Friday, July 3, 2009

Why I don't like horror movies

Despite the title of this entry, I love horror movies. I always have. These days, what with all of the adapting and such going on, and of course with the children around, I don't get to indulge too often. But I've been a horror film fan for probably far longer than is really healthy. I remember watching the Saturday Night Shockers (on KTVI Channel 11--St. Louis!) when I was only 6 years old. Certainly not healthy.

So anyway, I love horror films. Real ones, too. Sure, the dippy "high school horror" flicks that were all the rage at the end of the 90's are fun (think Scream), but I love the atmospheric mind-f*cks. Jacob's Ladder, Blair Witch Project, Paperhouse and so on. Movies that make you question your grip on reality. I seem to particularly enjoy Japanese horror, and in fact my favorite video game series of all time is Silent Hill (man, that game will seriously mess with you).

Okay, so why am I discussing my apparent love/hate relationship with horror films on a blog about adapting to a low-power future? Bear with me, I'm getting there.

So for the past week, my parents have had the kids at their family farm. This has left my husband and I with more free time, and more ways of using it, than we are really used to. So, we decided that we'd have a horror-movie night! Yes! Great idea. All kinds of awesome horror flicks have come out in the past few years that we'd missed, now is our chance, right? So we rent The Ring and Sweeney Todd (okay, ST isn't really a horror, but you have to admit, it fits with the atmosphere).

The Ring is everything I love, or maybe "loved", in a horror film. Relatively little overt blood & guts, most of the real horror is left to the imagination. Surreal use of graphic effects, disjoint atmosphere, just general downright creepiness. Compelling villain. Interesting backstory. Actual plot. Real evil. Perfect. The adrenaline pumped. Gasps were had. Brief moments of pure fear, tempered by the fact that this is all happening on a TV screen. The film resolved in a fairly straighforward fashion, not answering all questions (by a long shot), but letting you off the hook for worrying about the protagonists, for the time being at least. When the movie was over, I had that classic, slightly strung-out, pleasantly jumpy feeling endemic to me watching decent horror flicks.

I hated it.

What went wrong? The movie was great, and right up my alley. I reacted to it in, more or less, the same way I always react to that sort of movie. Despite the movie's best efforts to break the fourth wall and make you confuse reality with the film, I had no delusions that what had happened in the movie had even a vague chance of happening in the real world. That is--I wasn't still scared, the scared part was done. So why hadn't I enjoyed this experience which, in my past life, I'd always loved?

At some point in the discussion of the film (as my husband and I are oft want to do--we are philosophers, after all), I realized what had gone wrong. It's true that I wasn't scared of what happened in the film happening in the real world. But rather, my physiological reaction to the fear in the film (the adrenaline, heart pumping, etc.) is the same physiological reaction I have to many horrors in my now-everyday life. Contemplating an end to cheap oil--and what that means to our society--inspires the same heart-pumping adrenaline shot. Thinking about how I will feed my children when the shelves are bare and the zombies are coming inspires a level of fear that even Paperhouse cannot attain. Thinking about my community, unprepared, breaking down at every level, leaving people with no net, no hope, brings nausea. These feelings pass; it's not like I'm constantly walking around in a state of perpetual fear. But when I take a moment to really think about these things, the fear is paralyzing, and the physiological reaction is predictable.

It's the same physiological effect I get when I watch horror films. Or, to put it in a more salient way, I can no longer disambiguate my physiological reaction to horror movies from my reaction to real life. Sure, I get that the movies are fiction, but they inspire the same sickening, clammy-skinned reaction I have now when contemplating my children's starvation. That's not fun. That's just no kind of fun.

I'm a little annoyed by this. I would really like to have my horror movies back, unmolested by associations with real-world poverty, real-world pain, real-world horror. I want to go back to my previous innocence, so that I can enjoy horror movies again. But I guess my life has become too horrific for me to be able to enjoy horror. Perhaps I'll go through a middle-aged goth period (similar to my early-20's one), where I sort of go straight through horror and came out the other side, able to enjoy it again, but in a cynical, cold, detached way. Not really the same thing.

Maybe someday I'll get my horror films back. But for now, I think that Sweeney Todd will have to be the farthest I travel down that road.