Special Feature: The Seduction of Fear!

Bloody Disgusting contributing writer Gerald Browning hit me up asking if I wanted to publish his essay entitled “The Seduction of Fear’, and after reading it was impossible to say no. I always love hearing horror fan’s own personal experiences with fear, and what makes them such big genre nuts. My own personal torment came from the clown scene in Poltergeist, Browning’s goes back to the days of ol’ Count Dracula and The Wolf Man. Read about it inside, then chime in with your own experiences below!
Friday, December 03, 2010 – Sunday, December 05, 2010

The Seduction of Fear

When I was a kid, one of my most favorite games to play was Hide and Seek. Every person that I’ve talked to, no matter what the age, sex, race, or tax bracket, has confessed to playing this game on multiple occasions. Quite a few of them have voiced their memories with fondness when discussing their memories of this game. I would recall hiding in my favorite spot, behind my parents’ large freezer in the cool, dark basement of our ranch-styled home in a rural neighborhood outside of Flint, Michigan. I can vividly recall the coolness of the steel against my cheek, the incessant droning of the motor keeping the expensive meats inside cool, and the constant drumming of my heart as it thudded in my small breast at the sound of each click, whir, and thump. My palms were sweaty, my breath came out in soft gasps, and my body shivered. Upon reflection, what I remember the most is the fear. A well-known writer of children’s stories once said that children like to be scared. Personally, I haven’t grown very much since then. I still like to be scared; I would surmise that a lot of us do. Not only are we attracted to the fear, there is an attraction to those who instill that fear.

As a kid, I found myself deeply interested in the classic horror films Dracula, The Wolf Man, and Frankenstein. I distinctly remember watching these films over and over again on Saturday mornings or on VCR. The way they walked, talked, and stalked kept me glued to the television set for hours. Each time I would go to our public library, I would go to the children’s section and check out large picture books that were related to these horror icons. I still remember the creepy font on the covers, the bright black and orange colors of the covers, and the glossy close up shots of the movie monsters deftly portrayed by Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr., Boris Karloff, and other. Most of them had murderous intent in their eyes. What would you do if Dracula wanted to get you? I remember thinking as I thumbed through the book and stared at the infamous image of Bela Lugosi standing at the top of a cobwebbed staircase. I never had an answer to that. Would I be able to break his hypnotic gaze? Would I be able to find a cross, or holy water to harm him with? Would the cross work if he was Jewish? These were definitely philosophical questions that I wrestled with at the tender age of six. To this day, those questions escape me. Periodically, I ponder those questions in the dark of night, when the wolf’s bane blooms (Do they bloom in Michigan or is it just a Carpathian Mountains kind of thing?).

My idiosyncrasies notwithstanding, those that are not fans of horror films may tend to disagree with this desire to be afraid. Contrary to my experiences, there may be those who actually do not want to see people attacked, disemboweled, and maimed. However, there are those who enjoy roller coasters rides at amusement parks. My girlfriend has been talking about getting me onto a roller coaster for a long time. To this day, I have been steadfast in my resolve not to ride one. However, when it comes to watching a horror movie, Jennifer is very adamant about not watching them with me. It is possible that the adrenaline rush that I get from watching a particularly scary horror film may be the same rush that Jennifer gets from riding a roller coaster. Should it be called “fear” or an “adrenaline rush”? Is it the same thing? I surmise that it is something that goes back to a more primitive part of our subconscious.

Since we were little we have been interested in that thudding in our chest, the ragged sense of heavy breathing, and the sweaty palms. I liked being “It.” I enjoyed looking for my friends behind refrigerators, in cabinets, and underneath beds. Perhaps this searching is the reason I enjoy horror films so much. When the camera follows the victims, it is the perfect scenario for the seeker (i.e. killer). In many occasions, during slasher flicks such as Friday the 13th, the killer/stalker is immediately behind the victim, following them to close in on his kill. The camera is the perfect point of view for the killer. If one believes that films are a catharsis of emotion, and the audience gets some perverse release from watching the victim and killer get their comeuppance, then it would definitely recreate that same “rush” that I would get whenever I found my friend hiding in the closet, or opening the cabinet and touching my sister on the shoulder screaming “I’ve got you!”

Perhaps in that same way, Jennifer gets a cathartic release from riding roller coasters. Perhaps those like her were more interested in “hiding” than “seeking”. When hiding, or riding the roller coaster, one would feel a passive experience. The rider (unless they’ve been on the roller coaster before) would constantly wonder what twist or turn would occur around the next bend. Their “rush” would come from the unknown. The fight or flight mechanism in our minds is something so primal that it is wired into our innate survival instincts. These same feelings were feelings that cavemen were experiencing ages ago; it was these same feelings that saved their lives.

Emotions such as these are so strong within us that we do not sort them out as rationally as we may think. In much the same way we think that hate is the opposite of love, we confuse fear as a negative emotion. Yet, there is a part of us that is drawn to that emotion. It is what makes horror films such a profitable, yet undervalued, franchise. It is why every summer millions of people flock to amusement parks to dare to ride the fastest and most dangerous of roller coasters. Films such as Dracula portray monsters in such a way that they tap into our innermost desires and fears. These films play into both of these emotions simultaneously that they sometimes cause us to confuse our emotions. For example, when watching a vampire film (in which most of the actors who are creatures of the night are attractive looking), as they lean their bared fangs towards the long neck of their victims, who among us hasn’t held their breath and wait in anticipation for the penetration of their teeth. With television shows such as True Blood we are thrust into a world in which those creatures that we fear are seductive beings. Perhaps this is where the fear lies.

Fear pulls us back into our young and primal selves. It reminds us of the fun it was of being a child and at the same time serves as a survival instinct. Whether you enjoy wondering what is on the other side of that window in the night on a cold rainy evening at home alone or whether you enjoy hurtling through space at his speeds while strapped to a chair with twenty other thrill seekers, that rush that you are feeling is something to be thankful for.