It’s October, and thus my favorite holiday season. I put up my Halloween decorations today, and I’d already made sure to move exclusively horror to the top of my Netflix queue. (Yes, I’m keeping Netflix for now.) I intend to make at least a few posts over the course of the month analyzing horror and horror fandom. I had watched something from the genre the other night when it occurred to me that there is a lot I still don’t understand about the topic.
I’ve never thought that horror was just about a voyeuristic impulse to watch people die and to revel in things that are supposed to disturb. I usually tend to feel that the best horror is that which twists the fabric of reality. I am sort of haughty in my appreciation of horror film, radio, and literature, despite the fact that horror is presumably viewed as the genre that broadly requires the least amount of sophistication from its fans. Perhaps my pretension is actually exacerbated by that fact, and by my efforts to place myself in contrast to the riff-raff. I appreciate horror because it prompts the audience to confront things that it finds uncomfortable. Most times, I would say that this particular taste in film that I have stands in contrast to most of my other tastes and behavior. But when I think about it as I am now, I realize that it fits with who I am as perfectly as anything could. It is one of my most dearly held beliefs, perhaps part of my creed, that people should be willing to face up to unpleasant things that that could otherwise turn away from. I enjoy frightening material because you look at despite your impulse to recoil, and that’s training that people could do well to undertake.
But in writing like this, I give the impression that I have a complete account in mind of what the role of horror in society is, and certainly of what appeal and effect it has with me. Yet I realize that I understand these things still less than I thought I understood them. Of course, I believe that what I’ve said above is true. I’ll have more to say about it in coming days, and much to say about other ideas I’ve already considered on the broad topic of horror and perceptions of it. Still, the visceral way in which I respond to the genre sometimes defies my understanding.
After watching a horror film the other night, I took my recycling out to the curb and joyfully absorbed the assault of autumn air. It felt like Halloween-time outside. The sensation of autumn is in some respects very much death-like. And it is one of my favorite sensations in the world. That is a difficult thing to make sense of, even more so than the question of what’s enjoyable about being frightened and watching people in peril, or dying, or at the edge of sanity. Between the feeling of clammy cold in the air outside and the lingering images of ghosts and bloodshed in mind from my evening viewing, there was a bizarre sense of peace about me, and trying to make sense of it afterwards, all I could think was that it might be rather like the peace of death after a terrified struggle against it.
The point is that despite all my tendencies to analyze and critique, I wonder whether people like me who enjoy horror are drawn to it in some part because of a raw psychological desire to stare down our own mortality and find the counter-intuitive pleasure buried in the constant, overwhelming presence of death. There is, after all, and insight into life that is to be gained only by staring straight past it sometimes.