before about the pulse and the fear and the adrenaline and all that nice cushy neuropsychology stuff. But I think it goes deeper. It’s a qualitative, not a quantitative matter. So why do I watch horror? Why do I want to be scared.
I think partially it goes back to my post about the different types of scary experience. I’d like to reassert that distinction here because it’s important in discerning what it is about the horror genre that I like. For those of you who haven’t read this, there is considered, at least by some, to be a difference between terror and horror. The difference is that terror is slow building, mind-expanding anticipation before the thing pops out at you while horror is the moment where the horrible thing actually confronts you head on. Both provide great fun in my opinion and though they go about it differently, I think both of them are appealing for similar reasons.
First of all, horror is different from a lot of other genres in that it is in a way, sincere in its intentions. For example, in a romantic movie, we want to be like the protagonists who end up with each other in the end. In an action film, we want to be the hero who saves the world and brings the bad guys to justice. In this way, the relationship between the film (or book) and the viewer is like that of the light and the moth. You are drawn into the film and want to inhabit its world. You want to be the person on the screen or page. But since we can’t we live vicariously through these characters. If you’ve watched a horror film, you know you don’t want to be one of these characters because, considering most of the time you have at max two survivors, chances are you’d be dead by the time the credits come up. What horror does is force you into yourself as much as it draws you into the story. Haven’t you ever yelled at the screen as a character does something utterly stupid? In my opinion this happens in horror films more than any other because we are acutely aware of what we would do because we are thinking the entire film. We are testing ourselves to see if we’d survive. In this way, it’s like we get to play along in the adventure. In the action movie we want to be someone else. In the horror movie, we come as we are and take our own insecurities and fears into the melee thus making it a very personal journey.
On the other side of personal is the inherent, “otherness,” that is almost at the heart of horror. I love the novelty of the situations the characters are placed in. Whether it’s vengeful ghost girls like in Ju-on or Ringu, creatures from another world like John Carpenter’s The Thing, hallucinatory vampiric creatures like in Marebito, perversions of the flesh like in David Cronenberg’s Videodrome or the horrible things we have lurking inside us like in American Psycho. Each of these films presents us with something that goes beyond normal experience. I love the first time in a film when the threat becomes known or you get a hint as to what’s wrong in the world of the film. It’s this awareness that the world is about to get crazy in one way or the other that is so much fun. The rules get put on hold and something new, something unexpected walks on the stage. This is one of the things I truly love about horror. We get plunged into a new world, often times a world that borders on the absurd. This is one of the things that sets the experience of horror from another, sometimes very closely related genre, scifi. In scifi, there is an emphasis on some technology and its implications. It would take a whole other post to delineate between horror, scifi, and fantasy and all of the genres tend to intermingle at some point but for now I think it suffices to say that horror, even at its most plausible such as psychological horror, all concerns the idea of a world gone mad. For me, this is fascinating and fun. With the rules gone out the window, the imagination of the creator gets to be unleashed. Even when the killer is human, the rules of reality are bent a little. Can he or she appear anywhere and still somehow have the good luck to be undetected? Is he or she stark raving mad and operating with a different interpretation of the world? Do we get to see this schismatic representation of reality? Are the people dumber than usual so as to provide a reliable source of human pin cushions? Is it a supernatural threat? A monster? Creatures from another dimension? In these cases, the world becomes an enchanted place. Enchanted with a dark kind of magic but it fascinates us and bewitches us with its horrible spell nonetheless.
I suppose it comes back partially to wanting to experience, “the other,” or the “unknown.” How often do we get to experience something remarkable in the out-of-the-ordinary sense, something that challenges our notions of what is possible? I have always been attracted to the odd and the uncanny. I don’t know if some people are born that way or if it’s a result of things I’ve experiences in my life. But for me, there is something wonderful about the strange. And in a weird way, there’s something beautiful about the horrible and frightening as well. Maybe it goes back to the sublime feeling of being in the presence of something larger than oneself and appreciating just how small I am in the cosmic and universal scheme of things. An abandoned building, sitting ominously back from a quiet and pot hole scarred road sparks my imagination because it is a monument to the cyclopean gears of time that are always turning. Or a story about a serial killer reminds me that, in each of us, is a world more dangerous and mysterious than we can imagine. Whether it’s ghoulies or monsters or maniacs, horror reminds me that I don’t know what the universe has up its sleeve next. And it’s that feeling of living in a universe that has the potential to be so bizarre, so unpredictable that excites me so much about horror.