People often ask me why I want to make horror movies. They often ask as politely as possible and try to hide the derision in their voice when they say, “horror movies.” I do the opposite when people ask what kind of movies I want to make; I try to hide the embarrassment in my voice when I tell them, “horror movies.”
For many people, horror movies exist in the same category as pornography. From that perspective, the films of the two genres exist for the sake of the indulgence: boobs and blood. A litany of films supports this idea. Much of the horror genre is pure trash, just like pornos, with bad (sometimes non-existant) stories, laughable acting, amateur direction, and awful production value. However, like pornography, horror films also make money. Pornography and horror fulfill a need in human beings that isn’t too difficult to discern. Through porno, our sexual desire, fantasies, hang-ups, and fetishes can be explored. Through horror, our most intense fears, phobias, nightmares, and prejudices can be observed from a safe distance.
A lot has already been written about horror movies, how we experience them, and the psychology of their stories. Stephen King’s brilliant tome Danse Macabre illuminates every corner of the horror genre in film, radio, television, and literature. He makes a very incisive and problematic observation that horror, fundamentally, defends the status quo of society, because it depends on the idea of the ‘other’ to induce fear. We are afraid of Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, Freddy Kreuger, The Thing, and Dracula because they are alien and abhorrent. Just like Randy in Scream explains in his rules to survive a horror movie, teens are warned against sex and drugs lest they invite death. These devices end up reinforcing the norms of society to induce fear. What that means, is that many of our fears are born from the rules of our society. H.P. Lovecraft, the godfather of horror, famously stated, “Our greatest fear is the fear of the unknown.”
In Jason Zioman’s recently published Shock Value, highly recommended, he writes that fear is the only emotion that fully brings us into the present. All pleasant emotions make us comfortable, lazy, and content. When we are afraid, we are paying absolute, albeit sometimes hysterical, attention to our surroundings, with adrenaline pumping through our veins.
A professor once told me, “I think you like horror movies because they reinforce your view of the world as a fundamentally dangerous place.”
All these are reasons we seek out and enjoy, on some level, the experience of being scared. There are many, however, who never watch horror films. I will acknowledge that many who don’t enjoy horror movies are those who have seen enough real horrors (death, abuse, hunger) and therefore feel no compulsion to open old wounds. On the other end of the spectrum, there are people who don’t like horror movies who are too afraid of what horror they might find in themselves.