Thursday, February 21, 2013

Movie Break! - Some thoughts on Horror

Being a huge nerd, and often at odds with the written word, I listen to a lot of podcast  One which I follow is from the site 'How Stuff Works' entitled Stuff to Blow Your Mind. It is a nonchalant science program which discuss the strange science all around us without getting too deep into science-y jargon, mumboo-jumbo. Good fun.

As I was trolling through their backlogs of episodes I found this gem.

The Horror

It is an episode completely devoted to the science of fear and why we like scary movies. I began drooling when I stumbled across it. While perhaps not a passion, I've always had at least and interest in anthropology and psychology  Any good horror fan should, since it is after all, it's the study of what make us human. A common horror theme. Plus, I'm always looking for insights as to why my particular depression-filled brain responds so well to horror movies.

I encourage you to listen to the podcast, but if not, here are some key points I found interesting.

They make the case in the podcast that the desire to be scared is an ingrained human quality. On a basic level, most everyone responds to fear the same way. We enter the fight or flight mode, shutting down unnecessary bodily systems, and cranking out a cocktail of hormones to jump start our major muscles. Everyone knows how a scary movie will tense up your whole body and literally make you jump. Well on the other side of the scare, the brain releases dopamine as if to say, "Don't worry, it wasn't really a threat, it's just a movie."

I believe it is that wash of chemicals, adrenalin to dopamine, that make horror so enjoyable. Getting sucked into the story and then removing yourself from it by remembering reality. It's an incredible rush. It's great.

They cited some proof for humanity's innate love of horror in children. Even little kids love horror. My nephews are always asking me to chase them, to pretend to be a scary monster, or to jump out and tickle them. And really, given the audience, peek-a-boo is one of the most startling games ever. We love to be scared in a game/movie/story and then remember that it's all pretend.

The High King of Horror, Steven King, had this great quote. "The horror story writer is not that much different from the Welsh Sin Eater, who was suppose to take upon the sins of the dear departed by eating the dear departed's food. The tails of monstrosity and terror are a basket loosely packed with phobias. When the rider passes by, he takes one of the imaginary fears out of the basket, and puts one of his real ones in, at least for a time."

I love that because that is exactly what horror has been for me. In my clinical state, my depression can cause debilitating anxiety. Mostly fear about the future, but also about my own self worth. It is in times like this that I'm very willing to trade my anxiety for anyone else's. Horror movies let me put my fears aside for a time, and while I am still scared of the film, any reprieve from my personal fears is very welcome.

I also liked this quote, "Control lost under the cover of darkness is rediscovered in the light of day. Danger posed by things unknown is reduced by increased knowledge and predictably." While I wouldn't consider myself a courageous person, I do think watching horror is a way of pushing past your fears. I think that for some people, when something scares them they quickly turn away. The horror fan turns towards it, stares at it, tries to figure it out. We take these smaller fears out of the 'Sin Eater's' basket and conquer them. I don't know if that is courage or simply and need to understand, but it can lead the viewer to ask questions about questions about mortality, brutality, depravity, love, humanity, etc. Topics that many in today's society don't even dare to approach.  I don't think there is a monster movie that doesn't reflect some sort of message about society or our inner humanity.

In all it would seem that horror is a relief, a drug, and a deep insight into the darker corners of our human existence  Now tell me, what about that doesn't sound awesome?   

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