What is it about being frightened that speaks to us on such a visceral level? Anyone with even a base level of psychological knowhow will probably tell you it’s an instinctive feeling from being hunter gatherers and being hunted and yadda yadda yadda something about your childhood.
But why now, in a world of instant noodles and Netflix do we still get a kick out of being petrified?
Before I start, I barely fall into this camp. I like a good spook, but on my own terms. I’ve been asked to go to those events where you get chased in the dark by some weirdo with a hammer and I replied: “fuck off” quicker than you can you can say “a”. I even have to watch and read horror during the day (if I’m on my own) and once terrified myself after watching a documentary on Paul McCartney – pre-Frog Chorus Macca an’ all.
So yes. I’m a wimp.
Part of our obsession with horror is that it reflects the base fears of the society in which they are created – the idea of Dracula can be boiled down to xenophobia; an otherworldly charismatic Romanian seducing the local women and draining them of their essence, a big societal fear when it was released. George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead was a commentary on the growing nature of consumerism and the fear of the masses becoming homogenised and mindless; while Stephen King’s Christine of course played upon our natural fear of haunted cars. Clearly.
With regards to cinema, horror movies are the most profitable in the industry. They can be relatively cheap to make and allow for massive profits, with film data researcher Stephen Follows breaking down their average profitability against all other genres. Just look at The Blair Witch Project, made for about £20 by four people and a crap camera, it made an absolute bin load of cash and is absolutely terrifying still to this day.
The thing about horror is everyone is frightened by something, whether a concept such as dying alone, or something ridiculous like killer tomatoes or cotton wool, it’s something that connects us all. It’s not as niche as a Western or a romantic comedy, as not everyone likes cowboys or Kate Hudson, yet everyone has been scared. Doesn’t matter if you’re one or 100, a beggar or a billionaire, we all know fear.
Modern horror is also able to re-work classic stories to fit the current zeitgeist. Stranger Things and It Follows serve as simple throwbacks to the glory years of schlocky ‘80s horror, while The Purge plays upon the radical right-wing ideologies becoming ever more prevalent in modern America, with many modern horror tales easily traceable back to centuries old folk tales and even Biblical ideas.
We need to face our fears, they remind us why we’re alive. The sense of euphoria and the flooding of adrenaline into our veins after we do something that terrifies us is amazing. Think of the last time you were scared shitless, now think of how you felt when it was over. You can probably remember every last detail about it; the smells, the temperature, how your skin felt, hell maybe even what you had for lunch. It sticks in our psyche, anchoring itself in your memory as a learned lesson in case you are in that situation again.
So, in this spookiest of all the months, do something that scares you. Doesn’t matter if it’s the prospect of a new brave venture or sitting in an old shed filled with spiders and hatred, remind yourself why you’re alive.
Not me though, I’ll be watching It’s a Wonderful Life two months early and pretending that everything is hunky dory. Jimmy Stewart, you and your long head know how to soothe me.
PS: here’s me being frightened by my ‘friends’. Lucy Chesters insisted I include it here.