Sometimes I have an interaction with the world that catapults me into the realisation that I was born in the wrong place and era. That’s a lot of inconvenience to deal with all at once. I’ve always understood, theoretically, that rendering oneself supine with fear is an acceptable recreational activity. I don’t get it, but each to their own.
I haven’t given it more than brief thought; people who fling themselves from planes and off the top of buildings clearly get off on the adrenalin rush. This leads me to believe that fear is, for some, a form of recreational drug. To an extent, I can understand that. However, I do not enjoy being frightened. Not one bit.
Horror films are like flinging yourself from a plane in microcosm. I hate them so much that I feel my energy draining by the simple act of cogitating on the hatred. Watching a horror film is a way of synthetically creating the terror that one would feel on the realisation that Ted Bundy is alive and is in your kitchen.
When I meet people who declare a love for horror films, I shake their hand politely and then mentally file them away in the “possible sociopath” corner of my brain.
Halloween is here. So, when friends asked me to their house for a “seasonal” horror film viewing, I refused and considered which pyjamas I would wear while having an early night. Then I remembered this column. Oh, yes, I had agreed to say yes to things I would never have done before.
Normally I go into these new experiences nervous but hoping for the best. Usually, I learn something about myself and others and I’m glad I did it.
There was no such comfort this time. It was going to be a horrifying experience. We decided on a couple of classics: Psycho, and every parish priest's favourite, The Exorcist.
In anticipation of the night, I thought about why it is that horror films are so repellent to me. It isn’t fear, really. It is akin to what an arachnophobe might experience on waking up to find a spider in his mouth. Not fear; rationally, he knows that the spider can’t hurt him. It’s an amplified form of utter disgust; a horror that makes him want to exit his own body.
Just another victim
Violence doesn’t really bother me. I’m not squeamish and have no problem with consensual fight scenes in films. I just cannot stand to see anyone being victimised. It fills me with a revulsion that surpasses logic, and there’s the other problem.
Part of the way into Psycho, as we were watching Norman Bates converse rationally with the stuffed corpse of his overbearing mother, I realised that horror films offend me because they temporarily suspend my capacity for logical thought. I've spent years studying philosophy to nurture that very capacity, and take great pride in remaining calm when other people lose control of their emotions.
Yet the slow turning of the screw as the film’s pace quickened built me up to a level of jumpiness that was too much to bear. It blatantly manipulates you. You feel it doing just that and are made complicit in the loss of your own reason.
That really is salt in the wound. I was so angry with myself when I showered the next morning and left the shower curtain open just a chink. Just to make sure.
The Exorcist didn't help. Even the knowledge of how deeply it must have offended Irish sensibilities when it made its way out into the world in the early 1970s didn't comfort me. Sometime around the infamous crucifix scene, I considered jamming myself into the space under the stairs and keening gently.
If watching a demon heft things into its hoo-ha is anyone’s idea of fun, I despair of us as a species.
The Yes Woman says yes to . . . staying in and having an early night. And no to . . . flinging myself from a metaphorical plane