I was around six years old the first time I saw a horror movie. My parents were out for the evening and my older sister and I were being looked after by a babysitter who retrospectively could’ve been straight out of an ’80s slasher flick—complete with blonde, feathered hair and super tight jeans. We couldn’t sleep, so she had the great idea to let us stay up while she watched the film Horror Express. For years, all I remembered about the movie was that it involved some people on a train who were dispatched by a monster sporting terrifying red eyes. I also remember being riveted to the screen, feeling simultaneously like I had to cover my eyes and never look away. Oh, and thanks to retro babysitter, I didn’t sleep for weeks.
From that moment on, I remember having this morbid fascination with creepy stories. By the time I was a pre-teen, I was hooked on Stephen King and V.C. Andrews. I was also obsessed with renting anything and everything related to horror. Being that my father would often be the one who took me to the video store and didn’t pay much attention to ratings, I enjoyed a fair number of movies not intended for my age group, from Nightmare on Elm Street to Evil Dead to The Exorcist.
So what is it about these tales that drew me in?
In an essay called Why We Crave Horror Movies, Stephen King suggests that we experience some sense of fun in watching others menaced, terrorized, and tortured because this stirs what he calls “anti-civilization emotions” that lay deep inside our collective and personal unconscious.
I think it’s more along the lines of what Professor Linda Williams from the film department at University of California Berkeley suggested when I interviewed her a few years back. She believes part of the reason we watch films is to have a visceral, emotional experience—melodrama makes us cry, comedy makes us laugh, the pornographic makes us aroused, and horror terrifies us. These are basically the important feelings that take us through life and make us, well, human. Not everyone wants to feel all of these emotions in the same way, but at our most primal core, we need to feel those things to feel alive. In our over-sanitized and safe lives, perhaps we’re drawn toward these manufactured ways of experiencing emotions that we might otherwise miss out on.
All I know is that ever since I inadvertently hopped aboard Horror Express so many years ago, I’ve never been able to get off that ride.