There is a strange joy in watching a horror film. For me, some of this excitement comes from the anticipation of being scared – will I, or won’t I? That is not to say if I’m not scared by the time the credits roll I’m disappointed. The success of horror films shouldn’t be judged on such a binary outcome, such is the range of the horror film. You might get scared, but then, you might laugh, cry or just have a great time. Two of my favourite horror films, Evil Dead 2 and Hellraiser, evoked no fear at all and they are truly brilliant, from the gloriously camp comedy in Evil Dead 2 to the gruesome sadomasochism of Hellraiser, these are as much pieces of art as any contemporary indie release.
But as I’ve watched more horror, in particular more of the classics of the genre, I’ve found myself ‘being scared’ in broadly two very different ways.
My first experiences with being scared from horror films was when I watched The Ring (2002) followed by The Grudge (2004) in my pre-teen years with my Dad, followed by The Blair Witch Project (1999) with my grandparents. Suffice to say I was suitably petrified; heart in mouth, could not watch, nor look away, definitely couldn’t sleep after the trauma was over. I recently experienced this horror again watching Insidious (2010). In this apparently haunted house the stairs were creaking and the violins screeching and once again I was scared, so much so I didn’t dare look into the dark space of the open cupboard, opposite my bed where I was cowering, in case there was a monster lurking.
This is a very different fear from that which I have experienced watching a select few other horror films. During 2001: A Space Odyssey, the character Poole is outside the spaceship carrying out repairs. The shot cuts to HAL and pulls in sharply with the sound muted. HAL sets Poole loose and he spins into the depths of space, wildly out of control. This scene inflicted such terror in me that I experienced what I can only describe as out-of-body terror. I was no longer conscious of the cinema seats around me, or the other people in the audience, only the abject horror of what I was experiencing, or rather, what was happening to me. I don’t possess the vocabulary or ability to sufficiently express this experience, suffice to say it was not a feeling of horror I was used to. This happened as well during The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) during one of the times Leatherface appeared suddenly out of nowhere, looming above his victim, screaming incoherently chainsaw in hand.
Both experiences of being scared are oddly cathartic; they allow me to feel a primal fear that is (thankfully) missing from my life.
May the chase for this rush and the hunt for a film that will scare me again into oblivion never end.