10 Posts to Hallowe’en: Post 9, Why do we like to be Scared on Halloween?

I am celebrating as much as I can for Hallowe’en – and that means here on the blog too! So I present to you, my lovelies, the 10 Posts to Hallowe’en !

Each post will highlight a particular part of the Hallowe’en season I enjoy immensely and wish to share with everyone.

Please feel free to participate by commenting below!

I was rereading a horror book I mentioned before, The Haunting of Hill House, when i noticed the forward (of the new Penguin edition) by Guillermo del Toro. For those who don’t know, del Toro is the director behind such works as “Hellboy”, “Pan’s Labyrinth” and one of my favourite recent horror movies, “Mama”. Suffice it to say, the man is steeped well into both fantasy and horror. He’s a man after my own heart, what can I say?

Anyways, in this foreward, he discussed the reasons why fans of horror are attracted to horror – or in simplest terms, why are we into what scares us?

And I know if I asked this of some of my friends and family members (and Boyfriend) the answer would be that I am crazy. But this was a discussion that was more in depth than just gut reactions – this was getting into the nitty gritty of our minds and pulling out what makes us like moths to a flame.

Del Toro claims that “to learn what we fear is to learn who we are” – that is, what we like about horror, what we dismiss about it, what makes us scared and what seems to us ridiculous, all centers on who we are. He points our that for generations upon generations, storytellers have relied on things that go bump in the night – vampires, ghostly visitors, ghouls and monsters, and even aliens – in order to touch that reptilian brain in our minds, and trigger a specific message. In this respect, del Toro is not alone.

Stephen King may start out his essay Why We Crave Horror Movies with this line: “I think that we’re all mentally ill;those of us outside the asylums only hide it a little better – and maybe not all that much better, after all.”, but that is more of a lead in to the same sort of ideas del Toro runs with more so than to say he actually believes it. King, a horror writer and an enthusiast, makes the observation that though there are different reasons for going to a horror movie, one reason is always that it’s fun. But what kind of “fun” culminates in slashers stalking teenagers through empty houses or malformed monsters rising from the depths of dark lagoons to devour young swimmers?

King opines that it is an inherent madness exists in all humans – that the horror movie brings out all the worst in us – the desire to go on a rampage, the secret thrill of stalking one’s pray, etc. It’s a way to appease the darkest part of our nature in order to prevent it from actualizing itself.

I agree and disagree with this assessment.

  I have loved horror since I was quite young. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to live with my older grandparents in my youth, you see. My parents worked a lot and so a lot of time was spent at either my dad’s folks or my mum’s parents. Grandparents, it must be said, are the best. My grandparents, with little English and a general laid back manner, were very loose with discipline. And I got to sleep on the pull out couch in the living room, where I had full access to the television and all it’s wonderfully adult themed horror movies after 9 pm, when the rest of the house was silent and sleeping and I had to mute the tv and read the captions to prevent anyone from waking up.

This allowed me, on top of other things, to watch some movies that my parents generally thought would be too old for me – like The Exorcist, Poltergeist and John Carpenter’s Vampires. And what this did was instill in me a long standing love of the horror story. Even though I have aged, as people do on occasion, and my tastes have matured or just changed, I still love a good horror story – in fact, I scour the sites of Bloody Disgusting and Fangoria just to find one that is worthy of my time (btw, lately – The Conjuring, Mama have done it for me). I have outgrown a lot of the measured motifs of the horror genre – the “virgin scream queen will live!”, the minorities die first, the tragic backstory that includes either abuse or mysticism, etc – but when revisited, I like them again.

There’s a logic that is completely unique to horror movies – the stakes are always higher than they seem, the world is the world we know, but changed enough so that these new rules apply, and the characters are – even when powered up or supernaturalized or what not – very basically human. And I think that is where the appeal lies: the idea that in this uncanny world, anything can happen – it is enough like your world to feel scared, but far enough from your world that you also feel safe. Even if you end up sleeping with the lights on, or humming very loudly when unlocking your front door because the silence is getting to you, you still know the rules of our world – and so the shadows that appear strange to you, are just shadows.

Horror stories are those things that ignite us – they push us into the deepest part of our psyches and pull out our base human tendencies – to run, to hide, to scream and fight. They’re fun because they exist in a different world than yours, they’re exciting because they pull at enough of your primitive reptilian survivor brain mode that they trigger your adrenaline and force you to react. They also expand your imagination – it’s no longer girl meets boy – it’s girl meets zombie, or boy meets dead representation of his long lost love from another century. It’s no longer a struggle for power, it’s a struggle for your own sanity, or the fight of your life within your own home. It’s not even just you protecting your children … it’s you protecting your children from yourself. Oh yes, as horrifying as the stories can be, they allow you to go beyond the ordinary into the strange and perverse and the genuinely scary, pushing the boundaries of your own creativity.

And who wouldn’t love a world of endless possibilities?

Now, the tendency of horror movies to trade in female characters for tropes, and the inherent morality in slasher flicks – that’s for another post 🙂

So … horror stories. Do you like them? Hate them? Think I am nuts?





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