One of the main questions surrounding the horror genre is why people love and obsess over these dreadful, shocking films and stories. The existential debate about horror is a battle between morality and depravity, as many will remain withdrawn from ever enduring the “90-minute nightmare” (as my co-host Mike put it when referring to watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre). One aspect of life is certain: horror is a component of life, whether one wants it to be or not. We thrive in a society where the masses tune in on a daily basis to horror, whether on a local news broadcast or Facebook news feed.
Stephen King wrote an essay, “Why We Crave Horror Movies” and opens with a simple sentence that speaks volumes. “I think that we’re all mentally ill; those of us outside the asylums only hide it a little better – and maybe not all that much better, after all. We’ve all known people who talk to themselves, people who sometimes squinch their faces into horrible grimaces when they believe no one is watching, people who have some hysterical fear – of snakes, the dark, the tight place, the long drop . . . and, of course, those final worms and grubs that are waiting so patiently underground.” This essentially is true; human beings are not perfect and have flaws to some degree. He discusses “anticivilization emotions,” which need to be exercised periodically but not acted upon. For example, a man can’t just grab a woman off the streets like a caveman and take her home. But that man can watch Saw and walk away from the film with a clean slate.
People do all sorts of weird shit to various degrees. Think of people, the cast of characters, who revolve around one’s daily universe. Turn on a form of media reporting news, and horror will appear in various forms. The shock of seeing a group of teenagers beat another sole child into a coma. The gang-related violence that plagues cities and towns across the globe is promoted as “cool” when in reality it is a pestilence on society. Mass shootings occur on a daily basis in the good ol’ U.S. of A. Anyone and everyone can be part of the cast on display for the world to see.
Mainstream media is controlled by empirical companies (aka the Darkside) looking for its next massive star to bring in the bucks and acquire the highest ratings possible. “Cash is king,” an old hockey buddy of mine recently told me. To me, it isn’t king; but sure does pay the rent. Remember folks, private conglomerates purge on the citizens of our nation, and in the end it is all about dollar signs. That is a whole other can of worms; back to my point. Whether a person is outrageously fixated on horror movies, or has a “never have, never will” approach, their life has rudiments of horror— whether they like it or not.
Life is surrounded by horror, regardless if people realize or not. My wife would never watch a horror flick, but she loves Channel 7’s Eyewitness News and Good Morning America. Constantly on display are reports of children and adults at the cusp of terror. Obviously, not every single segment has brutality, but it is there and in varying degrees. There is something about being scared in a safe place, despite if one’s watching a horror movie or the 5 o’clock news.
The difference between watching a horror flick and a media report is the sheer dismay at hand in the film is fiction. The blood squirting from severed limbs, the supernatural protagonist hiding inside that explodes a human body, as it splatters like a water balloon (see Dreamcather), or the cannibalistic torture of Hannibal Lector— this is all fake. People gunning each other down across the “land of the free” is real. Women and children being abducted off the streets and sold as underground sex slaves is real. Genocide is real. Racism is real. Suicide from bullying is real. The schoolyard fight is real. The shootings are real. The bombings are real. The Uber rapes are real.
This shit is on display everyday for the masses, on every black mirror that crosses eyes, yet horror fans are chastised for catering to their anticivilization emotions. King writes, “If we share a brotherhood of man, then we also share an insanity of man.” He says we are “light years from ugliness,” but I have to disagree with him on this one. Have you ever turned on the news and felt apparition and appall? Every friggin’ day. That’s the real horror show, the real non-fiction horror movie. Which would you rather experience: films such as Saw, which is now deemed “torture porn” (which in the end is fictional), or see the news plow through disturbing report after disturbing report about the Boston bombing? Violence and sex sell, whether it is in a film (which is FAKE), or the news (which is REAL). In the end, we are surrounded by it. Horror is inescapable; but it’s all a matter of how one exercises those anticivilization emotions.