Sweaty palms. Rapidly escalating heart rate. Dizziness. Shortness of breath. Paranoia.
No, I’m not listing the warning signs for a horrible medical condition. Instead, these are examples of the physical manifestations of fear. Common sense would indicate that most people would not enjoy feeling this way. As is often the case, common sense is wrong. A newly released horror movie can easily make fifty million dollars (or more) at the box office, and Haunted Houses all over the nation are making good money in these days leading up to Halloween. Peddling fear is a big business. People enjoy being scared out of their wits.
I can’t pretend to understand the psychology behind this. I myself don’t enjoy watching horror movies of the blood and gore, slasher variety. But I do enjoy reading books and watching movies that creep me out – as long as the visually graphic violence is not a central facet of the experience, thank you very much.
What scares me might not scare you. Most horror movies don’t frighten me; I only find them repulsive. I can think of a very few exceptions, particularly if the movie adopts a campy humor as a counter balance to the violence. The vampire movie The Lost Boys comes to mind by way of example, although the knowledge that this movie was released in 1987 is indicative of how often I plunk money down for a horror movie. (Close to never would be accurate, I believe.) I’m sure The Lost Boys would be considered tame by today’s standards, but it is graphic enough for me, both then and now. I gravitate toward even older movies, anyway, like the original Psycho or Rear Window. They may not have the special effects that today’s films have, but it seems they didn’t need them. They still have the power to frighten me.
I have an over active imagination, so reading a psychological thriller can keep me awake all night. They don’t even have to be well written as my own mind will work overtime to fill in all the plot holes. Anything with a serial killer in it will send my pulse racing, no matter how poorly the story is concocted. Truthfully, just typing “serial killer” right now has my heart rate elevated. In fact, I’m going to pause for a moment to stare at a picture of puppies and flowers in the hopes of calming myself again…easy does it…okay. All better now.
I’m also terrified by stories that feature everyday people doing horrible things. When I was a teenager I was a big fan of Agatha Christie murder mysteries. Her stories often featured oh-so-proper English matrons committing unspeakable acts of foul murder in the most cold-blooded and systematic manner. If that doesn’t scare you, then I don’t know what will. I also enjoy reading (and re-reading) quite a bit of Edgar Allan Poe, my favorite author of the Gothic horror variety. While most of his stories do break my “no graphic violence” rule, I enjoy them anyway because he wrote with style and suspense, and because he always gives us a terrifying view of the psychology behind the perpetrator. I remember reading The Tell-Tale Heart for the first time in junior high school, long after I should have been asleep. I used a flashlight to illuminate the pages while reading under the covers in my darkened bedroom. Now that was something that kept me awake for many a night afterwards!
Most recently I wigged myself out by re-watching an old episode (2007) of Dr. Who on Netflix. Yes, you read that correctly: Dr. Who. I don’t know why, but this episode, Blink, absolutely flips my all switches. Maybe it is because the comforting presence of Dr. Who is missing for most of the episode. Whatever the reason, I am now terrified of garden statues. Thanks a lot, BBC!
There is definitely a part of me that enjoys scary books and the occasional spooky film. How else could I explain why I go back, time and again, in search of a good fright? I can only posit that it must be a bit like having my cake and eating it, too. I can experience the rush of adrenaline, and the heart pounding excitement all without ever truly placing myself in danger. This type of fear, for me, can only be a shadow of the terrors that real life holds. Because, let’s face it, there is no movie or book that can reproduce the fear that overtakes you when you are in the shower, and you suddenly notice a spider spiraling down on a thread from the ceiling directly above your head. Now, THAT is terrifying.
*This post was inspired by today’s prompt at the Daily Post.