December 5, 2022

Horror: My view from behind the cushion.

Remember when you were little, maybe five or six years old, and your mum took you shopping with her? You would trudge along, dragging – and purposefully scuffing – your shoes along the ground reluctantly. She would hold various garments up against you as you squirmed in protest and muttered that you ‘hate it anyway.’ You would be warned that this was a strict ‘look-but-don’t-touch!’ shop, and would inevitably feel your fingers itching to grab the forbidden object that normally you wouldn’t glance at twice. All in all, a monotonous and painfully boring experience. Until you lose her.

There it is; that sickening feeling when your pudgy fingers reach up and find nothing but stale air. Your mind goes blank. Mum’s gone walkabout. Immediately you panic and spin round a full 360 degrees just in case she’s only relocated by a few feet – nope, she’s definitely gone, you’re alone. That’s when your pulse starts racing, your eyes dart around manically and as you curl your hands into fists you become aware of how clammy they are. You stand on your tiptoes to see if you can spot your mother’s discernible haircut over the top of the clothes racks. A sigh of relief, there’s that familiar profile; you can relax now, breeeeeeeathe… But then the woman turns around and you realise that she is not your beloved maternal figure, but a stranger with a similar fringe, shamelessly masquerading as your parent. And all those panicked feelings come rushing back and smack you in the face like a particularly well constructed snowball. This is when the REAL fear sets in, because your mother is quite clearly gone forever. Your breathing quickens, you try to call her but your mouth is dry and all you can emit is a strangled chirping noise. Your heart is pounding against your rib-cage like a bass drum, you can hear it. A few tentative steps forward until you break into a frenzied run, swinging your head back and forth like a tennis umpire to check every aisle for your precious mum, but she is nowhere in sight. Just as you are giving up the search and surrendering to a solitary existence, a firm hand grips the back of your coat.

“There you are! What have I told you about wandering off?”

Burying your face in your mother’s coat and fighting back tears, you make a silent vow to never stray from her side again.

Not a pleasant experience; and certainly not an experience that one wishes to repeat regularly. But that’s precisely what Horror films do; they reignite those innate feelings of total vulnerability, isolation, abandonment and ultimately, fear. And people can’t get enough of it! It is beyond me why anybody would want to voluntarily experience this, I can’t think of anything worse than re-enacting those moments in BHS, standing there in all my chubby, snotty-nosed, duffle coat wearing glory as I felt my stomach drop when I realised my mum had vanished. So why do people do it?

The rush, maybe? That feeling of not fear, but excitement. Anticipation. Reckless adrenaline. See, that I can understand, I get that everyone loves to get a kick out of something. Some people get it from their hearty morning run; others get it from watching a corpse rip out the jugular of a large-breasted cheerleader with its remaining teeth.

I’ve genuinely tried to enjoy Horror as a genre. I believe that to appreciate films, one must appreciate all kinds of film, and Horror is such a big area in the film industry that it cannot simply be ignored. I really have put a lot of effort into trying to sit through an entire film without clasping my hands to my face, but I just can’t do it. My purposefully limited experiences of Horror films are not a catalogue of success stories. I could however, provide an enthusiastic and detailed account of the various cushions I’d taken sanctuary behind to shield myself from the psychological torture on the screen. I’m not writing off all films that are classed as Horror films, however. Let the Right One In, for example, was an intimate portrayal of a tender, fragile friendship between two young people… with a bloodsucking vampire. And it was actually incredibly enjoyable, because the more disturbing parts of the film were an integral part of the plot development, and not just there to scare the living daylights out of the audience. While watching the film, you become emotionally involved with the characters, so stop being afraid of them. I still spent the majority of the film behind my pillow (a nice Aztec print pillowcase) but I think that exposing myself to a different style of Horror film really made me understand the genre of Horror as a legitimate art form.

I have no problems with gore; I can gleefully watch various limbs and over 450 gallons of fake blood spurt across the screen in Tarentino’s Kill Bill Vol. I, because that’s straightforward, it’s in your face, you can’t deny it. Cut off someone’s limb, there will be blood. Simple. It’s the unknown that creeps me out. I believe that is perhaps part of the appeal of Horror films for those who enjoy them, they keep you on your toes, because you don’t know what’s coming next. Cut off an arm: you get blood. Spend a night in an old, deserted mansion that was once owned by an axe murderer: no idea what might happen. And therein lies the Horror. I’m home alone, and I hear a bang upstairs. Logic dictates that maybe a bottle of shampoo fell over in the shower. Now, take away logic and replace it with irrational fear created by an exposure to Horror films, and I immediately assume a flesh eating demon in the form of a small girl whose head swivels like a spinning top is coming to drag me to hell. This does not give me a happy little shiver of fear; I do not get a rush from being momentarily scared. I wish I did, I wish I could embrace the fear and turn it into positive energy and get a thrill from it, the thrill of feeling truly alive for a few seconds, being aware of your own fears and allowing yourself to entertain the darker and more twisted corners of your psyche. But I’m not into all that dark and twisted stuff, I’d rather get my kicks from a well constructed sandwich.

My problem – and I’m going to presume I’m not alone in this – is that I just can’t switch off, I let my imagination get the better of me and I can’t leave the Horror alone once the credits have finished rolling. And I suspect you’ll find that it is those people who ponder the film that are the most afraid of it. We let our imaginations run away with us and as a result, we unintentionally create more terror for ourselves, as opposed to those lucky people who can watch a slasher film, then leave all the nail biting and suspense in the cinema and get on with their lives.

A pretty straightforward example is after watching a film about a zombie apocalypse (Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, and a pillow that had stripes on one side and a floral pattern on the other) I spent an unhealthy amount of time musing what would happen if there actually was a zombie apocalypse, what measures I would take to ensure my survival, where I could hide, and which of my friends I’d be OK with shooting in the head – morbid, I know, but they were going to eat my brains, I had to do it. It would appear that I watch Horror films and subsequently take steps to try and prevent the same things happening to me, as potentially insane as that might sound. Watching the 2006 remake of The Omen with friends a couple of years ago behind a red velvet cushion with black tassels, I refused to leave the host’s house to skulk across the driveway to my dad, waiting impatiently to take me home, until at least two people had checked outside for any potentially evil canines that resembled Mrs Baylock’s hound. Even upon returning home in the hopes that my feelings of unease would have lifted, I found myself unable to look my own dog in the eyes for a few days lest he steal my soul. The image of Damien smiling into the camera will be forever etched into my brain, and even as I type this, I am looking over my shoulder every few seconds just in case he decides to make an appearance and push me out of the bedroom window.

The bedroom window that I closed a few seconds ago.

Just in case.

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