Dusk in Los Angeles. My apartment in Hollywood has a view to the top of the Capitol Records building. The sky retains its purplish hue at sunset – I don’t know if it’s from pollution or maybe Los Angeles has a natural beauty no one can deny. Either way, it’s sublime.
I roll out my yoga mat and sit in half-lotus. I’m in relaxation mode. I take a deep breath and pick up the remote control for my DVD player. I press “play,” and the score for John Carpenter’s Halloween fills my tiny Hollywood apartment. Now I’m ready for my sunset, golden hour yoga session.
The piano eases my restless heartbeat, and I lean forward, stretching my back. As I take a deep breath, I lift my head and watch the television as the camera pushes in on the lit jack-o-lantern. I feel at home.
Horror movies are my home. They relax me and help me make sense of the world. Why or how, you may ask?
I have a theory: Horror movies are dramas in which the characters are capable of terrifying acts. And the great horror films – the classics, the indelible ones that snaked their way into the horror canon – are all rooted in fundamental, human stories.
Halloween is about arbitrary evil and the woman who survives it and becomes stronger with each brush with said evil. Laurie Strode, the long lost sister of Michael Myers (evil incarnate), will always triumph over her brother, not with brute strength, but with her desire to survive.
The Shining (or the worst family vacation ever) reflects on a mother trying to keep her family together but realizing she must protect her child from his own father – even if she does so while flailing her arms and running awkwardly.
Rosemary’s Baby (or What to Expect While You’re Expecting the Devil’s Baby) immerses the audience into one woman’s journey of being utilized for her reproductive capabilities by evildoers trying to bring one major evildoer into the world. But that film is an intriguing one because Rosemary goes down the rabbit hole. She remains a mother to her child, caring for a child she may never believe is good or pure.
Psycho. “We all go a little mad sometimes.” Enough said. I think we can all relate to that, and if you can’t, then you’re denying your shadow side big time because given the right (or wrong) circumstances, we all go a little mad.
For me horror reflects the world in which we live. Horror films place the characters in frightening situations, and what they do in the face of their fear and/or the threat determines their character. How is that different from real life? We are faced with obstacles every day. Those obstacles can be dangerous, life-threatening, horrifying. What we do in the face of them or how we survive them after they were done unto us determines who we are.
There’s a quote I turn to when writing horror or facing horror in my own life: “I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.” –Carl Jung
This quote can be applied to any canonical horror character: Laurie Strode, Norman Bates, Rosemary Woodhouse, Sidney Prescott, Nancy Thompson, etc.
In horror films I see a fundamental truth about life: Bad stuff happens. What we do with the bad stuff defines who we are. I find comfort in watching those characters on a movie or television screen. I see plots, actions, and characters that reflect the honest, brutal nature of life.
But, the difference is the horrible things remain contained to my television or to the big screen. They are not random or flopping about like the tentacles of giant squid, wreaking havoc on personal lives. The movie places the horrible things in controlled sequences. I will care for the characters. I will mourn their deaths. And I will watch the survivor (or rarely, survivors) fight for his or her life, and it will remind me how every day, we as humans survive.
In that same vein, horror tells classic stories – we run from evil and fight to live. I’d wager early man drew cave paintings depicting random horrors terrorizing their language-less lives. There’s something integral to existence about horror. It touches the echoes and collective unconsciousness of being human and being alive.
Maybe that’s why I like to watch Halloween while I do sun salutations. Maybe it’s because fear is a fundamental human emotion that circumvents culture, race, and gender. Everyone feels fear, no matter who you are or where you’re from. Or maybe it’s because, for a little while, the horror is contained to the television.
Or maybe it’s because I just love it. What about you?
Either way, enjoy those movies, horror fans. I know I will.