I can’t exactly pinpoint when my interest in horror fiction blossomed. It was certainly sometime in early middle school. By 6th grade, I started writing my own slasher fiction. Mind you, I had never watched this type of movie at that age. I’d only seen movie posters, paperback novelizations (which seemed unnecessary), and heard older kids talk about them on the school bus. To my parents’ credit, I didn’t end up in therapy. Maybe they thought it was just a phase. Certainly the enjoyment of a good scare happened even earlier in my life: campfire ghost stories, black-and-white monster movies on TV, and Halloween festivities were probably the culprits. They were enough to get my mind racing, seeking new forms of terror for my enjoyment, and probably the mortification of my mom and dad.
Looking back, the slasher stories, like the Friday the 13th and Halloween series, still speak to me in subtle ways, though I can’t remember the last time I watched one. I enjoyed sharing the knowledge with the director about the inevitable demise of the characters. It was as though the killers were catastrophic seismic events or meteor strikes instead of beefy mask fetishists, lacking the simple ability to run after their prey. Zombies (the slow variety) are like that, too, and I have a great fascination with their shambling pursuits, incessant moaning, and sheer perseverance. Why are these things, so ridiculous in concept, so palpably terrifying to me? Why is it so easy for me to empathize with the characters and totally immerse myself in these fictions?
My son seems drawn to horror fiction as well. Just like I was at his age, he becomes excitable when he’s around it, even if he doesn’t really know much about what he’s seeing. Never having seen a movie in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, he still wanted to be Freddy Krueger for Halloween. A charcoal drawing of this fiend was the highlight of SPARKcon for him when we attended over the weekend. Somehow he knows there’s something magical about the hair standing up on the back of his neck, his pulse racing, and a cold sweat. The stuff of nightmare, as long as he can wake up from it, makes for great conflicts and heroes to overcome them, though that doesn’t mean he’ll go back to sleep after a bad dream without a little reassurance.
I think, for the most part, I love to be scared by books and the screen because my real life is so safe. If I couldn’t count on the nightmare to end when the book closed or the TV blinked off, I don’t think I could experience it with any enjoyment. Perhaps it’s not the fear itself that I crave, but the control I can exercise over it. When the world is full of real life horrors, the ability to turn off the terror can bring a proportional calm. It’s something I try not to take for granted.