I was never one of those children who enjoyed running up behind my friends and giving them a fright. Now, it wasn’t because I was above it, or blind to the joys of childhood humor; I just didn’t do it because if they made so much as a squeal, I would jump out of my skin.
Yeah, I’ve always been jumpy. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t learn to indulge in horror culture until I was well into my 20s, and finally comfortable with the idea of being terrified. Because to really get the most out of a horror movie, you have to let yourself give in and venture off to unknown, uncomfortable places. That’s where I got stuck as a kid — I was already so uncomfortable; awkward and shy as could be, with such poor eyesight that my glasses were like a heavy mask, weighing down my face. Why would I want to throw myself into bottomless depths of despair, for pleasure?
But then again everybody was doing it, even my fellow late-bloomers. So, when I turned 19, I bit my lip and sought out Wes Craven’s Scream. The movie had come out about nine years prior to such massive box office success that it spawned two sequels, and eventually a third, but for the purposes of my ‘experiment’ those details were of little importance. The stars aligned though, and Scream was the perfect “slasher” movie to get me started on the long, dark road of legitimately bone-chilling horror.
Deep down, I related to the character of Dewey (played by David Arquette). He was just the right amount of awkward for him to be a believable person, and in truth, his fumbling humor eased me into the movie – and all the subsequent horror movies I’ve ever seen. That’s not to say I wasn’t sweating on the edge of my seat, covering my eyes in key parts and gnawing on the inside of my gums – I was doing all those things, and more. In my heart of hearts, I knew the situation that Sydney faced was preposterous [the return of her mother’s killer, wearing a scary mask and cape], but as I allowed myself to laugh at it – I found an odd sense of enjoyment in the unfamiliar.
When it was all over and I was picking up the pieces (of myself), I glanced behind every door and under my bed, making absolutely sure that the killer wasn’t hiding under there. And as I went through those motions — inevitably repeating them over the days, weeks and years — I returned to that funny feeling of calm within abundant chaos. There had been something exciting and different about that day, and that movie. For me it was a true “out of body” experience, one that I was keen to repeat.
In my current adult life I frequently seek out things that scare me; whether it be Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho or Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, Frank Miller’s legendary comic books, or some morbid photograph or piece of art that I stumble upon.
Hell, sometimes I even tap my friends on the shoulder and pretend I’m a monster.
IMAGE: Courtesy of Creative Commons