Why We Need Horror

I’ve been slowly coming to terms with the fact that I am not alone in my head.

I share my brain with not only a host of anxieties, but also depression. I’m learning to treat it like a bothersome roommate rather than an unfortunate, sometimes unannounced and all around unwanted visitor who always eats all the cereal and overstays their welcome. I think when we all understand Depression as the living, breathing organism that it is, we can learn to cope better.

“What’s this got to do with Horror?” you ask. Well, it’s very simple. This is an everyday horror, like all reality eventually mirrors back at us. It’s the unnamed injustice of the world. It’s the friend or relative you thought you knew until they hurt you or someone you love. It’s far away and way too close to home all at the same time.

What horror brings to the table — particularly horror fiction — besides some much needed dark humor and its inherent thrills, is that it allows us to put a name and sometimes even a face on our elusive villain. Whether we win or lose, it allows us to confront that darkness head-on. At least in most cases. There is something to be said for subtlety.

There is also something about sharing one’s fear with others. Horror is not the escapist form of media we are used to consuming. Rarely would you find in it a world you wish to visit let alone inhabit. With the exception of (hopefully) when (twist!) the main character is the antagonist, we often identify with the storyteller or, at the very least, the pained. Because that’s what it’s about, isn’t it? Pain. The very fear of pain is enough to set nerves rattling, and there are so many different kinds.

The two greatest fears/pains that spring most quickly to mind are perhaps the most common: loss and death. Much as depression inhabits us all to some degree, so does the uncertainty of life and death. The existential dread of what lies ahead and after. Perhaps Lovecraft said it best:

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.

We can act and, in some cases, reenact some of the scariest circumstances either through our own or others’ fiction. It allows us a window into the dreaded abyss of the most human thing we have: terror. Terror to inflict on others even as we experience it ourselves. And, in this way, we are not alone. We are reminded we are not alone.

But then, you can pull away. You can close that book, shut off that podcast, and go about your day with only the slightest shadow hanging in the back of your mind. The place we push all the shadows cast across our ceilings at night while we stare, wide-eyed and half-shaking, when there is nothing to tear our minds away. No sympathizing character through which to vicariously play out impossibilties.

Horror also helps us remember. Sometimes we manage to forget how unfair our world can be. How manipulative and cruel. Crime, corruption, consumerism. Sexism and misogyny. We can confront these issues, sometimes even serve out a little poetic justice.

And, sometimes, it’s just fun. Silly, maybe even a little soothing. Fiction that straddles the line between satire and horror always has something wry and witty to say.

So, there you have it. Somewhere among basic human needs, between Comedy and Tragedy, lies Horror. A coping mechanism for the human condition.


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