Sunday, August 12, 2012

Redefining Horror—Can You Face It?

How do you define horror? The dictionary defines it as

An intense feeling of fear, shock, or disgust OR A thing causing such a feeling.

In truth, is that all? Can you look at movies of demonic possession or nights of the living dead and call that horror? What about Friday the 13th movies or I am Legend? Of course. But, there's much more to it, I believe.

I've never been a fan of the horror genre—it scares the hell out of me. But, what I've seen or read has more to do with what we see: demons, monsters, vampires, etc. Those things do frighten, but mostly because they're aberrations to our eyes and our imagination. But, horror goes deeper than the things that go "bump in the night." This fear we feel is more than just a reaction to what our eyes and ears tell us: it has to do with what our mind perceives.

Imagine looking in a mirror and seeing your face, but you have no idea who it is. It doesn't even look remotely familiar to you. No matter what reflective surface you use, you can't escape this person—ever. If you were never able to see your own reflection, never able to know how others truly see you, that would bring shock, I'd think. Paranoia, too. Levels of anxiety that would be almost impossible to measure. Madness. Violence.

Close your eyes and think about darkness. What if that very darkness, the absence of light, was itself an entity, one that could surround you, suffocate you, without ever truly touching you? Instead of the darkness simply being a condition, it was a creature beyond shape, beyond true comprehension. Where does it end? You walk outside surrounded by it, embraced by it, yet it never seems to touch you. It does, however, play tricks on you because your imagination is being fed by your paranoia, your prior history with the darkness, and even your most irrational fears.

We create our own horror, too. Our assumptions can come to life, especially when we're vulnerable, and we let our mind and thoughts give way to our unthinkable ideas. If we just think it, it's not true, right? If we don't voice the idea, it can't hurt us, right?

Perhaps this: you encounter an evil so incomprehensible that, when it approaches you, you offer yourself up as a sacrifice willingly. It's not that you become its servant or host, you become its sustenance. Imagine wanting to give up your life to something so, so malevolent. You let it disembowel you, or slit your throat, or eat your head. What would drive a person to be so self-sacrificing in a way that simply yields to a greater power?

Creatures emerge from the underworld, or the sea, or the sky, and—with supernatural ease—prey on you, devour you, drain your life's essence, all while you're conscious. Perhaps this entity is so vile, so beyond your brain's capacity to understand, that you rip out your own eyes at the sight of it.

We always assume darkness is evil because it obscures things, hides the hideous from us, until it's upon us and we can do nothing. But, what if the light was what we had to fear? What if the cover of darkness was our solace, and the sunrise made us shriek in fits or made our heart race because we knew we had nowhere to hide, nowhere to avoid that which comes for you?

Horror goes beyond the visual and auditory; it's more about perception and deep-rooted anxieties of ancient cultures that we carry with us throughout our life. Millennia of stories have taught us to fear that which we do not understand, but perhaps that which we do understand could bring more destruction to us.

Be ready for what comes, because you just might not expect it when it does.

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