“I think that we’re all mentally ill; those of us outside the asylums only hide it a little better …” – Stephen King
Autumn is the season of changing colours, of trees that become violet, ash, and a plethora of hues in between, seemingly overnight. It is the season of whispering breezes and wispy winds, of sodden dirt paths and crunchy leaves, of rainy mornings and cool evenings.
It is October, the month of smirking jack-o’-lanterns and zombie parades, of living ghosts and walking skeletons. It is the month of gore and blood, of monsters and werewolves and superheroes and vampires, of princesses and fairies and queens and dolls. It is the month of spooky stories and macabre movies, of stolen identities and released personas, of forgotten realities and captured fantasies.
It is the month of Halloween, after all.
Naturally, in the western hemisphere, the departure of summery skies and blooming flowers and the arrival of bare trees and windy nights brings with it a sudden steaming suspense, a certain gloom, a building mystery.
Though All Hallows’ Eve may once have been a Christian religious celebration dedicated to remembering the dead, for many – even nonbelievers – it has become a time of manifesting the nonexistent creatures that reside in the tales of modern day. Little children, adolescents, and adults alike can be seen walking around in costumes, more often than not personifying monsters and zombies and gory beasts.
Horror movies start to appear left and right, all with their usual mix of human realities, dark fantasies, and unsuspecting victims. Moviegoers flock to the theatres, apprehensive and excited, willing to be taken in by the world of terror, coming out shaking with nervous laughter and wide eyes (if the movie is horrible enough).
It is inevitable, then, that Stephen King, a king of contemporary horror, comes to the forefront of one’s mind at this time. In his short essay titled “Why We Crave Horror Movies,” he writes of mankind’s love of horror as one’s way of “daring the nightmare,” or “re-establishing [one’s] feelings of essential normality,” or perhaps just “having fun.”
Halloween, horror movies, shows of zombies and vampires and serial killers – perhaps they really do appeal to mankind’s darkest parts. One might like the shows and movies for their plot lines and become attached to their characters, but the appeal may also be in the gruesome scenes that keep one’s eyes glued to the screen in repulsive fascination. It is in the idea of Halloween – of being able to, for one night, forget oneself and become another. It is the idea of terror through haunted houses or pranks that pull out shrieks from deep within oneself, that leave one’s heart racing and one’s body shaking.
According to King, “The mythic horror movie, like the sick joke, has a dirty job to do. It deliberately appeals to all that is worst in us. It is morbidity unchained, our most base instincts let free, our nastiest fantasies realized …and it all happens, fittingly enough, in the dark.”
Certainly in King’s portrayal of humanity there is a morbid fascination with the inhumane, an inherent demon that craves to be released, a hidden hunger for horror. But perhaps there is a certain element of truth to it, after all.
Perhaps horror movies are a way to challenge oneself, to reach an inner sense of victory by putting oneself in the shoes of the main characters, by feeling their fears and anxieties as one’s heart rate speeds up, hands become clammy, and muscles become tense. But then again, most horror movies end terribly, so it may not be the best way to find triumph.
Perhaps they are one’s escape from reality to irrationality, to a world where madness and mania and gory gestures are the norm. Perhaps they are relief for the deepest parts of humanity that crave the truly depraved, a way for one to reach catharsis by releasing one’s inner demons.
Or perhaps they are just a way to have fun. Then maybe horror is honesty – but what a twisted sense of humour humans have, if that is so.
“If we are all insane, then sanity becomes a matter of degree.” – Stephen King