I used to think Horror movies were corny. Not really too appealing and somewhat annoying, with formulaic plots and predictable events. Books from the genre were equally boring, but for different reasons. Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein seemed to be a decent allegory for the human condition, but the use of monster imagery was strictly symbolic in my mind; it never reached me emotionally. Bram Stoker’s Dracula left me yawning. It was immediately obvious to me that Poe was brilliant, but the fact that his work was required reading in school spoiled the experience. These were legitimate impressions left upon me by horror movies and books, but there seemed to be something wrong. “Why don’t I like this stuff?” was the question rolling over in my mind, again and again. It seemed as if something were asleep inside of me, something I wanted to awaken.
All of this changed for me after seeing “Faces of Death”. It was truly fascinating and engaging. That film communicated the immediacy, chaos, and helplessness associated with real death experiences. The fact that a good portion of the deaths depicted were obvious fakes actually helped me to appreciate horror films even more, bringing me to the realization that horror is the only genre where the writers are expected to harass and scare the audience (which is pretty cool). Moreover, the film showed me what good horror can do for one’s sense of life; it reminds us that we must die, and that we cannot know what form our demise must take. Let’s have a look at this idea a little more closely.
As you trip through life, there are many distractions to keep you from seeing your own death as inevitable. You forget that death is not in the distant future, but that it is with you at all times, waiting for the opportunity to take you. Death hangs on your shoulder prepared to act on your carelessness. Hop out of bed quickly, eager to start your day, and you may have a stroke from the sudden pressure change in your head. Jump into the shower, where you might crack your skull open. Go down into the subway, where a deranged homeless person might push you onto the tracks. At work or school, a disgruntled coworker or student might choose you to kill with gun or bomb. Want to forget all of this? Get out to a night club to drink, dance, and socialize. This is a great way to find yourself drunkenly walking in front of a speeding car as you leave, fall face down dead on the dance floor like Anna Nicole Smith, or go home with a total stranger who strangles you because he’s a necrophiliac, or infects you with HIV. When are you safe? Is it when you’re home in bed alone, dreaming sunshiny rainbow dreams, helpless against home invasion by armed, bloodthirsty thugs? Ask any life insurance actuary about your mortality, and you’ll get an answer that’ll knock the complacency society has bred into you right out of your head. You want horror? Look no further than the well worn routes of your life. Every moment you’re breathing you’re in danger of some lunatic poisoning the water you drink or the air you breathe, or burning the building you’re in for the sake of his religion.
There is another, more insidious danger. Your own love of death. Your fascination with death causes you to dance around it, like a possessed shaman around a ceremonial fire. Death is seductive and luxurious. It calls to you with the promise of ending this life’s suffering. Your innate Thanatos pushes you toward unsafe behaviors, which may make you the greatest danger that you face. Your morbid fascinations may be driving you to an early grave, and it’s so insidiously creeping quiet in its nature that you won’t know when it’s happening for real. This is what makes the horror genre so popular and attractive; it’s that we’ve been seduced by our own death. Wrapped in darkness, hidden from others, our death is the only thing truly our own. No indoctrination, socialization, cultural norms. Just your end as it comes to you, leaving you to face the unknown; but at least you’ll finally be alone.
Now, read The Vampire Lestat. Lots of talk about seduction in that book. Think about what I’ve written here.
Horror movies and books can only begin to communicate the pain, suffering and death that surrounds each of us every day. That’s why I’m a horror fan now, though; I like beginnings.
J.R. , formerly of Rosemary’s Babies, is now working with the Septimus Orion project.
I remember being at a slumber party when I was a kid once and we had rented horror movies. One of the movies was one of the Faces of Death movie, I remember not being able to handle it and going into another room while everyone else watched the movie. I never could stomach horror movies if they seemed to real.
Yes, I’ve seen a few people sickened to that point by the film. One weekend, I watched all of the films in the series, and found myself deeply desensitized to violence by the end. In fact, during the final film, I became bored by the sight of a guy getting his penis cut off and stuffed in his mouth. A marathon of this type is sure to cure you of your sensitivity, at the expense of your humanity, of course.