I need your help. As a woman who has spent a lifetime successfully avoiding depictions of ax murderers and creepy dolls… disfigurement and dismemberment…topped off by spooky music heralding an unexpected death …I’m gearing up to see my second horror movie in over 50 years.
The first one doesn’t count. It was Psycho and I was a goaded-by-peer-pressure 13 without a clue of the emotional havoc I was about to experience. Since that day, I’ve never understood why someone would actually pay to feel unbearable tension ratchet its way up to nauseating anxiety. Enjoyment seems to me an odd word to describe how you process some deranged psychopath hacking off limbs and cutting out eyeballs. I would pay an embarrassing sum to never ever ever feel that feeling again. Please tell me I’m not the only scaredy cat out there.
So many of the highest rated TV shows…. The Walking Dead, American Horror Story, Stranger Things, Penny Dreadful…startle and shock and terrorize. Millions derive pleasure from unpleasurable emotions. When I was really young, horror movies were like cigarettes and dirty jokes…bad for children. I remember the mutant monsters in the black and white movies of the 50s, followed by the Zombies of the 60s, and then three decades of nine Nightmares on Elm Street. All made tons of money.
Luckily, as a teenager, I hung out with an extraordinarily wimpy group of friends who shared my fears. Then one by one, they matured. They raved about Jaws and Rosemary’s Baby and Silence of the Lambs. The thing is people who enjoy scary movies are not reliable sources for how really scary things are…like I am not a reliable source about how many Hersey’s kisses are a portion size. I listened to them and read all the synopses and glowing reviews, even pretending (all right lying) in some social situations that I had seen them. But the better made and more convincing they were, the less likely I’d ever in the audience.
Comfortingly rational psychologists say scary movies provide an outlet to help us look at our own fears. When our adrenaline races, we feel fully alive, while at the same time fully safe. We get off seeing justice served to the bad guys. Like some kind of catharsis.
Fans of horror movies feel that intense physical reaction as a rush of excitement. When they make it to the credits of a bloody slasher movie, they take pride in having survived the ordeal. My brain must have a different chemical makeup than theirs. The thing is when I watch a movie, seeing is believing. I’m empathetically all in. To me the sledgehammer of gruesome and disturbing images make me feel like I’m on a dangerously high roller coaster. Don’t bother explaining I’m inherently safe. Not surprisingly, I hate roller coasters.
But I’m at an age where agonizing over clearly conquerable fears is tiresome. I hate speaking in public but I do it. I hate long flights but I take them. And I hate being afraid of being afraid. Wish me luck. My goal in making myself watch Get Out, an admittedly tame horror movie without saws or clowns, is simply to be more flexible and more comfortable being myself. The years have taught me I can be scared witless and still be ready and kind of willing to slay the next dragon. Get Out sounds like a manageable snack size scary event. It’s On Demand so I’m going to watch it at home next week. If I’m in control of the remote, I can emotionally dismember it at will. I can interrupt the physiological arousal process and break the tension anytime I want by working the volume and fast forwarding. I can close my eyes, put my hands over my ears and mutter “naa, naa, naa…” Very carefully I can redefine myself as a mini thrill seeker rather than an enormous thrill avoider.
Horror master Stephen King said, “We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.” Certainly in 2017, real ones abound. Wouldn’t coping better with today’s world be a lovely reward for my bravery.
Here’s a little teaser if you are up for watching…