What’s So Scary About…?

I’ve got an inkling of an idea for a novel that involves some kind of horrific or disturbing element. So that’s led me to think about what I find scary. Or, as a place to begin, what I don’t find scary.

Vampires. Werewolves. Zombies. Any of your run-of-the-mill monsters I find tedious and dull. Even with all the re-imagining these “classics” have received in recent years, predictability runs amok. Not to mention, as soon as something becomes popular, it looses its edge.

I also don’t find the standard slasher-flicks particularly scary. Having the characters make stupid choices for the sake of creating suspense and the endless teasing toward the inevitable gory, violent end is far more annoying than scare inducing. Films like Saw and Hostel and other torture-porn are much more effective in creating shocking, disturbing images that stick in the craw of your memory long after viewing them. (Not to be confused with that delicious creepy feeling you get from a good M. Night Shyamalan movie.)

That’s what it really comes down to for me – a story or film’s lingering factor; how disturbing was it that I’m prompted to look twice into a dark corner for fear of what may be hiding there, or how easily do I jump at a sound from the shadows when I’m out walking the dog?

So, then, what is the impetus for such a reaction?

For me, it is the reality of such a horror; the likelihood of something terrible. If I hear a stirring in the darkness, the first thought that comes to mind isn’t something as ridiculous as a zombie, but rather, a psychopath with a crowbar. An episode of Criminal Minds has a greater fear-factor to me than, say, Paranormal Activity 3. It’s been fifteen years since I’ve read Ellis’s American Psycho and there are still passages I can’t forget. Why? Because serial killers are real. (Slasher characters like Michael Myers or Jason don’t count; they’re too cartoonish.) Women and children being abducted; people being brutally murdered in their homes; someone shooting up a school or coffee shop or movie theater – these are all too common horrors in our daily life.

It’s this connection to real fears that makes the work of authors like Edgar Allen Poe and Stephen King so effective. My own leanings toward claustrophobia prevent me from wanting to read Poe’s Premature Burial again. And who’d have thought clowns were scary. King did. (In Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s brilliant The Cabin in the Woods, of all its monsters and demons, the one moment that sticks most with me is the image of a clown laughing while it stabs someone to death.)

I guess what scares me, then, is the all too real inhumanity, the common disregard for life, that has become such an integral part of our culture – even generated by our culture, as American Psycho implies.

Okay, now that I’ve answered that question for myself, am I ready to venture into the darkest recesses of my imagination?

Mmmm…perhaps one more visit to the happy place of Star’s Hollow and the Gilmore Girls first.

Gordon Gravley

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