When not trying to rally the world to pull up its socks and change for the better, I have a not so secret fascination with horror, the odd, the macabre and monsters. Yeah. I know. That’s weird, but they’re just so cool! I love the ones that poke fun at the genre and also love the ones that take themselves seriously and try to tell a good story. If that story is told to put me on edge, or to make me think, it makes no difference. I draw the line at senseless slaughter – if it’s not done with humor, or at least a point, like defense, then it just grosses me out. But, as long as it sounds good, I’ll give it a go.
I love things that go bump in the silent dead of night, startling you awake from a deep and dreamless sleep. As the silence builds you listen, wondering what woke you. Then, somewhere underneath the relentless ticking of the clock in the hall you hear…something. You hold your breath, strain to hear it again. There. What is it? At first almost inaudible, there it is, now a constant tempo. A slow, deliberate dragging from somewhere on the floor below. Then the shuffle-squeak, of one step on the stairs, then another. It’s getting louder, coming closer, towards you from down the hall. And then it stops. It’s right outside your bedroom door.
Ah, there is nothing quite like the thrill of the adrenaline dump as it pumps through your racing heart when you encounter a good horror story, be it in book or movie format. I even like them told out loud. But then, what campfire is complete without a short tale to make the woods just a wee bit menacing? It’s extremely satisfying for me to be pulled out of the real world into a zombie infested wilderness, or to listen to the bat wings as they beat outside a dark and stormy window. It might seem sick to some, unnecessary even, to put yourself through stories of fantastical nastiness. Although people may consider these stories a lesser form of literature or entertainment, I can’t help but revel in the good ones, which are so much more than blood and gore. If they happen to be campy, and funny, all the better!
Aside from the thrills, I love examining the monster and seeing if we are judging him (or sometimes her) too quickly by outside appearances. Everything that is ugly is not bad, but we often tend to assume this. In fact, beautiful things often seem worse, since they are so good at hiding the evil inside. No one would follow a hunchbacked witch into a spooky wood, even if she is just an old woman, but many would follow a princess, right up until she tries to eat you. Plus, by examining our fears, we tend to have a better grasp of them. Good horror that is well written with first-rate characters tends to expound on the human condition, showing us our weaknesses, and how far we will go for our motivations.
I also love monsters who are the good guys. I find nothing better than putting stereotypes to the test and showing them for what they are, namely – wrong. It’s an apt metaphor for the human condition. I may sound a bit like Lady Gaga, but I think sometimes we are all little monsters. Or, at the very least, we have the capacity to do both great good, and great evil, sometimes in the same day. It is our decisions, good and bad, that truly make us who we are, but these decisions are always in flux. So, when reading a story where the monster is the good guy, it often symbolizes those of us who are pre-judged on outward appearances, who strive to go against the pigeonhole that society always seems to want to stick you in. It’s great to push back against bias in all its forms, so if we can do it in fantasy/horror/sci-fi/insert-your-genre-here that’s one small step in the right direction. The less pigeon holey this world, the better.
One last point about horror stories that makes them much easier to stomach, at least for me, is they are not real. Even if they’re full of truths and poetic metaphors for real life, I can still remain a smidge detached, because it isn’t going to happen. It’s not real life. I can tease myself about things that may be in the realm of possibility, or the great what if’s that occur with alien life forms and newly found or re-created earthly species. Delving into horror is like looking into a fun house mirror, it’s distorted, but somehow safe. Unlike non-fiction, which is more like a window to a real world, where the fantasy is lost in harsh reality. That stuff is scary.