The Mystery of the Unsettling

In their own strange way, horror movies prepare a person for the challenges of real life.

By Kai Schild

In my early childhood, when I was about six or so, I was exposed to horror films for the first time. At my grandparents, my mom was chattering about when I decided to wander off into the basement. My grandpa was down there, like usual, watching a movie on the big screen. I crept around the corner to look at what he was watching. To my surprise, he was watching one of the Child’s Play movies. I witnessed all the gore, blood, and violence. I had never seen anything like it before and, naturally, I was paranoid and had nightmares for about two days. Now that I’m older, I think that the Child’s Play movies are less horror and more comedy compared to the other movies I’ve seen. I’ve gotten so accustomed to consuming scary and unsettling media that it’s practically the only type I like to involve myself with.

Although I don’t quite remember the transition from hating horror to loving it, I know my involvement with the unsettling started at a young age. I remember my introduction to scary stories in third grade. One night, I was searching around on YouTube when I found a creepypasta channel. If you don’t know what creepypasta is, it’s a type of story that involves paranormal and scary internet legends, often with characters and monsters. The channel did voiceovers of the internet’s favorite scary stories with added-in sound effects and the occasional animation. I sat down and listened to them, being terrified by the time I had to sleep. But the strange part is, I did the same thing the next night. What a mystery, to find yourself scared by something and then continuing to go back to it, despite knowing the lasting effects of fear. I know many people do this very same thing, because otherwise there wouldn’t be so many subcategories of horror, let alone horror itself. From what I’ve experienced and seen from other people, getting scared is a fun thing to do. The bottom line is that it’s entertainment. Of course, it’s not meant for everyone but at the end of the day, horror movies are fake, so they can’t be too harmful.

It’s a possibility that people like horror specifically because it’s fake. Maybe there’s a sense of relief someone can feel after watching a scary movie that a bone-chilling monster is in fact not coming after them. Individuals could look at life from a small new perspective: “Hey at least I’m not the guy who went out into the woods by himself just because he heard a noise.”  Monsters like zombies, werewolves and vampires can be scary, but what about the genre of horror that’s more realistic? Thrillers, slashers, found footage, and phycological horrors all have one thing in common: they put the observer into the action because of the possibility that all those things can happen to them too. They’re more engaging because there aren’t any fictional monsters, but instead, murderers, near future scenarios, stalkers and other realistic threats. Watching something like that could make anyone scared but the question stands, why watch it?

During an especial anxiety inducing part of my life, I would seek for refuge from my real life into the fictional world. This included horror games, reddit no-sleep stories, a creepy-pasta addiction and scary movies. It became a sort of coping skill I learned; I could just relieve built up tension from the day by forcing it out of me through unsettling media. If researching about an unsolved murder at night was the only thing that could put me to sleep, I was probably going to do it. In some odd way, scary is comforting. It makes my problems feel small and less threatening. Watching horror movies could be considered a way to prepare for real life issues: “If Jeremy over here can throw hands with a demon, surely I can order for myself at a restaurant.” Well, maybe not prepare, due to the different scenarios occurring, but it can make life troubles seem less important. In this way, I believe younger me had the right idea, which is exactly why I still find myself turning off all the lights, cuddling up in blankets and turning on a horror movie to anticipate the sweet, nostalgic feeling of terror.

Image: “Scary Movie 8” by BdwayDiva1 on Flickr