I like horror movies. A lot.
I didn’t as a kid. I have a memory of coming down the stairs one night when I couldn’t sleep (so it could have been basically any night of my childhood; ask my parents about how I made them or a babysitter sit where I could see them in the hallway for hours every night sometime) and watching a movie with my parents for a few minutes. The movie was “Speed,” and I saw the part where the lady tries to get off the bus and the platform explodes. Either that or the four wheels that run over her directly after end up killing her. I remember walking back upstairs, still able to see that woman. I didn’t sleep well for weeks.
Even as a teenager, I wasn’t big on horror movies, especially not guts and gore. I watched “Scream” with some friends and had my eyes closed most of the time. After the movie I asked my best friend to come stand outside the door of the bathroom while I was in there. No one was hiding behind the shower curtain, but when I tried to leave, the door wouldn’t open. I ended up screaming at my friend about how unfunny this joke was…until the door, which had just been jammed, opened and I saw that she’d gone to get a drink.
But when I was virtually incapacitated by panic attacks in the winter of 2010, I found myself with a lot of free time on my hands, and I liked the idea of a kind of fear I would have control over. I was pretty sure I could take it. So I started watching the movies I’d always heard about but never seen. And I watched, and I watched, and I watched. I watched “The Shining” and “The Exorcist” and “Poltergeist.” I watched “Saw” and “I Know What You Did Last Summer” and “Evil Dead.” both one and two. “Nightmare on Elm Street.” “Halloween.” I watched every Stephen King adaptation I could find on Wikipedia, and then I started watching anything I could find. I’ve seen the lowest-budget horror movies and the most artistically satisfying. I officially love them.
My friends and coworkers do sometimes bat an eye when I happen to have “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” on in the background, or during that two-week stint where I was obsessed with serial killers. They laugh at me when I jump in my chair. I could try to explain to them what I think is the appeal for me, but I don’t know that they care that much.
What I love about a good horror movie is the importance of story, both internal and external. A good monster (human or supernatural) has a reason he, she, or it is a monster. Birth, a freak accident, deliberate manipulation, events of the past that for some reason won’t go away. An “alternate” upbringing, such as that of the family in “The Hills Have Eyes.” Ghost stories aren’t about the moment the ghost pops up, they’re about the reason the ghost is still there. Serial killer movies are about what drives the serial killer–that hole they need to fill through ritual and blood. Sure, regular dramas teach us about what’s inside of people, but horror movies do it so much more vividly, with so much potential for rich metaphor. The teenager who doesn’t know what’s happening to his body literally turns into a beast. The angry child finally gets her mother’s attention by manipulating objects with the force of her will. Horror movies are a safe (because removed from reality) way of looking at the strangest, strongest, darkest parts of ourselves and trying to make sense of them, to decide what to do with them.
We can be the monster, or we can choose to take our pain and fight the other monsters, so that other people won’t have to feel it too.
And that’s my explanation for why I’ve watched two seasons of “Dexter” in twice as many days.