Why horror? Because it's there.
Updated: Sep 6, 2019
It’s easy to be a horror fan when you’re young. It’s almost expected that a certain segment of the population is going to be drawn to extreme subject matter in their teenage and college years. And I’m convinced that if we’re not born with an innate propensity to appreciate the dark and the violent in our fictions, it happens very early on. I imagine that it goes something like this …
One kid is given a horrible scare, either intentionally or not. The relief that overcomes him when he realizes he’s safe after all whispers to him, “Try to avoid ever feeling that way again. Stick to the well-lit streets and the friendly faces and everything will turn out okay.” Meanwhile, another kid is scared out of his socks, but the relief, when it comes, says something different: “Ah, yes. It’s nice to be safe. But it’s all the nicer because you had the fear. Think about that the next time something scares you. Study the feeling. Analyze it. Maybe one day you’ll even learn to relish it.”
But all of us learn, sooner or later, that there are two kinds of fear. There is the fear that can be safely enjoyed in a movie theater, or in the pages of a book, or even in a haunted house. Then there is another category of terror altogether, one that the young yearn to understand but never can until it’s upon them, and then they wish they could be free of it. This is the fear that keeps us awake deep into the night when we find ourselves worrying about a nagging myalgia or a growth we haven’t told anyone about. It’s the fear that we might actually lose our loved one who lies suffering in the hospital. It’s the fear that we might never accomplish many of the dreams we spun for ourselves in our youth. It’s the fear that comes with realizing—not just knowing, but actually realizing—that there is a finite number of trees that we will see in this life. A finite number of embraces that we will share. A finite number of laughs we will enjoy, tears we will shed, books we will read (or write), songs we will hear (or sing).
In trying times, art takes on a special significance. It can feel, in times of true terror, that every previous moment spent appreciating music, films, paintings, and novels was merely homework for this major exam. (If we pass, I suppose we become board certified in dread.) Interestingly, it’s probably not horror-themed work that we seek out in such times. Horror requires a little distance from pain to be enjoyed thoroughly. Not because it’s removed from the human experience, but because it dwells so starkly on what can go wrong and why.
This leaves us with the puzzle of the thrill-seeker, I suppose. The adrenaline junkie who climbs impossible mountains or skis impossible slopes. Why does such a person invite real terrors into her life the way most of us only truck with imaginary ones? Who knows? I suspect she doesn’t know, either. “Why do you want to climb that treacherous peak?” you might ask. “Because it’s there,” will likely be the reply.
Why, then, are some of us drawn to horror? Well, because it’s there. We didn't create it; we just want to conquer it. We’re not so different from the thrill-seeker, see. Just a little more … safe. As for the rare bird who is both a horror aficionado and an extreme risk-taker, I say enjoy your short, harrowing life. It's the only one you've got.