An Ode to Horror Movie Lovers Everywhere
Ah, yes, it’s that time of the year again, folks. Halloween is right around the corner and so is the act of binge-watching horror films on a nightly basis. My girlfriend would tell you that I’m crazy and strange and weird, and she probably wouldn’t be too far off. I am definitely all three, but why horror movies? What is the lure of a horror film? Many people ask me why I enjoy putting myself through countless hours of fear, and most of the time, I don’t have a very good answer for them.
I just do.
There is something very primal about watching a horror film with the lights off. I’d say over anything, it is the overall experience of a scary movie that draws me in. If you’ve seen Scream, you’d know that scary movie tricks and tropes have been around for quite some time. Also, as we’ve started to see in the marketing world, especially with those damn millenials (me), many seem to value experiences over materialistic goods.
So, why did IT become the highest grossing horror film of all-time last week? Aside from the fact that it wasn’t that scary (sorry), it did its best job at appealing to the masses, while building a creative piece of art that mixed both humor and horror. And, guess what?
People came in hordes.
Large popcorn? Check.
Large ICEE? Double check.
Date night with the Mr. or Mrs.? Triple check.
You see, horror films have the ability to bring us closer together. Just like a great comedic film, humans relish in the shared emotions of one another. Why do you think films like Old School, Animal House, Bridesmaids, Christmas Vacation and Caddyshack are so popular? Because they were damn funny and people could talk about them together.
I remember seeing Austin Powers: Goldmember back in the theaters on opening night with my entire mom’s side of the family. We sat in that sold out theater together and even though I was pretty young, I will never forget the overall experience. People were losing their shit. The movie was hilarious, but there was just something about being in a sold out theater sharing similar emotions with strangers that completely resonated with me. Sure, a drama in the theaters is great, but comedy and horror movie have a way of tapping into primal human emotions like no other films.
So, what is the actual definition of fear anyway?
Fear: An unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.
Can you remember the last time you were genuinely scared? I mean like scared for your life, scared. Think long and hard. It may not have been the last time, but I’m sure you can remember a time when you were truly terrified.
I remember mine. I lived in a strange house back in the day in Cincinnati and I was always convinced it was haunted in some way. Our basement gave me the creeps (as it did for my mom, too), and I was always having the worst nightmares in that house. I was also a young kid so it makes more sense, but I haven’t had nightmares like that since. They were so real. Yet, there were three instances that literally paralyzed me in fear living in that house and I haven’t really thought of them until now.
Before I went to bed each evening, I would make sure to close my closet door as tightly as possible. So, one night, I made sure to close it and hopped back in bed. I quickly fell asleep and awoke from a terrible nightmare. When my eyes opened, however, the first image I saw was that of my closet door sitting wide open. I was terrified. But, I mustered the courage, got up from my bed and closed it. A few weeks passed, and it happened all over again. The second time, I was not as quick to jump out of bed. I felt like someone was in there watching me. Freddy Krueger or something.
A few weeks later, fear swooped in and rocked me to my core, as my closet door swung open in my sleep for the third time. I was absolutely paralyzed. I couldn’t move. If I closed the closet door, a hand would likely grab me and pull me into another dimension. If I didn’t close the door, a creature would have crawled out of that closet and pulled me into the depths of hell. I was in a tough spot. Eventually, I did what every terrified kid does, and ran directly to my parent’s room. I slept with them for the rest of the evening and I can’t recall my closet door ever opening again.
So, if you just read that story, I’m sure you are wondering how and why the fuck I enjoy a good horror flick? For starters, they are just movies, aren’t they? Yes. And, absolutely not. Let me explain. You see, I think my love for horror movies runs so deep because they are far more than just movies. A good horror film taps into the psychological aspects of our human and animalistic fears and never lets go. We are scared of the unknown, we are scared of what we cannot see, and we are scared of something that could possibly be real once we leave the theater. When a good scary movie has you, it knows that it has you, and it never looks back. Let’s take A Nightmare on Elm Street for example. A classic horror film and created villain from director Wes Craven, Freddy Krueger taps into our fear of the unknown. Does anyone really know where our dreams and nightmares come from? Why do we have so many hidden meanings in our dreams? Could we really die in our dreams? (Craven got his inspiration from real-life events). Could this unknown be inhabited by an evil, disgusting and offensive character such as Freddy Krueger? I’m not sure, but maybe.
This scene is perfect in every sense of the word. From the score, to the acting to Freddy, to the small special effects, to the filming techniques, to Tina, to “Thisssss — is God”, to her death; this scene takes cues from The Exorcist, morphs them with scenes from a dark fairy tale/nightmare, throws a little Halloween in there, adds steroids and creatine powder, and creates an absolute horror masterpiece. I mean, who in the actual hell isn’t scared of Freddy Krueger? Maybe we aren’t as afraid now because of the countless sequels, money grabs, promotional and marketing items, but I’ll bet that 95% of people were scared of Freddy Krueger when they left the theater back in the 80s, or they were just completely terrified of their nightmares own version of Freddy Krueger that their subconscious created.
“Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep.”
Why do some people love horror movies and others loathe them?
If I relate horror films to real life, I can think of many friends, colleagues and peers who do not do well under pressure and/or fear. I remember being let go from my first job out of college with 9–10 other friends and co-workers, and it was amazing watching the unique responses of each and every person. First, being fired is fucking scary. I had never been fired from a job before, and neither had several of my co-workers. However, when that fear kicked in, I was blown away by how many of them handled it in different ways.
Some became bitter, others never shut up about it, some never spoke of it again, and some flat out hated that this fear had overtaken them. They were afraid to step outside their comfort zone moving forward, scared to take a risk, and scared to fail again. I mean, who wouldn’t be? But, some of my co-workers took a completely different approach to fear, and I found it very interesting. They relished in it. Just like those who relish in the idea of going to see a horror film, they embraced the fear of failure, the fear of being unwanted, the fear of applying for different types of jobs and more. However, this doesn’t mean they didn’t have fear moving forward, they just learned how to fight back against it. Pretty crazy, huh?
If you’ve ever watched interviews of Wes Craven throughout the years, you will find a soft spoken guy that never saw himself getting into the horror genre. Eventually, he directed The Last House on the Left, and never really looked back. He was good at it, he understood his audience, and he understood the appeal and technique of creating simple, primal fear.
Humans may be complex, but deep down into our core, we are pretty simple beings. We like to laugh, we crave attention and love, we enjoy sexual pleasure, we love good food, we live for stories, we like to procreate, we have fears, we want to be happy and so on and so forth. We are all unique, but really, we are all the same. I think that’s why I love horror films so much. The best ones understand this and know exactly how to tap into that idea. When Nancy sees her dead friend in a bodybag in the hallways of her school, what could possibly be scarier than that? Or, when a school administrator’s voice suddenly morphs into a demon’s and she eerily tells Nancy “No running in the hallway,” I mean, what in the hell is scarier than that?
Anyway, I’m curious, why do you think horror films are so divisive? Why do some people love them, while others loathe them? Do you think it has to do with the overall experience? The fear that settles in after? Fear (like comedy) being subjective? The fact that there are only a handful of true “classic” horror films?
What do you think?
I’d love to hear from you. Let’s start a conversation. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s talk horror!