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Adrenaline and Nostalgia

Why Horror?” they ask us.

“I dunno why?” we respond, hands in pockets, arms stiff, “ I just like it," we say, tired of the question.

Sound familiar? Yeah, thought so. My relatives, most of which have never read this blog, nor ever will, nor have they seen many of my films, ask me the same thing. Been doing it for years.

It’s like they think something has to be wrong with me to enjoy a subject that explores so many taboos, and so violently. I know YOU know what I’m talking about. Every horror fan does. While the comic book fans have to put up with shit about being in arrested states of development with baby-daddy issues revolving around not having a proper male role model in their lives from age x to age y, we, the horror community, have to put up with being pelted by such stones as “you’re sick if you like that stuff”, or “how could any sane person watch that and gain pleasure?”.

It’s been the same shit since the dawn of pop culture. There’s a right, safe and proper form of entertainment and a wrong, or counter, form of entertainment. Did you know that public hangings were the horror films of their time in 16th century England. People brought their kids, grandma, everyone. And it was popular for several hundred years until vendors started selling beer and the crowds got rowdy. Then they moved executions into the prisons, beyond the public’s curious eye.

Sports are okay, you know, where actual people get actually hit and actually get hurt or die. But fictitious violence, where no one gets hurt or dies, well that’s just sinful.

As a horror fan, welcome to the wrong side of the tracks. It’s okay though. We take our place among some of the most fun things ever invented: Rock and roll, jazz, dancing, porn, role playing, sports, comic books, science fiction, television, the internet, violence on TV, SEX... damn near anything that’s fun is wrong to someone.

But if we turn the microscope on ourselves for a second, and ask the same question of ourselves, “Why do we like horror?” I think we can come up with some great answers. I know I have, for myself anyway.

Recently a fan asked me if all the violence we see in horror films is making us numb to real violence, real horror.

My answer to that is an unequivocal, unbending, uncompromising, “NO.” How do I know this?  Because I love a fake beheading or torture scene but I can’t take the 11 o:clock news. It’s too much to me to learn about children being abducted and young moms being beaten to death, and college girls getting raped. That shit depresses me and makes me question my own optimism about the whole race. Like a lot of people, I saw the video taped beheading of an American by extremists a few years ago in the middle east and I actually threw up. Why? Because I’d never seen anything like it. And even though I’d seen a thousand beheadings in various horror films over the years, I’d never seen someone die in front of me, and in such a miserable and sickening way.

I’ve digested fake horror forever. At 4 years old I was watching disembodied hands crawl across the floor on Night Gallery, at 6 I saw The Exorcist and looked at the pictures in Heavy Metal Magazine, by 10 I knew all the George Romero films... Toby Hooper, John Carpenter, Dario Argento... and by 15 I’d read all of Lovecraft, Stoker, Bierce and Poe.

Through my teen years I snuck beers, tried weed, played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons, had weekend horror movie get togethers and spent hours upon hours with halloween make up kits and monster models

All that in my formative years, mind you.

Now, as an adult, I’m married, have nice kids, a cool wife, I’m a liberal pacifist and I do my best to bend like the reed in the river of adversity instead of resisting like the rock that will inevitably wear away to nothing. I practice the essentials of Christianity (you know, the part about being nice to everyone and not passing judgement?) and Daoism (live and let live, baby, it’s all good) and generally I have an optimistic view of my fellow man and our future together. Turned out pretty fucked up, didn’t I?

There’s as many reasons for why we like horror as there are horror fans. But why do I like it?

Because of adrenaline and nostalgia.

When your body doses itself with adrenaline, it doesn’t send a signal as to whether it’s the fun kind (roller coaster, sex), or the bad kind, (someone’s attacking you, you’re in a car accident). It just sends this chemical shooting through your body, preparing you to fuck, fight or run, as my dad used to say. It’s literally the high of life.

In real life, horror comes in the form of phrases like “we’re sorry, it’s cancerous” and “sit down, I have bad news about your brother” or words like malignant, inoperable and suicide. And these words come to you messengered by doctors, lawyers, your mom, police officers... and those doses of adrenaline are sickening, literally, down to the very CORE of you.

Horror in real life is unexpected, inexplicable and devastating.

On the other hand, horror in entertainment is ornery, thrilling, and fascinating, albeit ghoulishly so. It’s also cathartic for some and even healing for others. 

A large part of horror fandom is adrenaline. It’s the rush of feeling danger and horror while sitting in the comfort of the movie theater or your own home. At the end of this horrible simulated experience, you know you’re going to be fine. The lights come on and you go out for beers or coffee to discuss what got to you the most.

Another part of horror is actually nostalgia. A lot of people like it because it reminds them of childhood with dad or big brother - that shared emotional experience from yesteryear that comes back every time they rewatch one of the old favorites.

Are there dangerous asshole nutballs who like horror? Yeah, sure, but there are also dangerous asshole nutballs who like knitting (just click around etsy some time) but we don’t blame their character deficits on fucking knitting, do we?

Anyway, take this blog entry and file it away for the next time someone wrinkles their nose or raises their superior little eyebrow at you and asks with disgust and judgement, “Why do you watch this stuff?”

Now you have your answer. I know I do.