In honor of Halloween this year, I thought I’d do a post about my love-hate relationship with the horror genre.
Let’s start with the love, shall we?
I am fascinated by horror. Always have been. Goosebumps was an elementary-school school staple for me, and some of my favorite pastimes as a younger girl involved searching out or reading about the supernatural. Even now, one of my weird guilty pleasures is reading the synopses of modern horror movies. I can’t bring myself to actually watch these films (I’ll explain later), but the plots fascinate me, and I love knowing how things develop. I could probably give you at least a basic summary of any major horror movie that’s been put out within the last couple decades, and I could probably count on one hand the number of those movies that I’ve actually seen. It’s weird, I know. Don’t judge me.
I’ve never really put a lot of thought into why horror is so attractive to me, but if I had to come up with some ideas off the top of my head (which I do, for the sake of this blog), I’d say that I find the mystery and suspense intoxicating. I’m much more interested in the thrillers and ghost stories than the slasher films; there’s only so many times I can see a promiscuous teenager get stabbed in the face by an unstoppable murderer. I also enjoy seeing how people behave in situations that are, quite frankly, unusual to say the least. It’s the inverse of my hatred for romantic comedies. Girl meets boy? Boring. Girl must use everything at her disposal to get out of a situation alive? Fascinating. To me, anyway. 😉
I don’t care how unrealistically or idiotically these people are behaving in outlandish situations; the intrigue for me, as for many people, I’d guess, lies in the blank slate that horror movies create for potential studies into the human psyche. After all, isn’t the basic model of most horror movies the same? A person is isolated from the larger community (kidnapped, stranded in the woods, locked in a madman’s laboratory, etc) that is normally their source of security, and placed in a situation of mortal peril with only their own strength and wit to save them.
If done well, it makes for a great psychological study, one that this girl is willing to exploit for mental masturbation (pardon the phrase) any day of the week. They can also be great zeitgeists, providing a fascinating insight into the fears and concerns of the society that puts them out. (There’s a really fascinating correlation between the political atmosphere of the United States and whether or not zombies or vampires are more popular at the time. It’s a phenomenon that’s been studied by several social scientists, and apparently the correlation is strong enough that they’re not just blowing smoke.)
Done poorly, of course, and it’s roughly two hours of gratuitous violence and sex.
But, of course, this wouldn’t be a love-hate relationship without the hate. And when it comes to horror, that hatred runs deep.
And here’s where I make a terribly embarrassing internet confession in the hopes that no one judges me for it: I can’t watch a horror movie to save my life. Not if I want to sleep for the next week or so, anyway.
I’m not just talking about horror movies that are generally considered to be effectively terrifying; I’m talking House of Wax here. I’m saying that an oral rundown of how things went in Paranormal Activity (I repeat, I did not see this movie, it was described in detail to me by a friend who had just seen it) kept me up all night. I’m saying that the pilot episode of American Horror Story (a wonderfully done TV show that I found incredibly intriguing but which should not have been more than nominally frightening) was the reason I got about an average of seven hours of sleep over the course of the two nights after I watched it.
While this reaction is triggered by pretty much any subcategory of the horror genre (zombies, vampires, ghosts, demons, serial killers, you name it) I can at least rationalize my fear of those horror plots that are set in motion by human villains. There are some very twisted minds in this world, and it has not escaped my notice that if otherwise well-adjusted writers and producers can come up with material for Saw, Hostel, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Poughkeepsie Tapes (oh my Lord, The Poughkeepsie Tapes) etc, then the things that a not-so-well-adjusted mind might come up with probably aren’t pretty. A brief study of real-life serial killers will confirm my theory, and provides plenty of fodder to keep me locking the doors and jumping at the possibility of a home invasion.
It is difficult for me to explain why I lie awake at night contemplating a zombie infestation, or the possibility that I could wake up to some ghostly spectre standing over my bed. I have no justification for this behavior, other than the fact that the amount of sunlight in the sky is inversely proportional to the strength of these concerns. It’s also difficult for me to understand why this genre has such a visceral effect on me, when no other genre does. No matter how hilarious a comedy is, I don’t lie awake at night laughing at the jokes running through my head, nor do I cry myself to sleep after watching a particularly moving drama. It also doesn’t matter how much happens between the time I watch the movie and the time I go to sleep. I could watch Saw first-thing in the morning and proceed to adopt a puppy, run a marathon, cure cancer, and throw the most exciting party ever all before bed; it will be Jigsaw on my mind right before I fall asleep.
I realize that the people in these movies were also the people in Princess Bride and Inglorious Basterds, that the killer is going to take off his mask and go out to grab pizza with his victims after the shoot, that the special effects are just that, and it doesn’t matter. At 2 in the morning, to my wired brain, the kick-start of my air conditioner is as good as Jason knocking down my door.
I don’t think this quirk of mine is cute, or endearing in the least. (As a fully-grown woman, I realize this is something I probably shouldn’t even be admitting to people, but alas, I also have another not-so-adorable habit of divulging far too much personal information to people who do not want or need to know it. Such is life.) My utter incapacitation by the horror genre is all the more frustrating because I consider myself to be an intelligent individual who is capable of highly logical and rational thought. (I joke that, as the daughter of a Jewish lawyer, this is my birthright.) So the fact that any bump in the night is enough to jolt me awake, lest I be caught unawares by who-the-heck-knows-what, is particularly annoying to the part of my brain who realizes that, in the words of La Carlotta, these things do ‘appen.
Regardless of my ability to handle actually watching horror, I find it fascinating, and will in all likelihood continue to use movie spoilers to get my horror fix.
Don’t judge me, just love me.
(Also, if you know of some way that I can get over this admittedly ridiculous fear that’s cheaper than a therapist, I’m all ears. There has to be some trick that every other functioning adult has figured out, so if someone wants to share that with me, I would be in serious debt to you.)