I’m a fan of all things spooky. I always have been. I’m addicted to monsters, campfire stories, urban legends about men with hooks for hands, and things that go bump in the night. Growing up, I’m sure this drove my parents crazy. I wanted to dress as a vampire everyday of the year. And there were a few PTA meetings about my drawings. But for me all those ghosts, ghouls, and goblins were never so much scary as they were fun. And I still think they’re fun.
I think (and this is just a theory) I was attracted to haunted houses, horror, and Halloween because of adrenaline. Let me explain. Looking back I think I must have seen something that scared me (a picture of a Zombie or something like that) but instead of freezing in terror I probably felt a surge of hormones and thus a radical increase of energy. So in a sense I think I became a particular type of adrenaline junky, but instead of engaging in risky behavior I found my fix in fear. Dracula and the Wolf-man became my dealers… and my friends. See, for me everything spooky isn’t so much scary as it is fun. I’m clearly not alone in this. Think of the people you see leaving the theater after watching a really good horror movie. They’re laughing, almost cheering. They’re hopped up on hormones and feeling silly at their own embarrassing screams.
There is a lot more going on than just a bunch of jump scares. The horror genre is rich with history. The best pieces of horror have always been metaphors for the more subtle and everyday terrors we don’t know how (or don’t want) to discuss. Invasion of the Body Snatches was really about the fear of conformity and the fear of communism. All werewolf tales are about dual identities and change (i.e. puberty or alcoholism--The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is often referred to as a werewolf story). A lot of the slasher movies are clearly about fear of sexuality—all that penetration going on would give Freud a field day.
Last night I found myself rewatching A Nightmare on Elm Street and I realized how much of it is about parental guilt—the failures of mothers and fathers come back to punish their offspring. In the film a group of high school students are all having the same nightmare: a badly burned man with knives for fingers is coming after them. This is, of course, Freddy Krueger, the child killer (really child molester and murderer) who was burned alive by a group of vigilante parents. There is a reason why all the protagonists are only children. Krueger has returned (via dreams) to torture and kill the sons and daughters of his enemies. The parents are drunk, on pills, sometimes just not around, and when they are around they don’t listen to their children at all. In the 1980s the news was plagued with stories of teenage suicide, AIDS, and drugs in the suburbs. Divorce rates had gone sky high between ’75 and ’85, and an entire generation (dubbed by the media as generation X) grew up in broken homes as latchkey kids. Freddy Krueger wasn’t just a boogeyman—he was an Ibsenesque ghost. He was the pack of cigarettes daddy left out at night. He was the bottle of vodka mommy didn’t put away. He was the lack of supervision that came back in forms of teen pregnancy, sexual transmitted diseases, drug abuse, and general self destructive behavior. Director John Carpenter once said there are two types of scary movies: one says “danger is out there” and the other says “danger is here with us.” Freddy Krueger was more than just with us. He raised us and tucked us in at night and wished us pleasant dreams....
Writer living in Central Texas.