Why Horror? Something Wicked 2020
The holiday season is a time to reflect on our lives and world. It’s a time to be grateful, to come together, and to celebrate.
I think Halloween can serve the exact same purpose, as well as being an excellent excuse to wear fabulous costumes.
Halloween is the time when those who might normally avoid spooky conversations- or as they prefer to be known, "normal people"- are more tempted than ever to think about the things that scare us. The ideas of horror- the body, oppression, taboos, violence, death, the afterlife, loss of innocence, and so on- are explored equally by children dressing up in the streets and adults attending boozy parties.
When we think about what makes us feel afraid, even if its just in the context of trick-or-treating, we can learn a lot.
So, let's begin this spookiest of seasons by reflecting on a question I’ve been asked to answer a few times now.
Why am I obsessed with horror?
Why is this young woman, who hates the sight of gore and cries when someone jumps out at her from behind a door, a dedicated horror scholar?
For a lot of people, a fascination with horror begins early in life... even if they don't understand it.
My dad used to take my siblings and I to the video shop every Wednesday night. It's almost a comfort to remember that every video shop on the planet was exactly the same. Grubby plastic covers with peeling labels. The fluorescent lights buzzing overhead. Smelly brown carpets. I remember off-brand bags of lollies enticing kids at the counter, and walls adorned with faded posters of films that were released 10 years before I was born.
In this seedy den of pop culture, I would frequently find my way to the horror section. Leaving my younger sister and brother behind, I would stare at the spines of those red and black DVDs, and read the mysterious titles- Orphan, House of Wax, Dead Silence, The Others, Hostel, Piranha 3DD. If one really piqued my interest, I might carefully pull it from the high shelves and stare in terror at the images printed on the front cover.
One of those images haunts me to this day...
Saw as a film series does interest me, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to watch it. Even the Google search to find this image was a distressing one.
The version of horror I experienced as a child staring at DVD covers is the one that I think marketing experts are aiming for. My eyes would consume the gory content and, like cosmic horrors too abstract to describe, my mind would bend at the sheer idea of teeth being pulled out. Then I would read those words at the bottom- MA15+, Strong horror violence, Blood and gore, Strong coarse language. Another marker of taboo- my parents followed the age ratings like gospel. I would scare myself with images like these, then hastily jam them back into their spot on the shelves. But then, inevitably, the next week, I would do it again.
A few years later, I discovered Goosebumps.
At school during our library periods, my friends would sit around reading those terrifying tomes. I was lost in worlds of non-fiction and Harry Potter, so would never read them. But, sitting with my head buried between the pages of an animal encyclopaedia, I would overhear their conversations of monsters and death. Sometimes I would read the blurbs. Night of the Living Dummy, Stay Out of the Basement, Monster Blood, Say Cheese and Die!- I never read a single one. I knew I was not able to tolerate the levels of horror that these books obviously contained. I knew this because, when my friends would have sleepovers that I wasn’t invited to, they would watch horror movies without their parent’s permission.
Clearly horror was a genre meant for those more grown-up, brave kids.
I moved into high school, and my reading broadened out to include Agatha Christie mystery stories. While my murder mystery phase was fairly congruent with my personality, my truly morbid interests were still being sated privately. I had moved on from looking at DVD covers, and instead would spend hours reading the plot summaries for horror films on Wikipedia. I would click through film after film, learning more about J-horror and torture porn, but would never dare to watch them. Reading was still more than enough.
I never told anyone about my fascination when I was younger. I thought it made me deviant. But now that I share my research and opinions on horror and theatre, my friends and family are confused.
Why do I talk about horror so much, when I don’t like watching it?
Sometimes I still read those summaries on Wikipedia. I browse the horror section at JB HiFi. I have professional reasons for doing so, but at my core there’s a terrified child with an overactive imagination looking to indulge in some morbid curiosity that she can’t articulate.
That deep, dark, unexplainable draw is why I am still fascinated by horror. Horror has always scared me, but ever since I was a child, I have been trying to find ways to control my fear. Looking up plot summaries and staring at DVD covers were like inoculations against some bigger threat. I have always wanted to be in charge of my responses to art, to be aware and able to analyse my thought patterns and understand meaning.
Horror is the only genre that will always get the better of me.
The effects of horror can’t be mitigated by a theatre degree. Horror bypasses the mind and implants its tendrils in your subconscious. Horror brings people together, and it pulls them apart. Horror teaches us what is right and wrong, and what we’re allowed to say with art. Horror is tied up in ideas of gender, education, and race that inspire me.
So why have I dedicated my professional life to horror, when I find it so affecting? Why does an oncologist dedicate herself to uncovering the mysteries of cancer when it is a disease that causes so much pain? Why does an historian spend their life trying to understand Nazi Germany when they know it was an evil time?
Because everyone gets hooked on something they don’t understand. And the best way to understand something, even if it’s scary, is not to look away in disgust- but to open your eyes to its reality.
Thank you for reading this first post in the series. What is your relationship to horror? Please share your musings in the comments.
Over the month of October, I will be posting spooky content every week. And, on October 31st, I will reveal my Something Wicked DIY Horror Theatre Project. For updates, follow me on Instagram or Facebook, or comment down below!
Saw III poster © Lionsgate
Goosebumps book spines © Lily White (https://www.flickr.com/photos/rebecca-malfoy/5538277569/)
Halloween lights © Wix Media
All other photos provided by my parents