17 October 2015

Understanding the Horror of Horror

"I ain't dead yet!"

As Halloween approaches, it's a good sentiment to have. However, as we accept the once a year opening of the door to the underworld and the unseen and possibly the undead, as well, it may be the best time to also reflect on what makes horror horrible...er, uh, scary. (You knew what I meant, right?)

Ever have a scary dream? Maybe it awakens you in the middle of the night and you don't know where you are. Maybe you still feel those pin picks or knife cuts in your skin. Perhaps your throat feels tight and the skin is rough from where the rope scraped. You might have been sensing the increasing pressure of heavy stones laid upon a barn door which was itself laid over you, all the better to extract a fictitious confession. 

Or perhaps your brand of scary is biting into a chocolate birthday cake and instead of pleasure, finding crunched up bits of cricket or other "foreign" matter there. Perhaps the beverage served reminds you a bit too much of freshly squeezed blood, donated by the kid who did not bring any gift. Or the sandwich you packed for lunch today somehow tastes strangely like human flesh instead of what it is: braised cow tongue. You open the lunch box and there are cockroaches squirming about. Is that your kind of scary?
Still another kind of scary is logging on the Internet--or, just as easily, flipping on the television--and there they are: so many stories of horror happening all around us and across the world. Killings of all kinds done in many creative forms. Solo assassins, self-designated mayhem artists, gangs of revengers, harmful idiots out for their own entertainment at the folly of anyone who gets in the way. Or the larger forms of them: armies of nations or parts of them doing the same thing: creating chaos for its own sake or the sake of someone's power structure. Where is the candy?

Or take it down to street level in your local town. Same thing: street thugs, simpletons with weapons, angry for anger's sake, and loners with axes to grind, guns to shoot, people to kill--for the sake of Halloween? Nope. Just people afraid of people, shooting before shaking hands. People afraid of their own shadows--or the lingering shadows of the previous night's dream. "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?" It's all the same in an unsettling way: a spark of angst in the middle of the brain and we shriek.

Whether the horror is on the screen in a movie theater or on the page in a book, the mind provokes the body into a certain set of sensations and we act or react. Let the horror be real or let it be a fictitious fright. We feel it the same way biologically. And yet, the fictitious kind usually leaves us stronger, more confident, even less afraid, while the real horrors leave us in constant terror, constant stress, that we cannot simply put down or walk away from when we've had enough. That is the true horror of the horrors around us. 

Halloween is coming. Is it too little now? Is it too unscary compared to the real world today? Is it more trick than treat? Is it becoming a little better, or are we not yet at the peak? Be safe in your own little world and, at least for a night, pretend that all you have to worry about is a bad dream that will go away when you open your eyes. Or (it's happened to me too often), a lot of children ringing the doorbell after you've already given out your last bag of candy corn.
Looking forward to a day when this is the scariest thing we will see.

If you liked this rant, I accept donations of Kit-Kat and Jelly Belly jelly beans (any flavor). Thanks.

And don't forget our own library of horror--the fictitious variety (except for my contribution, which is 87% real)--and enjoy your midnight read!

(C) Copyright 2010-2015 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.