Full disclosure: I have been a fan of the dark & twisted since my father first let me watch Child’s Play when I was six years old.
My childhood bookshelf (and my bookshelf now) was lined with serial killer encyclopedias, spell books, haunted histories, ghost stories, & the entire box set of R. L. Stein’s Goosebumps series. My favorite movie is the Blair Witch Project and I know more about Ed Gein, Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, Albert Fish, John Wayne Gacy, and Jeffrey Dahmer than I do about any president of the United States. I troll the theatres and community constantly looking for my next scare. I could not, and can not, get enough horror.
I promise I’m not a serial killer, though Jeffrey Dahmer and I do share a birthday…
If you know me then you know I am a happy, positive, & kind individual – an overall friendly extrovert – so why do I love fucked up shit? For a long time, I was worried that I was destined for some dark future where I became evil (like I said Jeffrey Dahmer and I share a birthday…) but it wasn’t until I got older and niche interests became more accepted (thanks Tumblr!) that I realized that a LOT of folks can get down with slasher movies, scream queens, and gruesome true crime.
It’s actually not that weird at all to be intrigued by gore and fear, it’s the most natural human reaction we have. From an evolutionary standpoint, it makes sense, right? In our more primal state, before we evolved to have a sophisticated frontal cortex capable of reasoning, if we saw a mangled human body it was our duty to inspect it purely as a precautionary measure. What did this guy DO to get so mangled? And how can I avoid a similar fate? I see a man lying dead in the forest with a fistful of a particular berry, so I know I ought not to eat that berry. If I hadn’t investigated his body I may never have gained that information. Simple!
But it’s more complicated than that, isn’t it?
That’s all well and good, yes we learn by having an innate curiosity, but my love of horror and my pursuit of fear goes FAR beyond a natural wonder. I just want to be terrified! I’m not trying to learn anything, I’m not adding to my newly-expanded knowledge of the world around me, I just love a good jump scare. So what is it then that drives me to want that? Could it be that we’re simply overstimulated as a technological generation and therefore we cling to the feelings (IE. fear) that can be felt the strongest?
While I believe that to be true on certain levels, I don’t think that is the sole reason. If you’re a fan of the original made-for-television miniseries of Stephen King’s IT like I am then you know how to sit through some long-winded dialogue and character building for a nice scare. I’m not impatient, I enjoy building up to something really worthwhile. If you don’t show me the monster until the last ten minutes, I’m happy. Hell, if you never show me the monster (I’m looking at you Blair Witch…) then that’s even better! That’s why scary stories work, they build suspense. My imagination is probably much better at constructing something that scares me than CGI ever will be. But building true suspense is not for those without patience.
Yes, it could be argued that slasher movies and gore blogs are for those who want cheap thrills, and that could be true, but I am a lover of all horror. I love bargain B-movies shot at some vandalized abandoned building as much as I love a multi-million dollar epic with buckets of blood. I just love to get that creeping feeling on my skin, the adrenaline pumping, and anticipation at its peak.
It’s like dying without really dying
I think the real reason we like horror, or being scared in general, is that it’s like dying without really dying. Our body does not do a great job of learning and adapting in the same way our brain does. While we’re sitting on our couch watching Friday the 13th our senses are telling our brain that there’s something amiss, we’re in danger, we must RUN! But our brain, logically, knows that we’re actually cozy under our blanket mountain with a bowl of popcorn on our lap.
However, our LIZARD BRAIN believes otherwise. Our lizard brain is actually called the amygdala and it is the control center for our emotional responses. If you’re anything like me then your body does not necessarily have full control over this little bastard & he truly runs amuck. I am constantly telling my lizard brain: “NO! We do not need a seventh slice of pizza, we do not have to cry every time we hear In the Arms of the Angel because it reminds us of neglected animals, and we certainly do not need to have a meltdown just because we forgot that we ran out of lemonade!”
My lizard brain is a real bitch, and she does what she wants.
While I’m watching a horror movie, knowing logically that I’m safe, my lizard brain is sending all sorts of signals to my body that we are in terrible danger! Then, all sorts of adrenaline gets pumped through my body. Not enough to cause me to freak out, but enough to make my skin shiver, my blood rush, and my heart race.
The feeling of pain is not far removed from the feeling of pleasure, they come with the same sort of reactions. That is why I think I like horror movies: my body likes the excitement of feeling like we’re in danger without really being in danger. It’s the same reason why people like roller coasters or sky diving, (although both of those activities do involve a bit of risk) because they like to feel like they’re in danger but know that they’re not. Your brain is a fickle bitch. She wants everything that your body doesn’t need and she never wants what is actually good for you.
The reason I like horror movies is that when I get scared I get this sense that I’ve been purified or wiped clean. I attribute that to my faster-moving blood and my over-cycling of adrenaline. I am more alert and more awake after I’m scared. My senses are better, my judgment is quicker. It’s fleeting, but it’s there. So, I’ll keep on spooking myself until the day I actually die.
If you want to find me, go to your local haunted house & I’ll be there with a Ouija board trying to find a new friend!
Stay weird, be wild, and read on!
Screeching Peach Magazine