scary movies

Once when I was a kid, I had a nightmare about being chased by Jason from the Friday the 13th movies. The dream was completely inacurate, because I had never seen Friday the 13th, or even knew what Jason looked like. My entire experience with the film had been the VHS movie case at my aunt’s convenience store and a group of kids at school talking about how scary the movie was. Listening to that conversation alone was enough to cause my nightmares where I was chased by an unknown serial killer from an unknown movie.

It’s extremely rare for me to have nightmares these days. On the one hand, it’s fantastic as nightmares are usually unpleasant experiences. However, the lack of nightmares is a bit disturbing because I grew to realize that there is very little in the world to be afraid of. Don’t get me wrong, the world is filled with many awful and terrible things. Diseases, war, and the horrible things humans do to each other should be plenty to be afraid of and they did. But these things are known, for the most part. What always scared me more, however, was the things that weren’t known: the noises with no obvious origin, subtle movement in the dark, the feeling of presence when no presence should be felt.

But when you grow up, you know that pipes make noise, there isn’t anything moving in the dark, and there is no one in the room with you. You know that our brain is so finely tuned to expect certain inputs that sometimes it gets a little ahead of itself and inserts those inputs on its own. Because of this, however, if you ignore the human figures you see out of the corner of your eye, your brain recalibrates itself and you stop seeing them. Because they were never there to begin with.

The sad part is that I secretly always wanted those figures in the corner of my eye to be real. I wanted there to be a whole level of mysterious unknown just beneath the surface that we could perceive, because it would make the world so much larger than it really is. And much more terrifying.

There’s also the rawness of the fear emotion that can be so affecting. So many of the emotions we feel are so controlled, calculated. Even when let our emotions loose a bit, we are still usually quite restrained. But with fear, especially in the context of a movie, we can let free to roam about, catching hold of whatever it can find. Mundane actions and situations through the lens of fear turns into something completely different. Being under the covers at night is something that most of us do every night. It is commonplace. But add an alien abduction to that situation and you’ve taken something that is quite safe and known and injected it with something that is quite erie at least and terrifying at most. One’s neighborhood is very familiar, but in the dawn of a zombie apocalypse, it turns into a place where even going outside requires a surge of adrenaline.

Perhaps love of scary movies, books, and shows are merely a product of our collective domestication. As socialized as we are (and I’m all for socialization), we still have very deep and powerful emotions that are often either ignored or, at the very least, frowned upon. Perhaps the horror genre is a way to channel those residual instincts into something harmless. Or perhaps it’s a way for us to tap into those instintual emotions, to remind ourselves that they are still there.