It’s Halloween again. A holiday with a lot of baggage, yet a holiday that allows us to all get together and experience fear together without being frowned upon.
There are few things that I love more than getting together with a couple friends and watching a horror film or wandering through a haunted attraction. There is something to experiencing a common fear with them and processing it together after the fact. Sometimes we need to be able to point at something common and say out-loud, “That scared the hell out of me.” Too often are we left to process our fears in the isolating darkness of our own hearts and minds.
Ever since I was in middle-school, I have always been drawn towards darker films and books. I could not have placed a finger on why at the time, besides maybe just experiencing something curious. But if I would have to guess now, I think I enjoyed them because I found an ironic solace in the darkness of these stories. Stephen King once wrote that, “We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.” And for me, knowing someone has experienced something painful enough to want to put it into story, is actually surprisingly consoling. It makes me feel connected. It reminds me that I am not alone in my own particular terrors.
It is no surprise that Mr. King often uses the scary clowns, vicious dogs, demonic shopkeepers, and reanimated corpses as means to really discuss the true horrors. In almost all of King’s books are characters with deeply human stories that often involve trauma, abuse, loneliness, and other human afflictions, and to be honest, these characters’ stories are far scarier a thing than the more tangible nightmares. And one of King’s best gifts is helping his readers enter into these character’s stories while simultaneously not letting them avoid their own stories in the process. King forces me to deal with my own horrors if I am to really understand the horrors of his characters.
I do not think it is any surprise that when I have talked to many of my friends who have been hiding secrets their whole lives to discover that often they have some connection to the horror genre. For many of us, including myself, the horror genre has been a way to help alleviate the anxieties of being alone with our fears. Watching Sigourney Weaver’s character alone in space with a terrifying Xenomorph in “Alien” let me understand that isolation and the fear of never getting help is a real and legitimate fear. Watching “The Babadook” let me understand (to a certain degree) the horror of losing someone you love and having to deal with a sadness that may never go away in this life (whatever the sadness may have originated from). And reading Stephen King’s “It” reminded me that the horrors in our past and present are in need of being addressed together in community.
The horror genre surely has a lot of garbage within it, no doubt, but horror done right can be a great gift to its viewers. And for many of us, it has allowed our own private fears to escape the festering context of our own hearts and minds. Like a loud lament inviting others to bring their own laments with them, good horror can invite us to bring your own fears to the surface and to hopefully enter them into a larger, more communal context.