Since I was a kid, I’ve been drawn to the darker side of fiction and cinema. I grew up seeing The Nightmare Before Christmas in theaters on multiple occasions, and loving movies like The Halloween Tree, The Addams Family, Hocus Pocus, Don’t Look Under the Bed, and the list goes on. These are the films that captivated and stuck with me! I was able to experience these horrors that people had to go through in film, like a little sister being kidnapped by a group of witch sisters who’s desperately hoping that her brother will save her before history repeats itself, or a group of friends on their way to Trick-or-treat only to discover that one friend is missing and all 9 are sent on a journey to save his life before he’s lost forever. There are so many movies that I experienced as a child that hold a special place in my heart, most of which had an overwhelming darkened theme throughout the stories. Watching these as a child filled me with an odd sense of strength. For one, there was fear involved for the lives of these children being highjacked by their tormentors, but it was a safe fear. At the end of every movie, I was able to disassociate myself from the fiction and continue life knowing that these specific scenarios really don’t happen all that often – for the most part. In another sense, it allowed me to see how others reacted to the terrors that they faced. It gave me courage knowing that terrible things happen but there was always some way of escape, not to mention the common sense of not going into your basement when a killer is on the loose!
I can’t say exactly when the love of the macabre crept into my life and sunk its teeth into me. My earliest memory of horror exposure was at my grandmother’s house. Stephen King’s, Cat’s Eye was playing on TV. Released in ’85, this is the story about a stray cat who’s in furious pursuit of a little girl in danger. I don’t remember much about the movie, but I couldn’t have been more than 5 years old at the time. Cuddled up next to my grandma, watching a baby Drew Barrymore tormented by a little demon in a jester hat with a crooked dagger, I was caught. Like a deer in the headlights, I couldn’t look away or breathe. Every sound the house made that night, I knew it was that little demon coming for me. To the best of my recollection, this was the first movie that shot to my core and made me believe in the creatures that go bump in the night. In the same apartment complex, there were a couple little girls that I would regularly play with who introduced me to the art of telling scary stories! Throughout the years, I became familiar with stories like Llorona, and stories about witches, goblins and boogymen. Apparently, there were even witches within the complex that my grandmother lived in! My grandma swore that it was a sweet old lady who lived across from her, which gave my friends a skeptical view of her and what she was hiding. Just like any other kid, I grew up going to sleepovers at friends and cousin’s houses, and going on camping trips where we would all attempt to scare the hell out of each other with what ever stories we could conjure. I remember on multiple occasions, telling stories so haunting that I’d intentionally end them with some sort of slap stick joke to put “the crowd” at ease, all the while being accused of bad story telling.
We all have our own opinions and emotions towards the subject of death.
Cultures base their lives around it, people become obsessed with it. Dia De Los Muertos is a perfect example of this. Here is a culture that has done their best to understand death and now celebrates it for days. The loss of a loved one is difficult for us all. This day is meant to remember and pray for those that we have lost. If our dead loved ones are on a spiritual journey, why wouldn’t we have a holiday to pray for them along the way? Death is as much apart of life as the air we breathe. There’s no denying it. So why should we hide our curiosity on the subject.
There is a darkness to horror that scares some people away. They view it as demonic, toxic, disgusting, or just too scary. More times than I can count, I’ve heard horror movies likened to roller coasters. They leave you trembling, crying, throwing up and for some reason lining back up for more!
Horror, in well written cases is a relatable poetry. It’s an entirely emotional experience. It’s a mix between tragedy and fiction; tragedy being something that we can relate to and fiction is simply reality with different circumstances. Maybe it’s a bit of a stretch, but throughout the genre of horror, there are themes and lessons that we can learn from. There’s this weird perception that horror movies tend to be strictly about psychopaths and gore. I’d asked my brother in a conversation what it was that in his opinion, separated horror from cinema. His response was “good dialogue”. As appalled as I was, I realized that this wasn’t just his perception, but there are a lot of people who are unwilling to engage in the genre for the reasons mentioned earlier. By the way, if you’re reading this bro, I love you and your family and hope you’re doing well!
On the same note, others see the state of the world today and view “horror” in the same light as current events or reality. CNN and Fox News junkies are constantly ingesting a bloody savagery and pegging it all down to staying informed. Horror fans are constantly being scrutinized for loving the films, art and literature that they do, but I genuinely believe that true horror fans find something more in the genre than bloody brutality for the sake of itself. It’s odd to compare the two, but both groups of people are dealing with horror rather than trying to suppress it and pretend that we live in a decent world.
With the horror genre on the rise it now has more fans than ever before. However, even with this movement, I still feel like an outsider. This is partly my own fault because I am constantly bringing up what are in my opinion, new amazing movies and stories that I come across, only to be greeted with “ew’s” and “You shouldn’t watch that stuff!!”. I don’t know anybody who shares the interests that I do! This has been the story of my life. I mean this in the least emo way possible. I’ve learned to be okay with it. Really.
I understand that in my case, some things are a little different. I believe a lot of the things that I see in horror. I’ve heard a popularized television show state that “all monsters are human”, and while that would be a nice idea to hold onto, I personally believe that there is more to it than that. Movies like The Exorcist, The Amityville Horror, The Conjuring, even The House of the Devil all have “true events” that sparked the tales that have terrified us to our core! Side note, I say “true events” because I know the deal behind Texas Chainsaw… These movies hold something that I believe to be real and are things that go beyond the world of psychology. There’s a lot more to dive into here but I plan on going into this another time.
I recently had the privilege of watching Tal Zimerman’s “Why Horror?” documentary, in which he goes on a quest examining the psychology of horror and why people love to be scared. Much like him, I’ve grown up with a love of the macabre and have only recently felt the need to understand why I am so drawn to it. One of my biggest take aways from the documentary is that “Why Horror?” is not a simple question to answer . “The answers to the question are about as diverse and abundant as the people who enjoy it.” Zimerman compares his feelings towards horror like eating a cupcake. “We don’t watch a horror movie like enjoying a cupcake. We’re not celebrating the pain of others, we’re using it to transform our own.”
I’d mentioned earlier that horror for me is an emotional experience. This genre puts me in a place where instead of denying my emotions, I’m provided with a safe place to experience them. Thank you to “Why Horror?” for helping me put that into words! One film can take you through extreme feelings of hope and anxiety, excitement and fear, depression and joy. The dread, anger, grief, and pain felt so close to home can lead to gratitude, contentment and humility. Throughout the course of these stories, you can sympathize with the characters. There are so many representations of reality in even the most classic of movie monsters. Werewolves, for example, tend to exemplify power but at the complete loss of control. They can exemplify a change in life or in the body that is unfamiliar to the character. These monsters connect to social behaviors and disorders, mental issues, and our differences in class or sexuality that we experience in every day life. We all have an ideal for how life is supposed to turn out, but when it comes down to it, life is filled with people and things will deviate from the norm. My point is that if you simply look past your pre critical response of “I like it/don’t like it”, it’s all there! Side note, for the first time in my life, I’ve developed in interest in sociology!
I’m not writing this to defend horror or its fans, but so often people hold this assumption that fans are strictly obsessed with violence and gore. In all honesty, I can see where they’re coming from. After seeing Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room, there was one scene that had me talking to everyone about the movie! This scene was so gruesome and visually disturbing that it made me cringe! As any long time horror fan will tell you, it takes a lot to make that happen! The entirety of this film was amazing, but the one segment of the hand being cut through the door will stick with you to your deathbed. Not only was it incredibly directed, but the effects used to pull it off were without a doubt, praiseworthy. To be honest, I love when a kill on the screen is done in a new way or has to be created using a different direction. I’m a fan of art. Throughout the years, the horror genre has pulled off some incredible visual trepidation. It takes an artist to set a stage, create an atmosphere and bring you into their world. These are the same reasons I’m into the music and writing that I’m into. I’ve tried on several accounts to create what I’m inspired by and it’s not an easy task!
Whether you’re into zombie shows, werewolf lore, vampire movies, or Nicholas Sparks novels, we all fear the same things in life. As John Carpenter put it “We’re all afraid of the same things together. It binds us as people.” The stories we cling to and our responses to them make us who we are. This is who I am. This is a part of the reason that I love horror.
“It’s a reminder of our mortality and that life is worth having. Pursue life to the fullest.” Tal Zimerman