Why do we love horror? What draws us to it? Why do we spend the entire month of October celebrating it, culminating in Halloween, a holiday where we dress up like the dead and the demons of our worst nightmares?
Someone who doesn’t understand, or who has never really thought about it, might even call it masochistic. Why put yourself through that? We try to avoid pain. We try to avoid danger. We try to keep ourselves safe and secure and away from threats. And yet horror is all about exposing ourselves to exactly that.
People often say that we like to be scared, that we like to put ourselves in simulated danger, to face the terrors that we try so hard to avoid in life. But that’s sort of begging the question, isn’t it? It’s not the why. Is it as simple as a release of adrenaline? A cheap, chemical high? Or is it deeper?
H.P. Lovecraft said that “the oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” Not only was he right, but I think he put his finger on something deeper. Yes, we want to be safe. We want to be secure. We want to be away from danger. And that’s all well and good–most of the time.
But it’s not the kind of thing that makes you feel alive. Safety doesn’t challenge you. Security does not inspire. We’ve spent so much time and effort trying to insulate ourselves from the world that we lose some of our humanity in the process. It’s the same reason people jump out of perfectly good airplanes or climb mountains for no other reason than to get to the top. We are a species that’s meant to challenge ourselves, to press our boundaries, to look fear and death in the face and not flinch. And horror asks us to do just that.
Horror is too often treated like a second-class genre, but it’s so much more. Comedy is fun. Drama is…dramatic. But only horror asks us to face our existential fear and overcome it. Death is inevitable, but defeat is not. We face death and fight it even though we cannot overcome it. Even though we are destined to fail in the end. So it is in horror.
You cannot defeat Freddy Krueger. Jason cannot die. Cthulhu’s rise is inevitable. But we rage against them, regardless. We rage against the dying of the light. That’s horror, and it’s why we love it.