As we draw nearer and nearer to Halloween, it occurs to me — only now, for the first time in 31 years — that I’m not exactly sure what it is that draws me to horror. And I don’t mean Halloween; I mean horror. I know what draws me to Halloween; I can categorize it in phases of youth: candy, horror films, girls in Freddy Krueger hooker outfits, horror films and candy. At this point it’s pretty much horror films, though I will demolish a king-sized Watchamacallit after a training run in less time than it takes Future Dead Teen No. 4 to say “I think we should split up.”
To really pinpoint what draws me to horror, I think I have to try and lock down exactly what kind of horror I tend towards. Sure, if “Psycho,” “Night of the Living Dead” or “Sleepaway Camp” happen to be on, you bet I’m going to finish watching it. But as far as what I seek out? Hold on, let me pull up my library holds and Netflix queue:
“Kraken,” China Mieville
“Wytches,” Scott Snyder
“The King in Yellow,” Robert W. Chambers
“Call of Cthulu”
“The Houses October Built”
“House of the Devil”
In order, we’ve got: 1) a conspiracy half-sendup featuring squid cults, sorcerer assassins and bookish museum curators, 2) a coming-of-age (of sorts) tale about primal witch-type creatures in the woods outsides of a small town, 3) proto-Lovecraftian creep-out, 4) actual Lovecraftian cosmic creep-out, 5) found footage nonsense mixed with moments of abject terror, 6) devil baby.
I don’t have the time or space to go through the plots of each one and glean something from it; this thing runs out at the classifieds (I assume that’s where I’m relegated to by now?), and the last thing I want is for the typesetters to misplace a phrase like “devil pig rape mask.” But looking at each of these titles next to each other reveals something about them, and maybe about me: combined, they represent a dichotomy. That is, each one of them represents a worldview that is under either clandestine yet absolute authority, or under absolutely no authority at all.
Each one frightens me, and I think it frightens everyone, to some extent. In a way, it motivates everything we do: it’s been argued that sympathy and empathy are little more than an extension, a deeply-seeded evolutionary memory, of the fear of consequence. This, in turn, motivates law and acquiescence to it, motivates good behavior, keeps society limping along as it does. At the same time, some part of us wants to be free of constraint, though the lines we draw for ourselves depend very much on how much stock we put in consequence.
Conversely, a good many of us simply cannot handle the idea of a world in which we are in absolute control of our own fate; to be so is to also be at the mercy of an uncaring world, a universe that sees us as little more than a feedbag for time. We deal with this through religion, primarily, and ascribe order to our lives. That sounds clinical and agnostic — and, okay, maybe it kind of is — but it’s a better way to parse a life than most.
What frightens me most? I’m caught between absolute freedom is horrifying, but so too is absolute servitude, even if only implied and seemingly benign. I want, as many do, to know what comes next, but I’m wary of consequence. In some ways, I want to make my own. To play the god.
Our lives are either one continuous violation of authority, or less-than-blip on the cosmic radar. Crank the kettle corn. Be Gum Under a Table. Happy almost Halloween.