10/10/2022 - A Brief Discourse on Contemporary 'Horror'
I don't like scary movies. There I said it. I have not watched Poltergeist, Paranormal Activity, or the Conjuring. It took most of my nerves,
but I have never finished The Blair Witch Project either. I was even scared for a week straight as a kid after seeing the Blob (something
about it oozing under the door made me feel insecure in any room after that). And yet I have lways enjoyed classic horror and gothic stories
like Frankenstein, much from Poe and Lovecraft, even short horror stories from r/nosleep.
So why is it that I love horror stories so much but refuse to watch horror movies? I had always thought I had an overactive imagination and the concepts from these movies would simply continue to scare me for a week after I watched them, but just as scary concepts present themselves in written horror stories and I do not feel the same effect. So is it something about the visual image? Perhaps it is, but I feel that there is something more. Have you ever read a jump scare? I certainly have, but it has never scared me the way a jumpscare in a movie has. I think this might partly be due to the fact that we are also unconsciously reading a few words ahead, making the proccess harder for ourselves to truly be surprised like in a movie that rolls at its own pace.
I think that we need to lean into horror movie subgenres more. Because at the end of the day, there is a difference in experience between feeling scared and feeling horrified. Fear is that of being prey, of helplessness. Horror is the feeling of something being wrong, of something breaking the laws of nature. Of course, something can be both scary and horrifying, but they can also be felt independently as well.
I think that a lot of modern day 'horror' movies are overly reliant on fear, rather than true horror. Jumpscares make my heart beat fast and seeing someone get haunted by a ghost makes me shiver and the suspense when I know a jumpscare is coming has me white-knuckling the armrests in the theater. But all of these are physical sensations--if I wanted to get my heart racing, I'd go for a run or ride a rollercoaster. On the other hand, horror is mentally stimulating. Maybe I have a physical reaction if I think about it hard enough, but horror requires thought to occur, to combine reason and emotion and realize that something most definitely not right.
We can also use an example from my recent project on r/nosleep, a horror subreddit. There was one story in which the protagonist takes a pill to increase their brain function. Unfortunately, this functionally increases their perception of time, so even though they can think quickly, it feels as if the world around them is now moving slower. The horrifying part is that their body is still limited by physics, it takes them an eternity for each step--or an eternity to tell that they are slowly breaking their ankle from misjudging a step that takes an eternity to make. If this were a movie, there would be no jump scare; in fact, I'd argue that there is nothing scary about it at all. But it is deeply horrifying. Thinking about putting yourself in that scenario evokes an overwhelming sense of dread and defies the natural laws, yet there is no physical response to the story until you stop to think about how deeply horrifying it actually is.
Psychological thrillers somewhat fill this niche and are probably the closest to this sense of true horror, but they are focused on the human mind and are typically known for being realistic and not containing anything paranormal or alien. This is the beauty of true horror: it can contain the supernatural or just the natural. It is adaptible, but in the end--deeply unsettling in some way.