Why (HORROR) Matters by Christine Hadden of Fascination With Fear

Horror Matters.

If you were to ask any random horror fan why horror matters, it would most likely be an intensely elaborated upon discussion you would have the pleasure of being a part of.  But to your average movie buff whose eyes don't glaze over with elation at the mere mention of a new John Carpenter film, horror is the dirty little secret hid away in the closet.

But even the non-horror fan has to concede that there are some truly fantastic films out there in the history of the horror genre. There's no denying the merits of such films as Jaws, The Silence of the Lambs, Psycho, and The Exorcist.  But a great majority of filmgoers find fault with horror, saying it is just a bunch of slutty girls getting axed or the comic fat-boy getting a pitchfork in the gut—that they have no serious worth or integrity. So how then can we horror fans explain our love for the genre, or that it actually DOES matter?

As mentioned, it's quite clear that with the exception of perhaps porn (and even that is questionable), horror is the red-headed stepchild of movie genres.  The bane of existence for soccer moms circling the globe.  The graphic violence! The obligatory nudity! The gruesome deaths!  The pointless plots! 

But what people fail to understand is that in the world that we live in today, there is so much real horror that sadly, people become accustomed to the death and destruction we see every night on the evening news.  It used to be that horror movies could shock you.  Nowadays, films have had to go deeper and stretch farther than ever before to horrify and disturb audiences.  And why do some of us feel the need to be shocked?

For many, horror is an escape. A departure from all the tragedy and heartache that we deal with in our daily lives and beyond. When I attempt to explain and rationalize this, people balk and exclaim that they cannot even imagine why I would want to, for example, watch a man in black gloves sneak into an apartment and slit a girl's throat ear to ear.  As macabre and horrifying as that sounds, I can't get enough of these kind of violent films. I can't explain why. Why do some people swoon over romances? Because of the way it makes them feel. 

Likewise, the rush of adrenaline that washes over you while watching horror is a feeling not easily replicated. It’s like riding a roller coaster at top speed, except you don’t come down from a horror high as quickly. A good horror film can give you the ride of your life. Put simply, your brain comes to life while watching horror. It has a lasting effect that we fans relish, and we can't wait for the next time we can experience the same feeling.

It’s said that when Psycho came out in 1960, scores of people claimed to be afraid to take a shower--including the film’s female lead. And beaches worldwide took a hit in the summer of 1975 when Jaws hit the big screen. Why? Because horror doesn't have a shelf life. That fear is burned in our brain - and we love it, because some of us just like that particular imprint on our psyche.
But why does horror matter? 

It’s hard to pinpoint an intellectual reason, but I'm sure horror aficionados the world over would try to rationalize the love of fear and blood. For as long as genre fans have been berated and rebuked for being devotees of such violent and sinister cinema, they have been justifying their horror addiction and attempting to bring new blood (pun intended) into the fold. Horror fans are, if nothing else, eager to share their obsession.

In the month of October, there is a vastly increased interest in the horror genre due (naturally) to Halloween. Statistically, more people throw caution to the wind and rent a horror film then than any other time of the year. Theaters are much more likely to have impressive crowds for the newest scary movie in late autumn, and studios bank on this to draw in the numbers for the four/five weekends of the tenth month. To horror fans, it’s hard to imagine why someone would only want to go to a horror movie in the stretch up to Halloween. We watch these films all year, who wouldn't want to? But at least for one month out of the year, men and women alike become honorary members of the horror club, grabbing onto their dates in theaters or perhaps looking for the least offensive movie to rent from Netflix that still falls within the genre so they can brag to their friends at the water cooler on November 1st about watching horror on HalloweenA world without horror to fans of the genre is like a sky without stars. While the general population cranks up another Jason Statham film or the latest Jennifer Aniston schlock, we horror fans revel in the latest offering from del Toro, Wan, Carpenter, etc. It is said that horror fans are the most loyal fans of any genre, and I’d be inclined to agree. The turn out in droves to support the new films throughout the year, not just in October, and they will defend their genre (as I am humbly attempting to do) to the death.

Perhaps it is an inherent need to be frightened The fear of the unknown is a significant aspect of the horror film, whether it is an alien invasion or a masked killer beating down your door.  Pulses quicken. Hearts beat faster. Hands shake. Eyes squeeze shut. Why do we like this feeling?  Why would anyone? As inexplicable as it is, horror films fill an emptiness in our soul.  The emotion of fear is captured and stored for future reference, like a genie in a bottle. We save it for that random time in our life when we need to purge the stressors of daily life, and all the sudden we're thinking: I need to watch Suspiria.  Right now. 

Horror is important because it makes (some of) us feel happy. It’s a release, a way to set aside daily turmoils and have a few hours of liberation. Others who need to watch a feel-good rom-com to get the same effect cannot possibly understand. They call us warped or sick or even crazy. But there have been fans of horror movies for as long as film itself has been around. Nosferatu (1922) and Freaks (1932), as well as a whole host of early Universal monster flicks started a real trend towards the spooky stuff and they have never backed down since. Over the years horror has split into countless sub-genres, with some being slightly more mainstream than others. This gives the fan of a film like The Messengers or The Tall Man - both decidedly un-scary - some horror street cred. Nearly everyone likes a little scare or two.

In turn, horror has alienated itself from “acceptable” films many a time over the graphic nature of the content,
from something as weird and offbeat as Antichrist to a film known for graphic and disturbing images and/or plot devices- like A Serbian Film or The Human Centipede. That said, there are plenty of films that barely spill a drop of blood and can still send a shudder through to your very core.

Marie, my writing counterpart at my blog who is less than half my age, when asked why horror matters, enthusiastically explains: "Horror buffs aren't sickos, perverts, or murderers. Everyone has morbid curiosity; some people suppress it, but horror fans express it through films, literature, artwork, etc. It's the healthy way to do it, so you don't, y'know, actually go out and dismember people…” The younger generation of horror fans has embraced horror just as we did oh-so-many years ago. There is something about shiny, slashing blades and a crazed maniac wielding a chainsaw that continues to strike fear into our hearts and put smiles on our faces. With all the abhorrent and unforgivable things people do to each other in the real world, it gives us a sense of relief knowing that when we walk out of the theater there (usually) isn’t a man with knives for fingers waiting at our SUV. Or that little green men are not going to beam us up to the mother ship. But the tiny feeling of dread, mixed with the anticipation of reliving those frightening moments over again in our head make us want to turn around and head right back into that movie house to experience that blissful feeling all over again. Why? Because we love to be scared.

And that is why horror matters.

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