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Fear Itself: A Point of Order Special Edition
-"Ah, fear. The most delectable of all emotions. Without it, how would we know the other flavors of the psyche?" -Jonathan Crane, a.k.a. The Scarecrow
Greetings and salutations all. Joshua T. Calkins-Treworgy here with a special edition of the Point of Order series, "Fear Itself".
To more deeply appreciate the horror genre, I recommend making oneself familiar with the degrees and breeds of fear that are available to the human condition. As your tour guide through this benighted realm of the spirit, allow me to show you the way. Hands in the car at all times please, this ride gets bumpy.
Part One: The Degrees of Fear
There are several levels or degrees of fear one can experience. This is true of most emotional states of mind. This part will deal with those degrees.
Shock: Shock stands alone among the degrees because it is usually a result of a sudden jump scare. Shock either tapers off upon discovering that all is well, or evolves into panic coupled with a higher degree of fear.
Wariness: Typically the first degree in the scale of fear, wariness is that watchful, slightly paranoid sensation we get when something seems or feels out of place. In horror fiction, this is where characters become quiet or start reaching for a weapon. There usually isn't an immediate threat at this degree, but an imminent one is instinctively detected.
Alarm: One step above wariness, the subject is now certain that there is danger nearby. The full scope is not yet known, but the heart rate is up, sweat starts to bead, and the nerves are jangling like an air raid siren. Breathing is rapid, and every movement perceived is reacted to.
Alerted: Active engagement in the symptoms of the Breed of Fear dominating the scene/situation.
Heightened (terror): Active engagement, coupled with irrational responses to stimuli from the Breed of Fear. In the heightened state of fear, everything the victim does is reactionary and survival driven.
Pure: The Breed of Fear controls the entirety of the victim's behavior, sublimating their entire persona and causing them to lose all sense of control.
Part 2- The Breeds of Fear
All right, here's where the bulk of this piece comes in. The horror genre gets bogged down a lot in film by focusing almost exclusively on one of the breeds of fear. If done with varying degrees of the same breed, it can result in a decent film. It doesn't happen very often, but it does happen (Friday the 13th).
The human psyche can only withstand so much trauma before it begins to suffer massive damage. Here are the reasons why.
Fear of the Known: Presented by the threat or presence of a previously proven danger that one could routinely encounter in life. Often, an incident of the past allows the victim/audience to logically conclude that a similar situation is going to result in injury or inconvenience. Example- a character once bitten by a dog is now afraid of dogs. A maniac is chasing us with a knife, and we know that lunatics and knives are both dangerous.
Fear of the Unknown: The oldest and often most unifying fear breed of them all, fear of the unknown sets in whenever we aren't certain what's going to happen or what lurks in the darkness nearby, waiting only for its chance to strike. Commonly associated with our uncertainty over what happens to us when we die. The unknown represents a vast ensemble of facets of life in the world in which we live. For instance, you've come upon a freshly disemboweled neighbor. Now, there's no weapon in plain view, no other recent sign of how he or she wound up dead on your lawn, and no indication to the naked eye that anyone else was even around recently. You don't know what happened, how it happened, or who/what could have done it. The lack of knowledge or understanding is crippling in some instances.
Building/Atmospheric Fear: This breed of fear sees a great deal of use in haunted house tales and the Asian horror films made popular in the late 90's and early 2000's. Typically, the victim of this breed of fear notices strange, unexplainable events taking place around them. They begin as minor incidents, drawers open unexpectedly, strange noises without any apparent source, signs of some kind of intrusion are come upon. In some tales, third-party knowledge comes to a protagonist about other people falling prey to bizarre circumstances and perishing in grisly fashions, and similarities to their own recent troubles causes budding dismay and terror. The dangers mount, and soon the victim is in a constant state of fear.
Fear of the Outsider: This is a very normal fear for people to experience, even on a day to day basis. It is the natural urge to be distrustful a wary of those that are different than us. In horror, the Outsider is usually some form of monster or aberration. The human monster or slasher psychotic troubles us more often because they look like us. Their very existence makes us worry that the evil in the world we live in is right next door.
Fear of the Self: This final breed of fear is the rarest form of fear to be seen in horror cinema or television. In fact, the only examples I can quickly think of are the protagonist in BBC' s Jekyl, Monroe in Grimm, and Edward Cullen in Twilight. This breed of fear is otherwise usually reserved for the written medium. The victim of this form of fear possesses sure knowledge of some aspect of themselves which makes them incredibly dangerous to people around them, and they don't want to be a villain. All of us worry from time to time that we have a monster living inside of us. These characters know it for a certainty.
Well folks, that's all for now. I'd like to thank you for your time, and for taking the chance to read this short look at the genre's driving force, fear. Take care of yourselves, and as always, keep reading!