The horror community recently lost the legendary Wes Craven to brain cancer on August 30th. Having grown up on his work, and been shaped by it, it hit me pretty hard. His unique brand of storytelling and adroit handling of prose and dialog always made an impact, whether I was shaking from fear or laughter. It started relatively young, when I first saw A Nightmare on Elm Street, and kindled in me a love of terror and all things horror – so I have a lot to thank Wes Craven for.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that recently, what got me into movies and horror specifically.
The last few weeks I’ve been wrestling with that simple question, so I forced myself into a literal corner, shut the door, and stared deep inside myself. Why did I start this in the first place? Why did I feel the need to shout my often half drunk opinions into a digital void where a billion other voices clambered to be heard?
It started, I think, in my bed, sometime just before dawn. I was frozen. My whole body trapped while my mind struggled to break free, a prisoner in my own flesh. I can’t exactly remember how old I was the first time it happened, its happened so much over the years, but I still get goosebumps when I think back to that first night when I saw Them.
Straining in the pre-dawn darkness to break free, able only to move my eyes and barely capable of breath, movement caught my eyes near the foot of my bed and absolute terror set in, a chill blanket wrapping me. There was a man, cast in shadow and wearing what appeared to be a long coat and bowler hat, standing perfectly still. I’d often seen similar figments of my imagination that revealed themselves to be piles of clothes or some sort – but this was different. I had all the time in the world to examine this man in detail…and the more I focused his form and clothes popped into stark relief, with exception of his face. His face, and the faces of the rest of them I’d later see, was shrouded in shadow. Blank, but deeper than any well.
These visits persisted over the years, ranging in length and number of visitors. Eventually I came to terms with Them, even being peaceful when they came, gripping my terror by the throat and staring into its formless face. There were young children, older women, and the Man with the Hat. There were only two incidents that made me unable to sleep for days, and one recurring visitor with malicious intent, but that can be a story for another article.
I’m sharing this bizarre story for a reason, one that oddly connects back to Wes Craven.
The inspiration for ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ came from two places, according to Wikipedia – but the inspiration that really caught my attention, in the documentary “Never Sleep Again“, was a story that Craven caught in the NY Times about men in South East Asia who were reportedly dying, in their sleep, from Nightmares.
That really made my hair stand on end.
Since then I’ve sought to understand terror, to figure out this primal emotion so much of us are obsessed with experiencing; the adrenaline high following a good scare, sitting on the edge of your seat, so tense your teeth could be heard grinding in the next county.
Its nearly impossible to pick a single reason for watching Horror, something I have discovered time and time again interacting with the horror community (a community, by the way, of some of the coolest and kindest people on the planet). I wanted to dive deep here, get into some base attraction, but I continually found myself confounded. For some, horror is an expression of a side of themselves they could never act on. For others, its a perverse thrill garnered through the infliction and suffering of terror, being able to experience something they would never naturally (or legally) be able to. Others enjoy vicariously living scenarios (think your zombie apocalypse fanatics) and imagining themselves there, and what they would do. And then there’s folks that just plain like getting scared.
I think the closest commonality we may have is our obsession with that adrenaline rush, and the darker side of the world infrequently seen. The threat of the supernatural, and the terror of human potential. Movies are themselves an escape, a chance to shed the worries of day to day life and get away from the bullshit drama and endless stress; to live free for a few hours at least.
For that, then, horror is an escape in its purest form. This other world where serial killers stalk the streets, the boogeyman lurks in the closet, and you don’t dare look under the bed – while the reality of this world may not be palatable, it’s thrilling to visit. Horror has always had a special place in my life. I find beauty in the obscene, the grotesque, the horrific wonders the human psyche has always been capable of.
We all have our reasons, and while I can’t say confidently why we all watch horror, I can say that no other genre of entertainment has gathered quite so unique a following and fanbase – and that I am proud to call myself a horrorphile.
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