Why Do We Want Horror Stories?

Now, I’m going to talk about something that has been gone over at great length by Stephen King.  I learned a lot about writing and appreciating the horror genre by reading Danse Macabre, On Writing, and the intro to his short story collection, Graveyard Shift.  I would highly advise anyone who wants to write horror to read all three.  That being said, I’m going to try to say something that Mr. King hasn’t already.  Since brevity isn’t his thing, this may be hard.

I am a grown woman.  I pay taxes, have a good job, raise two kids and have a loving marriage.  All indications that I am a responsible adult who should know better than to do certain stupid things.

But I am also a stupid fourteen year old girl.  Here’s an example.

Before I go to sleep every night, I like to lay in bed and read things on Pintrest.  I don’t want to get back up after, so I do this in the dark.  This is all fine and dandy when I’m reading articles about plot, homeschooling, making pickled eggs, looking at cat pictures, reading comics or being ‘inspired’ by all the lovely quotes.

It becomes a problem when I find a post titled “The Creepiest Chat Session I’ve Ever Seen.”  Now, I was actually reading funny posts, so I thought there was a joke at the end.  Spoiler, there wasn’t.  Now, just to make matters worse, here’s some things you should know about my house.

  • I have a dark colored cat, you’ve seen pictures.
  • My new house is creaky, and I’m still adjusting to the fact that we are the only ones in the building, so if there are noises in the basement, it’s not our downstairs neighbor.
  • The closet in my bedroom has a built in crevice, that has a swinging door.  Perfect for Christmas gifts and creatures who want to rip out my guts and show them to me before I die.
  • The way my bed is positioned, my head is three feet from said scary ass closet.

And there I am, reading the creepy boards.  (If you want to read this post, btw, it’s on my Pintrest board, random.)

Why the hell did I do this to myself?  I’m aware that stuff like this keeps me up at night.  But I did it anyway.  I know I’m not the only one.  There’s a reason why “When you see it,” is all over the internet.

So why do we want to scare the hell out of ourselves?

It makes us feel young

When I talked about being scared in the night, I likened myself to a fourteen year old.  That’s not an unusual analogy.  When we’re kids, everything scares us.  There is nothing not scary about being a kid.  What’s that spider?  Will I die if it bites me?  I don’t know, so I should probably stay away.  What’s that creaking in the basement?  Who is that person walking very close to me?  Do they mean me harm?  Where’s my dad, I can’t see him in this crowd!

Being scared as a child, until you learn better how to deal with the world around you, makes perfect sense.  Scared keeps you safe, after all.

As we get older, though, we aren’t scared so easy.  We become jaded.  There is nothing that really scares us anymore, because we think we’ve seen it all.  Then something scares us, and we feel young again.

Fear goes hand in hand with curiosity

This one is pretty simple.  Things that are scary are also fascinating.  We want to know about them, because they’re new.  Humans have this need to know things we don’t know. It’s something that I, and The Doctor, love about us.  Zombies scare us, but they also sort of facinate us.  Because it’s something new.  We are curious.

Horror stories have heroes

Lots of people die in horror stories.  But usually one or two make it out okay.  I think that’s really comforting, don’t you?  If that chick can get through a whole movie with a chainsaw wielding murderer chasing after her, I can probably get through whatever is going on in my life.

More than that, though, the hero in a horror story is often doing something selfless, something brave and stupid that risks their own lives to save others.  Horror story heroes are braver, I think, than other heroes.  An adventure hero is usually a marine, or a firefighter, and they’re saving people from natural disasters and bad guys with guns.  A horror story hero is usually a regular person who happened to stumble on a nightmare situation, like a mist that spawns terrifying monsters.  But there they are, acting all heroic.  It’s inspiring.  I wouldn’t do it, by the way.  If zombies come to my town, I am getting my monsters and getting the hell out of dodge.  But it’s still inspiring.

Horror stories reinforce our moralities

A couple weeks ago we talked about the ‘rules for surviving a scary movie,’ as seen on Scream.  The later ones varied, but the first movie’s rules were pretty moralistically upstanding.  1. Don’t drink or do drugs, 2. Don’t have sex.  3. Don’t say “I’ll be right back.”

Now, the last one’s just common sense.  It’s right there with, ‘don’t ever say what a good thing it is that the weather’s nice,’ and everything else Newton has ever said.  But the first two are absolutely based on a moral standpoint that I think we would all like our teenagers to have.  It’s a moral code that a lot of people hold themselves to, avoiding ‘vices’ like casual sex and booze.  I think that anyone who is working so hard to repress a desire for such things would appreciate seeing those who indulge in them get chainsawed.  Horror stories tell us that we are right to stay on this side of the moral line.

Horror stories make us feel better about our lives

Well, maybe this one is just me.  But when I watch The Walking Dead, I have a hard time complaining about my day job.  I read Misery, and it puts my sad life into focus.

The horror story, basically, is a chance for us to see the real, honest to goodness, worst case scenario.  It is never going to be worse than zombies.  It’s never going to be worse than a demon house that wants to eat you.  It’s never going to be worse than a town full of men who are replacing their wives with machines.

And yet, as I mentioned earlier, the characters of a horror story not only survive their terrifying experiences, they often find a better, braver part of themselves that they didn’t know they had.

In short, as strange as it might sound, horror stories give us hope that in the end, everything is going to be okay.  Just so long as we’re the main character, that is.

And so long as you keep your closet door closed, and stick to cat pictures late at night.

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