Fear Itself

“Time after time I never see fear coming till it swallows me whole”

I love horror films. I’ve loved horror films ever since I watched The Ring age 9 and had to sleep with the light on for a month. My next door neighbours and I used to descend on our local Blockbusters every weekend and stalk the aisles in search of the DVDs with the scariest covers (checked out by my father, obviously). Movie-rental stores were a defunct concept by the time we looked anything close to R-Rated age. We sat in their cellar under a pile of duvets, screen barely visible through gaps in our fingers, listening to our hearts beating their way into our mouths as the camera slowly pans around a darkened room; the heroine painfully rounds a corner; the hero twists a key in a lock. Because it’s that excruciating second right there – not the moment when the music crashes and the protagonist’s screams are drowned out by your own, but that preceding eternity in which every muscle in your body is coiled like a spring and your breath and heart are frozen in your chest. That is the true Nirvana of horror cinema.

“When you only have so much to go on, you tell yourself the worst story you can possibly imagine.”

Those neighbours have since moved away, the B and the K have fallen off the empty Blockbusters store, and I’ve yet to find anybody who will sit through a horror film with me. People just don’t seem to like being terrified half as much as I do. I’m asked by everyone from my housemates to my other half how I can possibly enjoy being scared witless time and time again – because it really is the fear that I enjoy, and not the more absurd trappings of horror films that suck me in. I don’t keep coming back for more because I find them funny; I don’t love to laugh at the special effects and the absurd overacting (as prevalent as these are in both the modern and the old-school). It’s because I love the feeling of fear. I sometimes try and explain my desire to live in fear as similar to people who love roller coasters or extreme sports: pushing yourself to the limits of physical and emotional feeling and seeing how you react. Isn’t it only in moments of extreme fear or panic, buzzing off adrenaline and shaking head to toe that you know who you really are? Unless you’re a soldier or a Ghostbuster (or possibly a parent), there are very few moments in which you can claim to have been gripped by an overwhelming, all-encompassing, absolute fear. In my own life I can think of but two instances, discounting the artificially manufactured fear of haunted houses and horror films. It’s a visceral, physical rush that I find endlessly tempting to attempt to recreate. Putting on a horror film in full knowledge that those images will come back and haunt you when you’re alone in bed at night is effectively just taking that power in hand. Some people do drugs, some people jump out of planes, some people watch The Descent and lie awake every night for weeks. It’s empowering; it’s ridiculous.

“Maybe when we indulge the things that scare us we stop becoming the innocent victims of fear, and become co-conspirators.”

I don’t think scaring myself silly with horror films is something that I’ll tire of as I age. I think it’s about as likely as growing bored of love, ecstasy or grief. I’ll continue on my quest to convert people to the joy of the horror film, even if current horror seems to be 90% torture porn and Blaire Witch found footage rip-offs, because we may all be scared by different things but the feeling of fear is something that we share across cultures and across species. It is universal, it is primal, and it makes us feel alive.

“Over time you’d think that some kind of immunity would start to build up; but the effect is still just as strong as it ever was.”

(This was prompted by Charlie Lyne’s haunting BBC documentary Fear Itself, charting the history of horror films and the history of being horrified. It’s where I’ve pulled all the quotes from, and if you’re into horror it’s really worth a watch.)