Many moons ago when I was quite little and before I could read, bedtime frequently included mom or dad reading a story or poem from one of my favorite books. It wasn’t until very recently I realized that it wasn’t Edgar Allen Poe that first piqued my fascination with the macabre, it was one very particular poem in the children’s book I liked.
The poem had a dark edge, something I had never been exposed to, and I distinctly remember being frightened. But in the fear there was also a fascination because I didn’t believe this could really happen….it was out of the scope of my 3 or 4 year old reality and experiences. I was so fascinated by this poem that it was my number one request until my mom decided not to read it to me anymore. The poem is “Babes in the Woods.”
My dears do you know how a long time ago
Two little children, whose names I don’t know,
Were stolen away on a fine summers day,
And left in the woods, I’ve heard people say.
And when it was night, so sad was their plight.
The sun, it went down, and the moon gave no light.
They sobbed and they sighed, and they bitterly cried,
And the poor little things laid down and died.
And when they were dead, the robin, so red,
Brought strawberry leaves, and over them spread.
All the day long He sang them this song:
Poor babes in the woods!
Poor babes in the woods!
Since my first exposure to the macabre “Babes in the Wood” nursery rhyme, I gravitated to most things scary. Poe for his fantastical man-against-man, man-against-nature and eerily dark man-against-self themes. I love anything Vincent Price, Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff or Lon Chaney for their interpretations of vampires, werewolves and mummies. And then there are the zombie and ghost tales. The one thread all these horrors have running through them is that not only do the themes scare us as we watch or read, but they tap into our deeper fears.
Vampires who come alive in the dark and can control others exhibit our own primitive fear of what goes bump in the night, as well as the fear of another controlling us and/or making us do things we don’t want to do.
Zombies raise fear at the thought that some outside force (virus, bacteria, nuclear war, etc.) can greatly affect our lives, but worse yet, they represent the total loss of any personal control of our actions. For people who like to be in control, this is horrifying.
Mummies reflect our fear of being buried alive. Their curse of eternal life while walking the earth forever perhaps taps into a fear of being separated from God for eternity.
It is safe to be scared of something make believe. Monsters are far less frightening than delving into our real, worldly fears of sickness, nuclear war, the state of our society, the economy, political relations, divorce, death. Our make believe monsters allow us to feel fear and pass through it. Even though the monsters aren’t real, we are given the ability to experience real fear, for a controlled amount of time, and then recover from that fear.
Throughout my many years of watching/reading many things scary, I’ve noticed a trend. When our world is full of uncertainty, and real threats loom on the horizon, there is an increase in horror genre movies and books. Chris Tagatac, in his article “Hollywood Horrors Seem to Coincide with Difficult Times” backs me up. Tagatac writes:
“Post-World War II saw 20 and 30 percent jumps in the numbers of horror-film releases. We saw similar increases during the 1950s, when there was a lot of paranoia about the bomb, atomic warfare, and everyone going up in a mushroom cloud.”
He also states:
“Today we are at war in the world and horror films are once again helping us project our fears away from ourselves and onto the big screen.”
In the article, Tagatac refers to George Romero (Night of the Living Dead) and attributes a statement to Romero:
“We are a country on edge about our future. Horror films give us an opportunity to privately try on our fears for two hours in the dark, in the safety of our comfy chair.”
Monsters and ghouls allow us to feel fear we may not otherwise express, in a safe and manageable way. In the past few years, however, there is a genre within horror movies referred to as “torture porn” (Saw, Hostel, etc.) that focuses on the suffering of the victim and primarily features violence and gore. These films, glorified gore fests, illustrate the absolute worst in mankind – the sadistic, sociopathic man-against-man theme. And although they are attracting huge audiences (myself EXCLUDED), I take issue with glorifying a thinking human being who takes pleasure from another’s terror, pain, and suffering. It is that kind of thinking responsible for acts of genocide.
Monsters and horror stories will continue to fascinate and attract us. Halloween allows us to stand on the fringe of scary, and while dipping a toe in, decide how much we want to feel fear conjured up by make believe monsters and ghouls.
This is one of my favorite times of year. I can record as much scary as the networks care to air. It is a time specifically carved out to celebrate being scared, to welcome ghouls and ghost to our front doors, to feel fear that taps into the very nature of our being.
It’s good to finally know there really is a place in life for make believe monsters and that it’s OK to like horror movies. The advice I never got: we need ghouls and monsters to help cope with our real fears.
SO…what are the REAL and make-believe monsters YOU fear? Looking forward to hearing from you….