There’s an old Jerry Seinfeld stand-up bit that basically boils down to how the invention of the helmet is supreme proof of man’s unlimited supply of stupidity. Rather than cease continuing our skull crushing lifestyle, Seinfeld muses, we simply decided to just tie a plastic shell around our head and continue forward. Activities that require the use of a helmet are for thrill-seekers, adrenaline junkies, or men in the throes of a midlife crisis. Sky-diving, bungee-jumping, riding a motorcycle, things of that nature-they’re all pointlessly dangerous and supremely reckless. Personally, I’ve never tried any of them. Am I too scared? Hell yeah, I’m too scared! Of course I am! There are enough things in this world that can kill me without me feeling the urge to voluntarily launch myself off a cliff. I’m not tying a perfect stranger to my back and jumping out of an airplane for some Instagram likes, I can tell you that for free. “You haven’t lived until you’ve stared at death, man”, is what the adventurous folk tell me, to which I reply, “Well, debatable, but I also haven’t died either.” I’m not going to willingly participate in anything that makes me uncomfortable or nervous or fearful or anxious. Those are emotions I don’t care for. That’s why I don’t like watching horror movies. Horror movies are the volcano surfing of cinema.
Right now, we can quite literally watch anything we want, whenever we want, wherever we want, with whoever we want, on whichever device we want. That’s beyond outrageous. Imagine traveling back in time and telling your grandparents at the drive-in theater that in the future they’ll be able to project any movie they can think of from their phones to their bedroom wall if they so choose. (That’s assuming they live long enough to see the future-so you should also tell them to avoid base jumping and swimming with sharks). They’d think you were crazy. It might shroud the rest of the night in a kind of weird, scary energy. It would ruin the date. Maybe they’d never speak again. Maybe you wouldn’t be born. Never mind. Don’t do that. If you find a time machine, go to Lake Placid for the Miracle on Ice. The point stands though-our ability to consume anything and everything, once completely unfathomable, is now a reality.
Anyone with a Netflix account can tell you that wading through all of those choices and finding something you’ll enjoy can be exhausting and frustrating. There are just too many options. It isn’t just with television and movies either. Amazon gives us access to any book in the world, from Roald Dahl to Maya Angelou to the one written by your pretentious college roommate, Todd, the Creative Writing major. The total over-saturation of the entertainment industry is both a gift and a nuisance. You can see, read, and do anything you want. Now, however trivial entertainment may be in the grand scheme of the universe, that’s an underrated and powerful aspect of our lives-this ability to spend our time however we want. It’s empowering, really. I am fortunate enough to be alive at a time and to have access to technology that allows me to consume whatever I want. That’s why I don’t mess around with Horror.
I have a limited, finite amount of free time in my day. When it’s time to unwind, I fundamentally can’t understand why I would want to be terrified, disgusted, or restless. Isn’t the actual, real world stressful and scary enough? Sorry, Wolf Creek, I’m not going to spend two hours of my life watching a group of teenagers get raped and tortured in the outback of Australia for fun. You’re a legend, Stephen King, but I’m not going to kick back and unwind reading about a shape shifting clown who kidnaps and eats little children before I turn in for the night. I have to go to work in the morning! I’m not giving myself nightmares that jolt me out of bed at 2 AM on my own accord. I’m going to watch football or I’m going to watch a documentary about some cool birds or I’m going read a book about a trio of sassy wizards, but I’m not going to actively seek out some extra anxiety.
I have seen my share of horror movies though. I know enough about them to identify their more tired tropes-like the people who go down into the dark basement or walk straight towards the haunted house. Those people, we all agree, are the fools. Machete fodder. We scream at them to get themselves away from the danger. “You have a chance to save yourself! Take it!” We laughingly wonder how someone could put themselves in such a miserable situation. Well, hey, if you’re choosing to watch these movies? You’re the jock in the letterman jacket about to find himself hanging from a meat hook like a big, dumb Christmas ornament. You put yourself there. Don’t come crying to me when you can’t fall asleep.
Now of course, if you enjoy watching and reading horror movies you are not, by any metric, dumb. I’m simply lashing out at things I don’t understand, as little babies like myself are prone to do. You like what you like. I just wish I could understand why. Fans of the genre argue that they love being scared. That seems like a misunderstood emotion to me. No one loves being scared. That’s not what being scared means. Terror means an absence of joy. People don’t like being actually scared, that’s like saying you love breaking your arms. It’s an immensely unpleasant, uncomfortable feeling. Horror is about the chase. You may think you like being scared, but you aren’t afraid at all. If you were, you’d be right there with me, hiding under the covers in the fetal position. No, you aren’t afraid-you’re just an adrenaline junkie. Good for you. I’m jealous of that kind of bravery. Do what makes you happy-but for Pete’s sake wear a helmet.
This article is part of our special October series, #horrorandme