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Why Horror?

Sam Link
Oct 30, 2016


Believe it or not, after this month of reviews, I don’t like being scared. Or at least not being scared in certain ways – I can watch Night of the Living Dead during dinner, but the popular horror game Five Nights at Freddy’s gives me the willies, and I lasted all of five minutes when playing Amnesia: The Dark Descent. When my wife and I went to see the remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I had to leave the theater for a bit because of the jump scares. I hate jump scares; on the other hand, my wife cannot deal with any Nightmare on Elm Street film, and I quote Freddy Krueger regularly.

So, why watch it? Why do I get excited for new horror authors, and watch every Z-grade movie that rolls through my Roku?

Several times I’ve mentioned that some movies are more fun with friends – that’s because horror is a social genre. When I was in college, a group of friends watched the entire Friday the 13th series as an almost twenty-hour marathon. The first one was scary, but by the third, between diminishing quality and increasing exhaustion, we had scorecards for deaths. We did the same with Nightmare on Elm Street, and frequently rewound to catch Robert Englund’s quips as Freddy. I don’t like going out much, but I’ll gladly sit down for a bad horror movie with a group.

Also, horror is a primal genre – it’s the scary story told around a campfire at night. This is where superstition and legend are born, and superstitions are at the heart of some of the best horror, from the urban legends of Candyman to the apocalyptic prophecy of The Omen.

Lastly, horror reminds us of what’s really scary. In the best horror, the biggest issue isn’t the monster; it’s a person who’s gone too far, like Captain Rhodes in Day of the Dead. Frank in The Hellbound Heart is more horrifying than any demon, and we all know someone who likes to have a little too much fun.

So, while others enjoy Austen, I’ll read Poe and Shelley. I’ll take Dracula and Mina over Romeo and Juliet. Horror isn’t just fun and scary; it’s training to be as brave Oskar in Let the Right One In, as clever as Kristy in The Hellbound Heart, and to have the determination of Peter in Dawn of the Dead; it's learning to deal with our own Captain Rhodes, Mr. Cooper, Rotti Largo, or Frank Cotton - humans who have made monsters of themselves.

Horror reminds us that - like Repo's Shilo - our past doesn't control us, and - like Area X's Ghost Bird - we can define our own future and identity. Like the Navidsons in their House of Leaves, we can turn to family and friends for help when the world is literally folding in on us.

Horror reminds us that we can face extradimensional cults, monsters in the mist, chainsaw wielding maniacs, zombie apocalypses, and more. The heroes of horror are never stronger than the evil they face, they're just willing to put their back to the wall in the face of overwhelming odds, grab their improvised weapon, and say, "No more." When we cheer for their victory, we're cheering the part of ourselves that has that strength. Horror is the archetypal hero's journey, showing in literal terms the violence they experience on the way, and the price they pay to realize their own strength.

And that's why I watch horror.