Friday, June 12, 2015


   Footsteps reverberate down an empty hallway. Outside, wicked winds howl as they lap at the foundation of the house, enhanced by the endless drone of pelting raindrops. Occasionally, there is a blinding flash of lightning that reveals the maker of these footsteps. He is tall and wearing some sort of mask. In his right hand is a small axe, and it is dripping blood. He's after you, and it seems that no matter how fast you run, he's keeping up with you.
   What can you do to escape? Why is this man after you and why does he want to kill you? Who is he? All that becomes suddenly immaterial as you trip and fall down. The man with the axe is almost upon you as you find your muscles unable to respond and you try to crawl away. You plead with your legs to help you up and run away, but they feel like jelly and refuse to work. The man is right by you now. He leans down and grabs a hold of your leg. You're helpless as you watch his arm's motion make a huge arc. Lightning flashes once more and gleams on the blade of the axe as it begins its journey towards your chest. This is it---you're going to die.

   There now----didn't that feel great? No? Then you are definitely in the minority. Since the days of "Ugh-ugh" the caveman, people have been telling tales to scare the daylights out of each other. We love scary stories and are fascinated by accounts of murder and other forms of death. We are positively addicted to stories about werewolves, vampires, and things that go bump in the night. We crave books and movies that tell about ghosts, zombies, and evil spirits. Did you ever wonder why this is true?
   Fright does things to us. It makes us aware of our surroundings as every fiber of our being becomes sensitive to everything and everyone around us. Adrenalin flows like water over Niagara Falls, and our bodies tingle as we go into the defensive mode to protect ourselves from whatever threatens us, real or imaginary. We never feel more alive than when there is the possibility of imminent death, and this is especially true immediately after such an incident becomes part of our lives.

   In a world that is constantly more "user friendly" and "ho-hum" to us, we find that our lives are getting dull, even mundane, and we need something to spice them up. Horror is like an addicts fix to us, and adrenaline offers the cheapest of all possible highs. We will do just about anything we can to experience its effects and make our lives more exciting, even if only for a few moments. Ask anybody who's afraid of heights yet will ride a roller coaster why he does it.
   Where are the biggest lines at the amusement park? Not at the tent where you can see the world's largest horse, that's for sure. Look for something like the "Death Defying Flaming Triple Loop of Doom", and that's where you'll find the biggest crowd. Our need for excitement, but most importantly, our need for fear, dictates this. It's like hypnotism for our feelings.

   As far back as the days of silent movies, the most popular shows were those that dealt with horror and monsters. Here in America, a versatile actor by the name of Lon Chaney, Sr. set the bar by practically torturing himself to make his frightful characters appear real. In "The Hunchback of Notre Dame", he strapped on a fake hump that was so heavy it forced him to walk with a stoop. For "Phantom of the Opera", he peeled back his nose, eyes, and mouth with thin metal wires to stretch his skin and make his face more repulsive and skull-like. His portrayal of The Phantom remains the definitive version.
   In Europe, most notably in Germany, the horror genre was well represented too, with such films as "Nosferatu", a vampire tale loosely based on Bram Stoker's novel "Dracula" and whose star, Max Schreck, was so convincing that stories are still being told about how he might have been a real vampire. Strange reports that leaked out during production support that theory, and it's even been said that Nosferatu's death scene at the end was so realistic because it was real. In December of 2000, the film

"Shadow of the Vampire" was released, telling the story of that premise. Unfortunately, it made the mistake of coming out between Christmas and New Year's Day, a period when no one wants to see a horror film based on the making of a horror film.
   We have retained our love of horror over the years. We love to be scared out of our wits in the confines of a dark theatre, where it's safe---or is it? It has been well documented that during horror films, patrons rarely venture into the restrooms. Some people readily admit that they are afraid to do so, and wait until after the movie ends so they can go when there is a crowd for protection. Some movie studios really milked that fear angle and actually claimed that if anyone died of fright during the showing of their film, the victim's family would be paid a cash settlement. No record exists of anyone's family ever collecting this money.

   For men, going to such a film with a lady often replenishes their macho ego as their lady friend or wife holds on to them while the movie plays. It makes their chest hairier and they feel bigger, even manlier because women seek their protection. It's therapeutic for both sexes, something that at least temporarily can increase the bond between the two. Psychologists have proven this to be a fact.
   The end result, clearly, is that fright is good for us because of its effects on our bodies and minds. It engages sections of our brains that are often dormant, jolting them into use and allowing feelings that we normally suppress to be put in the forefront and used, which in turn helps us put forth every resource we have, giving us a sensation of euphoria. We are always looking for new ways to achieve this, even subconsciously, and horror is an avenue to reach this state of mind and body.

   In the thirties and forties, we had an unending parade of "human monsters" such as werewolves, vampires, and mad doctors to ignite our fears. The 50's and 60's featured a run of "atomic monsters"---dinosaurs and other giant beasts revived by bomb blasts or brought back to life somehow by being freed from a long hibernation. The 70's were what best could be described as the "decade of zombies", wherein it seems everyone had a new way to bring the dead back to life, and George Romero did it best with his "Night of the Living Dead" trilogy. The "Living Dead" films were more realistic and frightening because both the monsters and the victims were everyday people like us, forcing us to take a closer look at our society's failures. Starting in the late 70's and stretching into today, we were witness to an endless variety of serial killers and murderous psychopaths that endures to this day, along with a sprinkling of supernatural creatures for good measure.

   There is apparently no end in sight to this cycle, and it becomes more evident when we look at retail sales receipts and discover that Halloween is now a close second to Christmas in regards to the amount of money spent for food, decorations and related entertainment.By all means, go ahead and see "Halloween 37" or "Friday the 13th, Part 95". It just may be what your body needs, and as it turns out, it's good for you.

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