For Halloween: THE TRUTH ABOUT HORROR STORIES
Written by a guy who won the Bram Stoker Award from the Horror Writer’s Association.
We’re all scared. That’s the truth. A billionaire in good health has no reason to be scared, in most cases. He won’t show fear, overtly. But he’s often protected by armed guards, security cameras and other devices. Because in the back of his mind, he’s scared.
A happily married woman living in a comfortable, well patrolled suburb has fun with her kids, loves her spouse, goes to church or temple or a mosque, gets much comfort at those places. But she’s scared. In the back of her mind, she’s scared.
We go cheerfully about our lives, yet in some part of ourselves we’re multiply scared. We’re socially scared when we encounter even people we trust. We’re scared of failure; we’re scared of home intruders, of cancer, of the depredations of serial killers and child abductors and the outbreak of chaos and war. We’re scared by the inevitability of death–even if it’s decades down the road…Now we’re scared of wildfires…
Some people are unconsciously drawn to discharge these fears, through horror movies and tales. The horror story doesn’t need to be specific to one’s personal fears. Fear builds up as tension; it builds like pressure in a water main. It must be controlled, sometimes discharged. Some find this release to be especially pleasurable. For some it’s even mildly addictive. Being harmlessly scared, via an art form, releases tension so it’s paradoxically relaxing–after the fact. One even feels a (ridiculous) sense of unreasoning triumph, after the book or movie, having come through what was fearful–untouched.
There is more to the psychological mechanism underlying the delight in horror stories. There are neuroses. There is rage acted out, subconsciously, on the screen. But essentially it comes down to this: we’re always scared. And when we say we’re not–we’re lying to ourselves. You see, we’re always more scared than we realize. In order to live with our fears, we buffer them, wall them off, look away from them. But they haven’t gone anywhere. Most people don’t have the self-knowledge to see themselves as they are; they’re unaware, on a conscious level, of the persistent presence of their own fears…