Sunday, September 28, 2008

Thirty Days of Night(mares)

Like many kids, I often wet the bed, um... I mean went to bed scared. Sometimes I just had bad dreams. Other times I suffered full-blown night terrors. As a result, I developed the seemingly counter-intuitive coping mechanism of deliberately thinking up the worst things imaginable, to both harden my skin, so to speak, and deny my trickster subconscious the pleasure of ambushing me with some new phantasm. For the same bizarro reasons I gravitated towards horror in film and literature. At five or six, I started watching Saturday afternoon creature features with my father and I’ve been hooked ever since. In my early teens I grew so absorbed by anything and everything horror-related that my folks started talking to psychologists. Then I grew up.

Sort of.

The truth is I never really lost my love of scary lit. and film. It remains a twisted love affair, though, because unlike most hardened aficionados, I still spook quite easily. More often than I care to admit, I spend the witching hour checking door locks, turning on lights, and searching my house for the sources of odd sounds while averting my eyes from shadowy mirrors.

So why on earth do I continue to feed the troll?

Who knows. Stephen King points out in Danse Macabre, his seminal (and still unsurpassed) study of the genre, that horror films first grew to widespread popularity in the atomic era.
Perhaps horror really does serve a useful function for society, allowing us to transfer our real-world fears onto fantasy boogeymen and experience catharsis in the process. Perhaps, as he suggests elsewhere (and my childhood mind somehow intuited) there is also an apotropaic element to deliberately seeking out that which scares us most. By pre-screening the worst that can happen, do we in some way protect ourselves from that very occurrence?

Probably not.

I think the answer is both simpler and more troubling. At rock bottom, all of us are just slaves to our brain chemistry. As children, we push as many mental buttons as we can just to see what will happen. Most of these buttons deliver mild shocks of pain or pleasure. Some of them do nothing at all. A select few set off supernovas in our cerebral cortex. In between traffic jams and wiping our kids’ noses and preparing our taxes, we spend the rest of our lives looking for more of these live wires to grab. For some, it’s as simple as buying a new pair of shoes. For others, the piercing of flesh is required. For me, it’s sitting in the dark and getting scared. But not just any kind of scared. I don’t go skydiving or bridge jumping (well, except that one time, but that’s another story…). I’m not even a big fan of roller coasters. I’m too controlling for that. And too much the voyeur.

So, by now you are almost certainly asking yourself: Where the hell is he going with all this?

For those of you who follow such things, we are now entering the month of October, my personal favorite, and not only because it is the month of my birth. In Octobers past I have always partaken in mini movie marathons, indulging my taste for terror, but never truly pushing the envelope.

This year, to celebrate the kickoff of the Hinterzone, and in an oblique nod to our esteemed Republican candidates, I’m pulling out all the stops.

Every night this coming month I will screen a horror film and review it the following morning. To make things interesting—and to challenge the prevailing line of thought that claims no good horror movies are being made these days—I will limit my selections to films made in the last decade.

Can my fragile psyche survive the onslaught? Will I end up a quivering mass of neuroses (assuming that isn't already the case)?

Tune in, gentle reader, to find out.

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