Odds and Deadends : Monsters Under The Bed

It’s something we probably don’t consider, but everyone has been scared that there’s something lurking underneath us as we sleep at some point in their lives. It’s been in episodes of Doctor Who, it’s been in Luther, it’s been all over the place, and it seems to be getting more and more prevalent as time goes on. But why is it that the idea haunts us? I don’t mean to solve the issue, but present a few feelers and ideas as to possible interpretations.

Firstly, of course, we must tackle the dark. In evolutionary terms, we’re scared of the dark because it conceals predators, and as primitive man, we’re not going to last long if a beast comes and eats us. The monsters children believe in may not be the saber-toothed tiger our ancestors feared (although I’m sure some have thought that one is underneath them), but the principle applies. It is a similar story with the cupboard across the room, which I will quickly divert to. Anything might be hiding in there, and isn’t it much scarier when the door is ever so slightly open when we can just about peer into the gloom and convince ourselves that something monstrous is moving around in there?

And now for something completely different (but which will reconnect).

As we grow up, our perception of the world is shaped by past events. In essence, we build up a pattern recognition of what is, based on what has come before, and therefore we can predict what might come later. This is one reason why theorists believe it is more difficult to learn languages when you get older because language is tied to our perception of reality. We understand, for example, what a door is, because we have learned to associate the temporary opening-and-closing of a portal with the word ‘door’. Therefore, whenever we see something similar (even between different cosmic dimensions), we associate the word ‘door’ because it has similar properties to those we have seen before, even though it may not strictly be a ‘door’ as such. Try and substitute the word with something different and our inherent understanding of it changes, and we find it harder to make the connection.

Children, who have had less time to build up such an intimacy with language, are able to apply several terms to a concept more easily than adults. Following that same principle, children are less able to come to terms with the inherent cause and effect of past-present-future, because their brains aren’t as hardwired to associate past with present and with future from previous knowledge, as adults can by their previous knowledge of a door, to use the same concept. When adults know that there was nothing in the wardrobe with the light on and therefore there won’t be with the light off, because there never has been before, children are less able to come to that conclusion because the dark, for them, creates a completely different space. Our inherent understanding of human experience of reality changes as we age and experience the world around us. Children haven’t had the time to build up the understanding that the dark doesn’t change anything, so they believe that even though there was nothing there before, switching it off doesn’t necessarily mean the same holds true.

Now put that concept under the bed. The proximity of the dark place to the child is that much closer, that much more unbearable. When the monster was in the wardrobe at the end of the room, at least we had running distance. Now someone’s put a dark place, where anything could be hiding, where we can’t see, only inches away from us. What’s a child supposed to think, to believe, when the lights are off and the parents are in another room, very close and yet so incredibly far away? This is why the sheets getting pulled off the bed in Shutter, and indeed in Paranormal Activity, is disturbing. Throughout our lives the bed has been the safe place, and now something is able to tamper with that safety net. It can get to us.

There’s also perhaps the element of parent-child separation involved with this as well. For the first years of its life the child is almost constantly in contact with the mother. Now, put in a room on their own where they cannot see or hear their protector for so many years? At an impressionable age when so many images and concepts are being bombarded at them, everything comes at the worst possible time. They’re on their own, and absolutely anything they have seen or experienced could be lurking there.

And yet it is a rite of passage. Conquering this growing-up period is how children understand the dark, how they come to create the pattern-recognition that tells them that, no matter how much they imagine shapes there, logic holds that it can’t be true. It’s part of the mirror-stage, I would say, the Freudian concept of the child recognising that it is independent from the mother. Now that the child is alone, it has to realise that it must protect itself from attack. To do this it must recognise, understand, and parry potential threats, and in today’s world we don’t have tigers hunting us, but instead monsters under the bed. The child must go through the experience long enough to build up past knowledge that there are no monsters under the bed, and so eventually understand that the dark is simply obscuring something which isn’t there.

However, we as adults can look back on the past. And we can remember a time when the dark space underneath us wasn’t just filled with pillows and the odd box of Christmas decorations. We can remember it being a place where the monsters hid, and where they crept out of before we cowered under the covers and waited for it to be over. And sometimes it seems that we haven’t quite conquered our fears completely, and we return to that moment of childhood horror. And that’s when they come for us, at the moment when logic and reasoning breaks down for just a split second and we believe, we know, that there really were, and still are, monsters under the bed.

 

-Article by Kieran Judge

-Twitter: @KJudgeMental

Oh Dear God, Won’t Someone Please Think Of The Children!!!

Why do so many horror stories involve children? Children aren’t supposed to be scary.

Aren’t supposed to be…

I think the thing that scares me more than animals with problem-solving capabilities are children, or if truth be told, children scare me more…why? Because children aren’t supposed to be scary. I am currently working on my 2nd anthology, and like And They All Lived Happily Ever After!  this collection is also inspired by fairy tales, not exactly by the moral of the story but more so of the children who star in them.

There is something so unsettling about children committing vile acts of violence, or witnessing them as victims of such yet from the Brothers Grim to mid-century illustrator Edward Gorey, from The Bad Seed to Cooties it seems we can’t get enough of creepy little kids doing creepy cunning stuff. Why is that? Is there something wrong with us?

**An anonymous user on Stack Exchange made a really interesting point, in a mini think piece he says:

This is a topic of which there is a huge body of work, circulating different theories of why children are such a prevalent theme of horror, so its unlikely you will find a single comprehensive answer/theory, but there is one unifying reason that all parties are in agreement upon:

Kids are scary, yo.

Children are able to operate as Microcosm for social anxieties. They are largely denied ‘a voice’ (particularly if they are infants), or when they do have a ‘voice’ it is distorted by the ‘inexperience of youth’, and so something that should sound innocent can come across as sinister. Think of “They’re here” from Poltergeist, “1 – 2 – Freddy’s coming for you, 3 – 4 – better lock your door..” from Elm Street and “I see Dead People” from The 6th Sense…. but there are plenty more.

As a personal aside (but a good example!) a friend of mine once told me that when he was tucking his son into bed, his 3 yr old son said “Goodbye”. He said, “No, its Bedtime now, so we say “Goodnight”. His son replied, “I know Dad, but this time it’s Goodbye”… He slept with the light on that night.

Children are something that are familiar, but still refracted through their own experiences; under-developed and ‘alien’. There is no equivalent word in the English language for this apparent dichotomy, but the German word is ‘Unheimlich’, meaning un-homely (the opposite of what is familiar – or not right within the home, as a place of safety). This is to say the fear doesn’t come from something being obviously sinister grotesque, but just slightly not right, but without being able to fully explain why.

German culture actually has a legacy of being slightly obsessed with the “Unheimlich”, and Freud wrote a great deal about it (claiming it is where our fear originates). The idea of a Doppelganger originates from the “Unheimlich”, and as such there are sinister connotations associated with twins. Twin children, as in the Grady Twins of “The Shining”, are perhaps the ultimate representation of “Unheimlich”.

Children are not governed by the norms of society, as they are not yet participants of it. As our general notions of safety are governed by our shared assumptions to ‘play by these rules’, and children are outside of this, they are considered ‘unpredictable’, which can create anxiety, often turning them into ‘folk devils’.

As an opposing theory to this (which is particularly pertinent to Horror) children who have a supernatural or sociopathic understanding of the rules of normality but elect to disregard them are a classic origin of horror.

Damien from ‘The Omen’ is an example of this type of fear, as he is considered the ultimate ‘The Possessed’ child who demonstrates and awareness and is complicit of his own evils. The book “You’re only Young Twice” by Theorist Tim Morris features a chapter ‘Panic Attacks: Children as Adults, Adults as Children in the Movies’ which explores the origin of Horror within these parameters, and will be able to provide you with a long history of terror being extracted from children in this way.

Film Theorist, Mary Jackson identifies this films with their own nomenclature as a sub-genre ‘Children as Horror’, and identifies our fear of these ‘Evil Children’ as the representation of our societal fear of failing the younger, emergent generations:

‘Not surprisingly, in the run of child-as-monster films, frequently the real point is not the evil of children, often the victims of demonic possession themselves, but rather the ineffectiveness of the family, church, and state – America’s most highly valued institutions – to guard themselves against deception and impending destruction.’

Regan from ‘The Exorcist’ is a similar case, although her’s is a story of the corruption of innocence as penance for her mother’s implied heresy/blasphemy/impiousness. Her’s is a meta-religious allegory to the Angel of Death taking the children of the impious, but much more sinister: The devil ‘takes them’, but the terror is not through removal but through defilement.

The most obvious (perhaps) reason for children being so numerous in Horror needs little explanation:

Children aren’t supposed to be scary.

By subverting our expectations of children as non-threatening entities, Horror is able to force doubt into our natural assumptions, which is a staple of effective horror.

Of course, it’s become so common place for Children to be ‘Evil’ in Horror movies, and this genre tradition has become so entrenched, that its hard not to automatically consider children as the de-facto evil in a horror movie. Such is the way of postmodernism.**

I couldn’t have said it better, which is why I posted it here. It’s a really interesting thread, a deep pool of information if you have some extra time you should check out the conversation: Kids are scary, yo.

Kids are hella scary and not only in fiction but have the potential to become extremely dangerous … in real life. So why do we keep having them? Why won’t we just leave them alone? We are through songs, images, and rhyme and reason we are warned of the hazards. So, armed with this knowledge why do we dare to thread were angels won’t?

Again, I have to ask Is there something wrong with us?

No. Like the true HorrorAddicts that we are, we just keep coming back for more, drinking from the fountain of youth despite the evidence that the water is tainted.

See what I just did there, ‘fountain of youth?’ lol

Free Fiction Friday: Children of Doom by Alex S. Johnson

Children of Doom

by Alex S. Johnson

(An original story inspired by the song by St. Vitus, words and music by Dave Chandler)

They were young, so very young, when they passed through the spacegate.

Infants. Not physically or even intellectually, but emotionally–in their hearts and vision, the ways they had learned to respond to the world they came from.

It was a world built on pain. On tender openness met with fear, wrath, the strangest hostility. And this from the people who they called family. Mom and Dad. Aunt and Uncle. Sister and Brother.

Good citizens. Loyal friends. Faithful companions. But the children knew another side. The faces that smiled in public and bared their teeth in soundproofed privacy. A different kind of smile.

They were frozen behind their eyes, their faces made masks harder than jade. And when they wept–and they did weep–it was alone, knuckles pressed to hairless cheeks, clutching plush animals long ago outgrown, their only succor the blessed day their lives on earth would come to an end, or they managed to escape the present hell for the streets and alleyways where even more terrible predators lay in wait for them.

This further fate some of them knew, and then they prayed again. For death.

Their souls were snared in the sickly web of flashbulbs, in photographic images that stole the brilliance within them, leaving only husks of flesh.

Yet all that changed upon translation.

Walls of green marble, etched with the silver script of the arachnid gods, yawned to receive them.

They found themselves in an enormous vaulted gallery, the ceiling lost even to the memory of those that had built it.

Guards in uniforms made of blinding light stood on either side of a shattered throne black as the dreams of obsidian.

A bodiless voice spoke from the heart of that darkness, reaching into their minds. The voice knew of their secret sorrow, what they had endured and suffered. The things they had done and seen and been forced to witness, rituals of sickness carried out in suburban garages and sound-proofed chambers by Boy Scout troop leaders and pastors and priests, presidents of the local Chamber of Commerce, pillars of their communities. Children’s entertainers, clowns hawking paper cones stuffed with poisoned cotton candy.

The voice knew their anguish, and in some sinister way they couldn’t yet fathom, suffered and delighted in it simultaneously.

As they stood before the blackened throne, the guards swept wings like jagged lightning around and over them, and for the first time in their lives, they felt peace.

Comfort. Understanding.

For so long they had identified themselves with those who had hurt them. They didn’t dare feel the anger that was their right. But the kiss of the guardians’ wings bestowed something deeper than anger. And more frightening.

It was a cold feeling.

A feeling beyond mere hate or the will to vengeance.

Slowly they changed. Transformed. Were cloaked in an armor stronger than titanium.

The gates of chased silver opened once more in the cold marble wall.

Their return went unnoticed at first, simply because their bodies remained on earth, seemingly animated. But their souls no longer lived there.

The kids came in the dead of night.

With scythes of carved bone, blades of mirrors, luminous swords.

With steel and fire and howling weapons hewed from stars and blood and nightmare.

Wreaking an apocalypse unknown and unseen by the vast majority, those who had honored and protected the children in their care.

They took the predators to the places of private agony. The cork-lined rooms with walls of reinforced concrete. The basements where hung flesh-crusted chains, bricks soaked with suffocated screams.

Slowly, quietly, with infinite care, they returned the gifts of horror.

At first the adults pleaded. Cajoled. They knew they had done wrong, but they could change their ways. Life would be different from now on.

They were so very, very sorry for their crimes.

Until they couldn’t plea, or cajole, or speak through slashed throats, eye sockets weeping blood.

No remorse, no repentance, from the Children of Doom. They were deaf to the death rattle, the awful, high-pitched, animal screams.

At some level, they seemed to enjoy their work.

“‘O Oysters,’ said the Carpenter,

‘You’ve had a pleasant run!

Shall we be trotting home again?’

But answer came there none–

And this was scarcely odd, because

They’d eaten every one.”

–Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

 

 

 

 

 

Movie Quiz: The Woman in Black, 2012

Movie for Episode #85 of HorrorAddicts.net
The Woman in Black

Can you answer these questions?

1. Why is the road to Eel Marsh House dangerous to travel on?

2. What kind of people does the ghost prey on?

3. Who is Arthur Kipps (played by Daniel Radcliffe) mourning?

4. What does Arthur Kipps pull out of the swamp?

5. True or false. The woman in black was a remake?

Listen to Episode #85, airing March 30th, 2013 for answers.