Over the years of running this blog (and writing for other sites), people may have noticed a certain slant that I have towards the horror genre, at least in terms of movies. It is my most frequently watched genre, one that I love a great deal, and one that I even have written creatively in. I thought I would take a moment during this October to write a simple little post answering the question, why horror?
My relationship with horror is odd. I am not like a lot of people that was raised by people that loved horror or found it at a young age and stuck with it. In general, like many of my interests, I am one of the few people in my family that holds it. I did actually find horror young, but it did not really last consistently.
I would check out books from the library, starting with Goosebumps then moving to more “serious” horror. I liked playing horror games with my friends, I would watch the few movies we could sneak and see, all the normal stuff. The problem was I scared easily. Not just little scares, but it would stick with me for weeks at first and then occasionally pop back up for years.
I read a book when I was only in 3rd- 5th grade about real hauntings. I can still remember the outside of the book; it was yellow and hardback. One of the earliest stories had a picture of what almost looked like a blob with intense eyes. The story was about a haunted hotel and told the story of a ghost who sounded like nails scratching on the floor as it moved towards the person telling the story and stunk. This story alone gave me nightmares for several weeks and would pop back up in my mind every few months.
It was not the only thing to affect me so. DOOM terrified me. I had waking nightmares about Candyman bursting through the walls of my father’s house. After we listened to a tape of “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,” I did not sleep most of the night.
The point is I would get terrified, and it would stick with me, and it was just not something young me could handle all that well. So, I stopped seeking out horror. On the rare occasion, I still would, but for the most part, I drifted away from the genre and would get annoyed when people didn’t respect that.
Then I went to college, and while struggling to figure out what to do with myself, I took an International Horror Films class. It was amazing, and if you ever have a chance to take a film theory class on the subject of horror, do it.
Suddenly the curiosity that I had when I was younger came rushing back. The love (with no small amount of fear) for this genre that I had an iffy relationship with took back over. The best part was now I had context. I could really examine what it was that I loved about these movies, what I hated, what scared me, and what fascinated me.
I don’t claim to be an expert on this or any other subject for that matter, but the class (and follow up film theory classes) did change my perspective in grand ways. I was looking at films not just for their entertainment, but what I thought they might be saying, the good, the bad, all of it.
That doesn’t mean that I sit down and do an in-depth analysis of every film I see, especially every horror film. There is a lot in the genre of horror that is just popcorn fun that you have to sit back and enjoy. But the ability to call on that analysis at times made it easier for me, especially with this genre.
It also helped me to learn to appreciate fear. Being scared is a weird sort of rush of discomfort followed by something else. I like being freaked out. I like sitting with my hands partially over my eyes, the squirming, the panic, the “oh my god I don’t want to see this, but I can’t look away,” or “this is going to scare me so much.” It’s the same sort of thrill that drives us to ride roller coasters. There is something nice about triggering those fear responses, but doing it in a way that is pretty safe.
The slow building of anticipation, the almost painful sitting in tension, the explosion of fear, followed by the relief. Humans actually tend to enjoy this; it is just usually we get this response because we are in a dangerous situation.
Horror lets us get it without myself, or anybody else, being in danger.
But also while we are talking about fear, it has helped me to overcome it somewhat. I still startle easily, I still get freaked out, I still will occasionally have nightmares. But I have learned that the type of fear that comes with most horror movies for me is escapism, that the things I should fear in the world are much different. It becomes a lot easier to deal with the fear and the lingering unsettled feeling when you see the difference between what in life should cause fear and what does in movies.
The class also helped me to see horror for what it is. A large and diverse genre that will touch on so many different topics, themes, tones, fears, etc. There are many subgenres and subgenres to those subgenres. I like stories, and horror has a lot of different stories to tell.
I like deeper stories that try to reflect societal ills back at us, and horror comedies trying to push us while making us laugh. I like slow, reflective, suspense-building experiences, and loud jump scare gore fests.
There is so much to have, so much to experience, and so many different ways it gets me. Some horror movies have made me cry, some have made me angry, some just left me with lingering fear and constantly wondering what every shadow was. Some have made me laugh, some have made me laugh when maybe I wasn’t supposed to. And some have completely disgusted me… and those tend to be the ones I don’t like.
But it’s all part of this broad picture that we call horror. It is a genre that young me thought a few certain movies and books belonged to, older me was afraid of, and adult me is now in love with.
It is tough to come up with one reason. Especially for a genre that if I am honest, I always sort of loved but avoided for a long time. There is so much about it, and I am drawn to so many different aspects. I won’t say it is only because of that class, it’s not. If that were the case, I wouldn’t have been curious as a child, and even after that class, it still took a few years before I went full tilt horror=life, but it did help. Examining the different aspects and contextualizing the fear.
I mostly just think it has a lot to do with horror being a genre where great stories are told in a way that gets to that morbid part of us that we all have to varying degrees.