Horror fans seem weird to ‘normal’ people sometimes. We like to be scared, and that’s a little unusual, right? If something scary happens to us in real life, we’ll get the hell out of dodge as quickly as possible, hoping never to feel that fear again. Yet, here we are, time and time again, reading nightmarish scenarios at night (and we all know they mostly come at night… mostly). We’ll turn out the lights to achieve maximum scariness and put on a film, hoping (nay, demanding!) to be scared. Sometimes, we’ll band together much like the hordes of zombies so many of us love, and go be scared together at the cinema or theatre. If we so happen to finish a horror book or film without experiencing that gut-wrenching terror, then we are annoyed about it. Miffed, even. We feel that we were lied to: manipulated into spending our hard earned cash under false pretenses. We actually feel disappointed that we weren’t supplied with a good dose of the eebie jeebies, as promised.
So, what’s our deal? Why… oh why, do we do this to ourselves? What are we getting out of the ghosties, ghoulies, zombies, serial killers, clowns, etc.? Well, I have a few suggestions….
A) ADRENALINE…… is that useful little hormone that, when released into the bloodstream, basically prepares us physiologically for a ‘fight or flight’ response. It’s typically secreted in times of stress, and gets us all hyped up for some sudden or vigorous action.
So, why would this ‘fight or flight’ response give us any excitement? It’s there to prepare us to save our lives, goddamnit, not wince and screech in a perfectly safe environment. Well, maybe it’s because adrenaline is also secreted into the bloodstream when we’re anticipating getting frisky. When we’ve managed to seduce someone after convincing them that we’re not weird for liking films about dudes who prance about with their penises tucked in-between their legs whilst Jodie Foster tracks them down. When we’re about to get down with our bad selves. Do the deed. Seal the deal. Go for a ride on the... oh what was I talking about? Oh yeah. Horror.
Whilst sex isn’t necessarily a mentally stressful ordeal, it’s certainly a physically stressful activity (unless, of course, you take the laid back approach ba-dum-dum-tsch), and guess what you need to get those muscles raring to go? Yup, adrenaline.
Since our brains don’t quite differentiate between fight or flight and a bit of bowmchickawowwow, it’s only natural that we feel excitement along with the rush of fear, hence the enjoyment of the terror unfolding before our eyes. Of course, that’s not to imply that we get the horn whilst watching a zombie pull out someone’s innards.
No wonder we get annoyed when we’ve gone into a cinema expecting to have the bejeesus scared out of us, only to find that the film is crap and couldn’t scare a toddler. We’ve already anticipated that we’ll feel afraid, setting off our own panic response… and then nothing happens. We’re all dressed up in hormones with nowhere to go.
B) IT’S LOW RISK…. Which means that whilst we’re enjoying that lovely surge of excited energy, we’re not really in danger of becoming the victim of what we’re watching. We get the kick of that fight or flight response without actually having to fight off say, Freddy Krueger, or run for our lives from a werewolf. We get to experience that terror vicariously through the protagonist, yet, at the end of it all, we can close the book and have done with it. We weren’t the ones who went through the ordeal and suffered, we just got to imagine what it was like for a while and then, phew! It’s game over man, game over! This makes us feel lucky, and even helps us reassess our own ‘dangers’. After seeing Leatherface sling someone up on a hook, suddenly the ‘threat’ of that unpaid credit card doesn’t seem so scary. After watching a virus wipe out humanity, somehow, that flu doesn’t seem quite so deadly. Ghosts, you say? Pah! I’ve turned off the TV so now you can’t crawl through it, sucker! This feeling of survival, triumph even, leads me to the next reason we love these experiences….
C) WE GET TO FEEL SUPERIOR… to those beloved fools who weren’t smart enough to survive. We yell things like:
‘Your boyfriend’s the killer, run fool!’
‘Why didn’t they just call the police?’
‘Zombies are slow… just go around them.. go around them!’
‘FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, YOU’VE GOT THE GUN NOW SHOOT HIM.. SHOOT HIM! NO, DON’T JUST KNOCK HIM OUT, HE’LL GET BACK UP.. AAARRGH I TOLD YOU HE’D GET BACK UP YOU IDIOT!!!!’
We tend to identify with our protagonist, but let’s be honest, we think we could do better. It’s okay fellow horror fans, you can admit it to me, I think it too. I won’t lie; I’ve spent an unreasonable amount of time constructing my zombie apocalypse plan. I’ve sat up awake looking around my bedroom deciding what I’d bash the murderer’s brain in with. I’m not even religious but I’ve got a cross in my bedside drawer in case Nosferatu sneaks in like the creepy f***er he is. Okay, that last one’s a lie, but I do have a really sharp pencil that I’m sure I could stake him with.
Anyway, the point is, most of us don’t get to go around feeling like the smartest person in the room most of the time. But during our horror experiences, our rationale kicks in – we’ve got this down. We’d be that lone survivor – hell, we might even do one better and save a load of people along with ourselves. Because that’s how we, brave and sensible heroes, roll.
Lastly, once we’ve triumphed over that scary book or film, we have somewhere to go to reflect….
D) THE HORROR COMMUNITY is just that – a community of survivors. We’ve been through the mill, what with those pointy teeth and nocturnal beings, and creepy, masked weirdo’s everywhere. We’re our very own apocalypse survival group – nothing can take us down, we’ve been through it all. We get to bond over things like the genius design of the Xenomorph, or our distaste for crappy animation that ruins a perfectly good horror right at the end. We fit within a niche, a clique if you will (although thankfully, in this clique, there’s no rule about wearing pink on Wednesdays). Other people might not get it, but that’s okay because we understand each other, even if we’ve never met in person. There are internet forums, blogs, and websites just like this one, all devoted to the thing we love, allowing us to share our opinions and have a jolly good laugh with each other about who screamed like a girl the loudest. And that’s something pretty special.