Tantalizing Terror Part 1: Why Do We Fear?
Hello again CGYEN fans! These last few weeks of conducting interviews with those in the horror business got me thinking: Why not create a segment that explores the mechanics of horror from a story telling aspect as well? As one who has followed the genre from a young age, and even gotten a few things published myself along with some books on the way, horror is not just something I do for fun, but also as a career platform. Being in the business, there are a lot of aspects of the genre that many audiences do not explore, but yet can be so much fun to delve into. So, let's start with basics... why do we fear? What is that thing that the horror greats from Edgar Allan Poe to Stephen King, from Alfred Hitchcock to John Carpenter have all tapped into? Friends, let's explore...
Whether it be the current clown craze, terrorism, or simply flying in a jet from one place to another, our inhibitions against these things are fundamentally the same as those who make us fear Jason Voorhees or the shark in “Jaws.” Yet, all of our fears are different, and few individuals share the same list of phobias as the next. So, why does this happen? Where does it come from? An evolutionary biologist might answer that question by going to our prehistoric ancestors that needed to have instincts to fear darkness, roars, or fangs to keep from being prey. This concept could also be advanced to include instincts for survival that make us fear fire, heights, tight spaces, and the like. Viewed this way, fear is sometimes instinctual and sometimes a learned phenomena based on environmental factors acting upon you. Still, however, there are fears that don't fit this mold: porcelain dolls, silence, clowns, and worms to name a few. So, what is it that's missing?
Ultimately, I turn to the unknown. The common link between a person's fear of the mundane and a mass audience's fear of Freddy Krueger's knife fingers is the idea of ambiguity, possibility, or potential. Let me explain. You are not afraid of spiders, but rather the unknown variable of their biting you. It is not being high up that scares a person, but the rather the possibility of falling. We are not afraid of the Candyman, but rather the very unlikely potential that he could come through our mirrors with his hook hand. Our minds loathe the unknown. Perhaps this is why humanity has such a great propensity for being curious. We must drive out the unknown with certainty. When we do not have a clear understanding, our minds turn from comfort to unease, then to fear. In many ways this is why humanity loves its own tribe over outsiders, but also helps explain why death is so repulsive to so many. I leave you with these pleasant thoughts: When you take a shower next, are you sure that Norman Bates won't be coming in as his dear mommy? And next time you proceed down that dark hallway, are you positive that Mike Meyers won't be behind you with a knife?