Saturday, April 4, 2009

Horror and the real world.

"At best you can hold death at bay, you can pretend it isn't there; but to deny it totally is a sickness. And I think that horror fiction is one of the ways to approach these problems, and, perversely perhaps, to enjoy a vicarious confrontation with them." -Clive Barker
There's horror and then there's HORROR.

A few days ago, while driving to the showing of Alien Trespass, I found myself stuck in traffic. This wasn't particularly surprising, as it was rush hour and San Francisco traffic can be brutal. But we were parked on that off-ramp for a long time and highway patrol cruisers kept whizzing by with clear urgency. Eventually we got detoured to an exit that brought us an elevated view of the blockage. There were smashed vehicles all over the place. A tanker truck had blown its rear compartment. A medical helicopter had landed on the freeway and was preparing to take off with victims. Bodies were being loaded onto an ambulance while officers were busy interviewing crying witnesses.

It was, to put it mildly, surreal. The irony that I was going off to see simulated versions of this sort of thing wasn't lost on me.

Perhaps I shouldn't spend too much time contemplating why I like horror movies. Perhaps its one of those touchy points of my psychology that would only wig me out if I looked at it too closely. I know I've covered this subject before, but if you really want to see pure, hopeless, despair-ridden horror, all you really have to do is live your life and pay attention.

I think the Clive Barker quote is pretty good. We all know that at some point in our lives the curtain is gonna fall, the stage lights will be shut off, and we're all gonna wind up in the dark. I think horror fiction, be it movies/music/stories/whatevs is a way for us to dip our toes in that water, to twist the notion around like a Rubik's cube and eventually set it down. That's all fine and good for the people who dip into that well from time to time, the mobs of teenagers who descend on the multiplexes when Topless Chicks Get Slaughtered pt. 8 comes out. But what about those of us who keep coming back to those foetid pools over and over again?

I have always had a fascination with the quote-dark-unquote side of life. I likes my stories grim and creepy. But when I go to horror conventions and see a bunch of serial killer memorabilia or overhear a couple of kids talk about how they would have done Columbine better, I understand that there's a line.

I started this blog because I wanted to create a venue I can comfortably communicate in. When I started going to the horror community sites I encountered a lot of misogyny, a lot of homophobia, and a lot of people confusing reality with fantasy. Sure, I probably shouldn't take the dumb stuff kids say online too seriously, but I sometimes think the anonymity of the Internet makes it easier to stir the sediment at the bottom of the soul.

Without getting too deep into the back story of the Creature, I got an opportunity, during the course of my strange journeys, to see the real thing firsthand. I think, on some level, that my lifetime of watching Tom Savini's make up effects would prepare me for the real world. It didn't. The two have very little to do with one another. The one thing that was really ground into me from the whole experience was plain old human empathy. To whit: we're all stuck on this rock. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. There's one rule, goddamnit, and that's to be kind.

It's easy for the weak and the wounded among my tribe, when given a choice to be an awkward angel or a powerful monster, to choose the latter. I've wandered down that dark path a time or two myself. But horror fiction involves characters. Really real life capital-H Horror involves people.

We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones. -Stephen King
Ultimately, horror fiction is safe. It's not going to hurt you, it's not going to follow you home and murder you in your sleep, and it's not going to make you into a killer, unless you bring serious damage with you in the first place. Real horror is the excrement of existence. It's the unexplained lump, the phone call late at night, the unexpected fire, and all the other agonies of life. No artist, no matter how twisted, can inoculate their audience against that kind of misery. It's the tidal wave waiting to wash away our sand castles, but we take what we can from it, wrap it up in artistry, and call it horror.

Make of that what you will.

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