When I was about eight or nine, I walked home in the dark from a childhood friend’s house to my own only five houses down. Except in this particular case we had just seen IT, Stephen King’s clown-demon, terrorize kids through unsuspected sinks, shower nozzles, sewer systems, and caves. Surrounded by menacing suburban trees shaking in the darkness’ wind, my whole body was wrapped in fear. Irrational. Even then I knew this clown wasn’t real, but for some reason, I still rushed past the water drain in the street court of my upbringing, and on a path I tread over and over growing up, knowing it was perfectly safe. But watching this, my first horror movie, made me feel like I wasn’t, that something horrific could easily enter my life. I didn’t want to go near a bathroom for a solid month. Horror as a genre is often looked down upon, and understandably at times. Yet it can be one of the most powerful types of movies in that, if it gets everything right and immerses someone in the story, it has the ability to alter the viewers’ consciousness to the point their lives no longer feel secure.
After I got over it — still question whether I really did fully — and was able to bathe without fear of a balloon full of blood blowing up out of the drain, I was a glutton for punishment. On weekend movie rental nights, while being able to sneak away from my mom’s radar, I crept into the forbidden Horror section and eyed the VHS covers with fearful glee, and sometimes, before checking on both sides and with ears tuned in to make sure no one else was around to catch nine-year old me in a treasure trove of R ratings, I would swipe a read of a back cover, engrossed with the then-titillating melodramatic plot description, and maybe catch a frightening picture, like the glint of a Jason Voorhes machete, evil bump faced Leprachaun peering through a dimly lit door, the creepy blank stares of the Children of the Corn kids, or sharp Freddy Krueger claws coming down on a victim’s head. My fascination was partly due to the off limits status set by my parents, and rightly so. But, the other part was the need to experience an intoxicating thrill of unease and trepidation, of witnessing seemingly real terror in the comfort of a spectator’s role, and the unreasonable feeling the monstrosity could enter into my own life. I eventually was able to see some of these movies, of course, and sneaking Scream at eleven only made me more interested. I would imagine if I were to watch a few again, I would probably LOL forever at some of the god-awfulness. And, by laughing at the movies, I would be laughing at myself for allowing them to scare me. There comes a transition period, though I can’t identify a clear time frame for when mine happened, where we realize the movie, like our fear, was silly. The bubble bursts.
After seeing Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in the Woods this weekend, I’ve been dwelling on the nostalgia for my relationship with the genre. I recommend it to anyone who has ever enjoyed any horror movie. Without spoiling anything, all I will say is that it is a horror movie about horror movies. Yeah, yeah, I know. Movies like Scream and Drag Me to Hell had the meta self awareness going for them too. The difference here is that it’s self-aware while also taking that knowledge to create something original. We all know how flawed the genre can be at times — misogyny, pointless gore, the dehumanization as a result, lack of any character work, triteness, unintentional camp, plot structures with more holes in it that Pinhead’s needles, and the list could go on. But, horror wouldn’t exist if the masses didn’t create it by consuming it. And, who knows what kind of primal need that taps in to. The monsters represent the real-life kind, or more likely it’s not so much metaphor, but that the made up Hollywood creatures provide a popcorn distraction from our true fears. Or maybe a little bit of both.