Monday, October 17, 2011

What is scary? Lessons learned during 31 days of horror!

Well, it’s Day 17 of my 31 days of horror marathon (aka, BoHoMoMo, Bosworth Horror Movie Month) during which I watch at least one horror movie every day. Now, I don’t do this simply because I love horror movies. I do it to learn, and the best way to learn how to tell a certain kind of story is to pin your eyelids back and expose yourself to as much of it as possible.

What I want to learn from my month of horror movies is simply this: What scares people?

Yes, I know it’s sick, but that’s what I want out of life. I want to scare you. And maybe you want to scare me right back.

Let’s examine a few of the most important revelations/reminders I’ve had this month about what is scary:

1. Seeing things that aren’t there . . . or are they? You’re alone in an empty house, and out of the corner of your eye you catch a flash of movement. You’re sitting on the train, and you glance up to see that the man seated across from you is a rotting corpse. You blink, and nope, he’s just some homeless dude. You’re at a funeral, standing over the coffin, and you see the dead person’s lips part slightly, like he/she wants to tell you something. You look again, and no. Just your imagination. But it seemed so real . . .

The reason the whole “now you see me, now you don’t” trick works so well for me is because, truly, one of the scariest things I can think of is losing my own mind. And this horror movie trope, though used frequently, still gets me where I live. In my head, where I (and everyone else, I assume) want to believe I’m safe and sane.

2. Bad things happen to good people. Sadly, the horror genre has come to be defined by hot sluts and cocky jocks getting stabbed and dismembered in increasingly creative ways. And many of us derive a certain amount of pleasure from watching these cardboard caricatures get what’s coming to them. But what’s truly scary is coming to know and like a three-dimensional character (ex. Naomi Watts in “The Ring,” the exorcist in “The Last Exorcism”) who you know is going to have something terrible happen to them in the end. Which brings me to . . .

3. The tragic end. Horror is tragedy. Horror cannot have a happy ending. Even if your hero survives, she will never recover from what’s happened. She will be haunted for life. The scars she bears will never fade. And that’s what’s truly horrific about horror . . . the nightmare never truly ends.

Jennifer Bosworth is the author of STRUCK (FSG/Macmillan, May 8 2012), the story of a girl struck by lightning hundreds of times, who holds the fate of the world in unpredictable and dangerous hands. If you're looking for horror movie recommendations for the Halloween season, contact Jennifer on Facebook or Twitter. @jennbosworth

1 comment:

  1. I'm enjoying soaking up the insights of BoHoMo very much:-)
    When I think of a master of the type of psychological horror you're talking about in #1, I think of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House. The true terror is comes from our own minds.