A week ago I found out a guy I hung out with in high school killed someone. His name was Steve. And he stabbed some kid to death in his apartment during the middle of the night. The police found him later wandering the streets with blood all over him, and he confessed to the killing right there. He’d given no motive for doing what he did. He’d just done it.
After reading the news story, the whole thing felt like a horror movie to me. A bloody killer stalking the streets at night – all that was missing was the FX mask and film crew. But this was different. It occurred to me that, being an avid fan of horror movies, I had seen my fair share of torture and dismemberment on the big screen. Hell, my friends and I often consider watching Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs as a rite of passage into the upper echelons of fucked up. I had seen it all. But just thinking about Steve stabbing that kid horrified me in a way that I couldn’t understand.
I realized that this was the first time I had any real connection to the horror. Even though I hadn’t even been near the crime scene, that killing spread out and touched me and everyone else who’d known the murderer or the victim. It transcended the TV and the news. And I realized just how, in actuality, ignorant to real violence I was. And in re-evaluation, I began to think about what horror movies actually meant to me.
Horror plays into the unknown. A reason a person watches a horror movie can be likened to the reason a person might watch a war movie. It is an attempt to experience something that we don’t see every day. Granted, I know some people just love the addictive rush from being scared. In an interview with The Atlantic, Dr. Margee Kerr, a “scare specialist,” stated that “…there are some of us (well, a lot of us) who really enjoy the experience. Lots of people…enjoy scary situations because it leaves them with a sense of confidence after it’s over.” But, no matter what the reason, in a way, we use horror to provide a kind of delusion that we can handle the unknown, especially the greatest unknowns of death and darkness.
We might try to understand these things through horror. But it’s akin to passing roadkill on the side the road. It’s there, and then it’s gone. Dr. Kerr went on to say that, to enjoy a scary situation, one has to know they are in a safe environment. So this is the closest you can get to experiencing death and darkness on your own terms. People want the danger, but they also want the safety net. When the credits roll, you are free to let fear sink in as you please.
Not to say that this is a bad thing. I doubt anyone would want to experience true horror. Well, maybe some of us, like people who go into haunted houses where a waiver must be signed before they’ll let you enter. Then you can be physically and emotionally tortured as much as you want. That feeling of wanting to push the limit speaks to just how weird the human brain can be. You can be terrified but want to come back for more. And because of this I think we develop an affection for those monsters that scare us.
I’m not going to preach that I’m apart from this. After watching The Babadook, I became infatuated with the film, as it portrayed things that scared me as a child: waking up at night and having the dark play tricks on you. The Babadook was the perfect boogeyman to me, as the tall, long fingered monster stayed on my mind. That horrific entity, which provides the catalyst for our own personal fears, is often what we crave. But there are other aspects to horror monsters that go beyond just scaring us.
I often consider many movie monsters as friends. They represent the outcasts. They embody not fitting in with the rest of the world. Anyone who has seen Nightbreed can attest to the persecution that the monsters face. And most horror flicks center around sweet revenge, getting back at those who wronged you. I cared little for the teenagers that Jason Voorhees chopped up time and again because, to me, they were the popular kids who used to piss me off in high school. I didn’t instantly want to pick up a machete and a hockey mask, but it did give me a grim satisfaction to watch their demise.
That was me peeking into the dark side of my brain. Horror does that. It lets you shake hands with your personal Mr. Hyde. And maybe this is because we want to define where the dark side is to ourselves. In the 2012 remake of William Lustig’s Maniac, we are forced to watch the killings through the eyes of the killer. The first person camera shots put us so close to Elijah Wood’s murderous acts that we feel we are the ones committing them. I guess this pseudo “doing” might lead to a new understanding. Seeing a villain on screen, you know for a fact that that character is an evil person. Even if there is a reason to pity the monster, the monster still acts the monster. But it doesn’t always work like that in real life.
When my friends and I hung around with Steve, it was pretty much accepted that he was a little bit off. He never mentioned wanting to hurt anybody. He would just make wild statements, like that the giant sore on his lip was cancer or that he was half tractor. Steve was also a big guy, and he looked like he could be a distant relative of the Firefly family. Whenever I talked with him though, Steve spoke in a deep voice and had a kind demeanor. I never considered that he would go over the edge.
But, all things considered, there was something scary about him, a thought that he could do a lot of damage if he wanted to. I wonder if that was me sensing something bad in him waiting to come out. I’m sure everyone has met that one person who they weren’t so sure of, and you might wonder if it is only a matter of time before that person’s psyche splits wide open. And if it does, the desire to know why will be there.
I’m not certain I’ll ever learn the real reason Steve did what he did. I only have my horror, and most times horror can give us a reason why bad things happen the way they do. At the very least the villain reveals his/her intentions, and that there is a grand point to it all. But what scares me is there may be no point in Steve’s case. Not every decision is a grand plan. And like college students deciding to visit a remote cabin in the woods, to quote Ann Rule: “Looking back, we see it is often casual choices which chart a path to tragedy.”
Ryan Kramer is a writer whose works have appeared in both Shoofly and Xanadu literary magazine. When not writing, he enjoys traveling the cosmos with the great martian, Ray Bradbury. You can contact him on Facebook, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Photo from News Wire.)