Thursday, September 4, 2014

Horror-Phobic

You guys know I hate horror, right? Blood and gore...can't do it. Which makes no sense, because I wasn't raised as some thin-skinned sissy lala. Seriously, Shan and I could wrangle spiders and hold snakes and weren't afraid to get down and dirty. We were the ones out in the desert building forts--never playing with dolls--and refusing to cry if we skinned our knees (my sister broke her entire femur bone once and never so much as shed a tear). So I'm not sure where this very 'girl-like' aversion to horror comes from. When I was little, my mom loved horror movies. Not that she was really into meaningless slasher flicks or paranormal horror (like Nightmare on Elm Street...remember that one? I still remember some chick getting eaten by her mattress), but she loved anything having to do with serial killers preying on guileless young women (seriously, this was my dear, sweet mother--what is WRONG with her?). Anytime the butcher scenes would flicker across the screen, I would dive under the blankets, clamping my eyes shut and covering my ears. Or I would run out of the room completely. My mom would playfully laugh and holler out "Come on, it's all just fake!" And I knew she was right; I knew it was fake. But such scenes didn't simply gross me out. They actually made me feel sick and miserable. And I wasn't the only one who suffered from horror-phobia as a child; Shan was the same way.

You would think as adults we would have grown out of this. You know...gain enough life experience to be able to separate fantasy from reality. But no. I might actually be worse as an adult, maybe because after years of convincing myself that I can't cope with horror, I've deepened my own psychosis. But whatever its roots, things get bad for me very fast if I happen to catch a glimpse of a grisly, gory death on television. First I get that miserable, sickened feeling, and I feel like I can't stop myself from internalizing what's happening on the screen, even though I know it's not real. I anguish over the character being hurt/tormented, and if I can't turn the channel fast enough, I'll start breathing hard, sweating, and going into some sort of panicked state of paralysis (my damn 'deer in headlight' issue). If for some God-forsaken reason I still can't change the channel (remember, I'm paralyzed now, and the kids probably hid the remote in the fridge), then I would be forced to curl into the fetal position and scream out ridiculous chants or nursery rhymes (i.e. "Cinderella-dressed-in-yella-went-upstairs-to-kiss-a-fella...") until the scene is over (or until someone goes to to get a slice of cheese and finds the remote). By this time, I'm probably shaking and feeling like I'm about to throw up.

And this is coming from the person who didn't break a sweat through a 7.4 earthquake and didn't bat an eye when she had to clean maggots out of an injured chicken's butt.

WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?

But, I am proud to say I wouldn't be writing this post if there wasn't some hope. I did discover recently that my steadfast Just-Say-No-to-Horror rule does have an exception or two.

Exception #1: I can handle reading *some* horror if I know (as in, have socially interacted with) the author behind the spine-chilling story. Even if the story is something that would normally thrust me straight into a horror-phobic panic, somehow knowing the face behind the words takes away the threat. It's like I can suddenly "hear" what my mom kept trying to tell me all those years--"This is NOT REAL." Yes, I know now this is not real, because I can see the person who created it, and I can gasp at this hair-raising scene and yell at the author for writing such atrocities and tell him what a douche he was for making me feel petrified and have a big laugh about it. Phobia? GONE. Just like that. You can't be paralyzed by a spider in the midst of holding and playing with one. You can still be scared, but your fear can't win.

Exception #2: I can handle reading *some* horror if the writing is exceptional. The horror genre (like any genre) is flooded with bad writing. Sadly, even mediocre writing is bad writing when it comes to horror, given how easy it is for gory scenes to translate as cliche or contrived (there's only so many big-boobed blondes you can massacre before your readers start getting bored). But I discovered recently that horror in the context of beautiful writing can be intriguing as all get-out. It still leaves me unsettled, unnerved, and a whole slew of other "un--" words, I'm sure, but I can cope. And the story, for better or worse, leaves a lasting impression on me, which is what good writing should do.

The Christian in me, however, along with the person who inherently hates human torment being flaunted and trivialized, will never be okay with horror, and will never choose it as a genre. I believe evil is real, and I would no sooner dive into horror than I would sit in the middle of my tumbleweed-infested yard playing with matches. Horror reveals a side of human nature that I have no desire to explore, and once its dark fingers start reaching inside of you, I don't know how easy it is to yank them out.

But I have to admit the dark little artist in me--the same one who painted THIS--


--sees the appeal (and then gets disturbed by that fact, and runs away screaming).

That being said, I have to admit that I am massively addicted to a series being written by horror/erotica writer--and twitter friend--Eric Keys. Though he is only two installments in, he calls these posts "Emails to Young Damsels." In the series, Eric draws from his collective experience from past attractions/infatuations/loves-gone-awry to create letters (or e-mails) to someone he addresses as "Young Damsel." Even though he talks to this young damsel as if she were a singular person, she is actually a symbol of all the women (aka: 'young damsels' ) in his life who have left an imprint on him. Though these letters are not exactly horror, they are deeply unsettling, disturbing, and do touch slightly on horror elements (i.e. the first one is titled "Your Screams are Like Music"). And damn are they beautifully written. I think part of it is the shock factor. They read so much like love letters, written from an eloquent, wistful soul, until you suddenly get a fork thrust into your chest via unexpected lines that give you a glimpse into the madman behind the words. For example, the first Young Damsel letter contains this excerpt:
Not sure why your absence seems more deep, today. But it does. This past week I longed for one more conversation. I felt like all the loose threads from so long ago still dangle. How long has it been? Years? Decades? And yet it seems like just a handful of days. 
And yet, there seems an odd beauty in it all. Like the threads blowing about in the wind creates a more vital art than any tidily knitted rug would ever be. 
But I still wish you were here. Sometimes beauty is painful.
That line "Like the threads blowing about in the wind creates a more vital art...," just...wow. Frankly I find this entire excerpt to be pure poetry. Oh, but wait. It gets better. He follows it with this:
Anyway, you are out of my reach for now. Consider yourself lucky as I have dreamt up some lovely, hideous things to do to you. Oh, your screams would be like music.
Um, WHAT? Enter: Madman. It's sheer brilliance. To make you fall in love with this woebegone soul, only to blindsight you with his insanity. Some readers might even find themselves feeling a little jealous of the young damsel that incited such depth of emotion and expression from him...until those last two sentences. At that point, they're thinking "Run, Damsel, RUN."

A part of me feels guilty for loving these letters. I mean, let's face it, the narrator is a bit of a sadist with morbid fantasies about the "hideous" things he wants to do to his young damsel, and he clearly gets off on making her feel scared. But on some twisted level he deeply cares about her (them), which makes it hard to outright despise him. * In other words, he is the best villain EVER. The villain that you're not allowed to root for, but you do, secretly, anyway, hoping no one will know that you empathize with his plight.

So in my whole "Am I a terrible person for liking this stuff?" debate (this debate was with myself, so it was pretty lame as far as debates go), I came to this conclusion: It's okay for me to enjoy this series. Because writing is art. And art explores all facets of human nature. It's supposed to make us curious and disturbed and intrigued. Just like any sculpture or painting, it's okay for me to let my eyes travel over it, take it in, pull whatever meaning from it that I perceive, and walk away when I choose.

Or I'm probably a terrible person making excuses. But the above sounded pretty good, right?  


*Disclaimer: (If you decide to read the first two installments of Eric's "Emails to Young Damsels," please note that while he does draw on some real-life experiences, this series is a work of fiction. In real life Eric is a very stable, non-stalkery, unthreatening, self-proclaimed "softie").**

**(Although, no offense Eric, I still wouldn't want to run into you in a dark alley at night)