Forty years ago, I sat in the Boulder High band room, transfixed. Lance, a junior, was recounting for two of us lowly sophomores a shot-by-shot retelling of Halloween. We sat, rapt, in the middle of the day as this gawky friend of ours gave us every spoiler, every grisly detail, and then proceeded to walk down to the piano and plunk out the infamous theme.
And yet, when we went to see the movie, we were even more terrified than we might have been without any preview. And when we walked out into the darkened streets behind the theater after our screening, we were certain that it would only be a matter of moments before the Bogeyman leaped out from the shadows and -
Now it's forty years later, and I have seen a lot of horror films since then. A lot. A few have had the same kind of creep factor that was inspired by John Carpenter's slasher classic, but not many. And yet I continue to seek out those experiences that take me to a place where I actually fear for my life. Like those insurance policies sold by producer William Castle for showings of his film Macabre that offered to pay off one thousand dollars for any viewer who died of fright. Or the night I came home from seeing The Blair Witch Project, and my dog kept going to the window and staring off into the darkness. Thanks, Maddie.
Even before that, I had made a study of horror movies. I continued this exploration through college, examining all the reasons we put ourselves through this. Why hop on the roller coaster in the first place? To survive, of course. Which is why you spend the entire time in line talking about all the near death experiences we have had and how likely it is that after a certain number of trips that car is ever more likely to jump the track.
We are after catharsis. Right up to the edge, peeking over the edge, and stopping. There's a wire keeping us from falling into the abyss. Which isn't really an abyss. It's a painted backdrop. And all of those monsters are infinitely easier to deal with than angry customers or politicians or telemarketers. Watching the bored detachment of the survivors in The Walking Dead as they dispatch yet another crop of zombies reminds me of the reason we watch horror movies. We watch them to remind ourselves that we are still alive. As awful as things may be, whether it is a plague of giant grasshoppers or a bloated Creamsicle becoming President of the United States, we can walk out of the theater. Into the light.
Until the inevitable sequel.