I admit I’m a bit of a horror junkie. Good horror relaxes me. I know that’s probably weird, but it’s true. I’ve tried to analyze why (because analyzing is what I do), and I’ve come up with a few ideas involving the release of endorphins, complete emotional occupation, and catharsis. In other words, it’s a mystery. But when I’m down and completely out, nothing soothes me like an unhealthy dinner, a strong drink, and a good old-fashioned horror movie.
Most recently, I saw Paranormal Activity. I’d been meaning to watch it for some time. People said it succeeded in doing what The Blaire Witch Project attempted to do, and having been somewhat disappointed by that romp-through-the-woods-with-angry-teenagers, I was eager to see what the “home video” sub-genre could really do. This time around, I was not disappointed.
Paranormal Activity is a slow burn. I never leapt from my seat screaming or clung to The Other Lamm, who puts up with my horror addiction with open-minded awesomeness (I should tell you sometime about how he turned me down for a first date because, as he put it, “I don’t like horror”—yeah, I didn’t get it either). I watched it in the dark, and then turned it off and calmly went to bed. I didn’t notice the effect it had on me until the wee hours, when I realized the sun would be coming up soon, and I hadn’t slept a wink. Because I was still thinking about it. It was glorious. THIS is what horror is supposed to do: keep your mind occupied; give you a vacation from your own problems; and let you experience a hint of mankind’s ancient, everlasting fear of the dark.
I went on to see the sequels, hoping they would be as good as the first. I read reviews of the second movie that praised it as being superior to the first. I have to say I disagree, although it wasn’t a bad film by any stretch, and it definitely had its moments. My guess as to why people find the second film more frightening than the first is it toys with human protective instincts by involving an infant. But to me, it removed a lot of the first film’s delicious mystery by sharing too much backstory.
We didn’t need to know what the malevolent entity was. In fact, it was MUCH better not knowing. Our fear of the dark is a fear of the unknown, and that’s what the first film touched upon in such a remarkable way. Once you give a history and motivation to the dark, it becomes less frightening. The third film exposed even more of the entity’s motivation and history, and in the light of understanding, it became almost silly—an overdone cliché.
After watching these three films, I’ve decided to pay closer attention to the horror I watch and read. I’m going to pay attention to the moment when the threat feels less threatening, and I’m going to pay attention to the amount of information I was given shortly before that moment. I bet I see a pattern.
Some might say the genre that loves the unknown most is mystery, but I don’t think that’s true. Mystery, as a genre, loves uncovering the unknown; horror, on the other hand, loves drowning in it.