A Look At HorrorEdit
Never attempt to comprehend what true horror is, for that is damnation of the mind and soul. Whether or not you have faith in any higher power or belief that there is a force in this universe which looks out for you, we as humans universally fear the unknown and what it brings. Horror begins at the root of all existence: darkness.
All creations stories, from the Judeo/Christian texts to Greek, Norse, Hindu, and all the others, everything began in darkness. Darkness is an all pervasive entity unto itself, a manifestation of that which cannot be perceived which exists in all the cosmos (as we know it). From the void of space to the sunless caverns which vein our earth, darkness has been with us since the beginning, and will be there long after we are gone.
Because darkness is something that is impregnable and hides whatever dwells within it, the human mind (both from evolutionary experience and active imagination) has always viewed darkness as where the evil things lurk, the things which fear or abhor the light which we take comfort in. If man in his youth had not been gifted with fire, it isn’t farfetched to imagine that we would have been killed off, just by the animals which stalked the night, but by our own fear and paranoia.
But back to the subject at hand: what is horror? Horror’s root is in darkness, that which hides what cannot be seen but can see you. Because anything, absolutely anything, can hide and stalk in the shadowy recesses of our world and be unknown, we are deathly afraid of it. Why? Because our minds, when placed in situations where fear and adrenaline are pumping through our systems, we become irrational.
Recall as a child when you were afraid of that shadow in the dark corner of your room at night. What did you imagine was standing there? What do you think the monster under the bed looked like? What was it really? These primal thoughts began in childhood, when our minds filled in the blanks with spectacular images and sounds the help us comprehend the world around us. That shadow in the corner was just your jacket on the peg, but in the dark it was a ghostly fiend that watched you sleep. The monster under the bed was merely a balled up sweater that looked like some gangly ghoul waiting for you.
Yet as children, despite knowing the facts, we still saw these monsters and horrors in the dark. We view the world with different eyes, straining in the blackness of night for signs of familiarity to give us comfort. Yet the moment these comforts are taken away, our imaginations fill in the blanks and reach back into some ancestral mental archive that dates back to the beginning of man, and we see things which defy logic and reason, yet we believe, truly and unabashedly believe, is there.
Horror, in briefest summary, is the fear of the unknown and how it plays into our lives. The shortest horror story read, “The last person on earth was sitting in his room, when suddenly, there was a knock at the door.” This short sentence encompasses all the fears of man: fear of the unknown, fear of isolation, fear of one’s life… If you were that last person, what would you think was on the other side of the door?
Some of us fear the realistic horrors in our world: rapists, murderers, thugs, humans which live to make others suffer with no care for how their actions affect others. There are some of a supernatural mindset who fear spirits, demonic entities, devils, ghouls and revenants which haunt us and disrupt our daily lives. Sometimes there are those of us who fear what lies beyond our perception, beyond our world, wherein dwells alien beings whose shape and scale defy the sciences and logic of our world, yet are undeniably there.
Authors like Lovecraft, Blackwood, Poe, King and so many others all take a look at these ideas of what monstrosities, what horrors, lurk in the dank dark places of the human mind and soul, and give them shape. When the unthinkable is given a perceivable and visible form, it no longer is as horrific as we once believed, because now our minds are no longer on overdrive trying to confront and comprehend such things.
But just because we know what the monster is, doesn’t take away the fact that this thing, whatever it may be in our eyes, is out there in some shape or form. An example: many people (the author of this essay included) believe that there exists a bipedal ape in North America, most commonly called Bigfoot or Sasquatch. Many of us would love nothing more than to actually know what it looks like, an affirmation that what we believe in real. But now imagine you are on a lonely stretch of road, driving in the late night, when something large and humanlike comes darting from the brush and runs across the road.
Suddenly, you become afraid. Deathly so. Your heart begins to race, your eyes grow wide to better see though deep down you wish you hadn’t, tension builds in your muscles, and you feel adrenaline racing through your veins. You know that there has never been a reported case (in the Pacific Northwest) of a bigfoot attacking somebody, but the moment you see this, your mind is screaming for you to run and not look back, to flee in fear lest this thing should turn on you and end your life.
I myself can personally attest to this, because such an event happened in my own life! I’ll never forget what I saw, and never forget how terrified I was to have that happen to me. Every day there are people who experience things which defy normal conventions and fill our minds and imaginations with horrors and nightmares which make us grateful for that dog at the foot of the bed or loved one curled up beside you.
And what we define as horrific is varied based on the person, as noted before. Each and every one of us has our own ideas of the Bogeyman which lurks in the closet, because it is reflective of our own inner demons. What I fear and tremble at might be completely different than you the reader! You might be afraid that there is an axe murderer standing in the kitchen, waiting behind the door for you. I’m afraid of some shapeless supernatural force which could invariably destroy my belongings and do physical harm onto me.
That is the commonality with all of us in regards to horror: we fear for our physical selves. After all, in every form of horror from literature to film, all of these tales feature death of the body and mind in some way. Zombies coming to devour our flesh, masked maniacs hacking our limbs off, parasitic organisms eating us from the inside out, alien beings taking away our identities and enslaving us, demons possessing our bodies and scarring them with burns and cuts. Regardless of the scenario, setting, characters or outcome, all horror reflects man fear of being harmed and/or killed.
Naturally. I don’t think anybody willingly wants to have a Jason Vorheese smash into their living room and decapitate them with a machete, or have Pazuzu or Satan possess their bodies and violate them with crucifixes, or even be kidnapped, beaten and raped by some deranged social outcasts. We are not naturally a species that wants to become prey, regardless of what the predator is, even if it is our fellow man.
Even as you read, I have no doubt that in the back of your mind, you wonder what is it that really scares you, what your mind manifests in its darkest places and what makes you pull the covers over you at night. What lurks in the shadows, not just in our homes, but deep within our world, from the lightless abyss of the ocean depths to the wild forests in pitch black night? It doesn’t matter if what we imagine is real or imaginary, because inside us we know something is there.
Sure, it may not be that tall faceless man with the long arms or the bleached faced killer; it might not even be some rabid beast waiting for its next meal. Regardless of what is or isn’t there, we know that there IS always something lurking beyond our sights, waiting patiently, watching, filling our hearts and souls with dread and despair. Because what we cannot see is truly the most terrifying thing we can experience.
So back to the very first statement: never try to comprehend what true horror is. Why did I say that? The reason is simple. Because once and a great while, we will face something that is so horrible, so wrong to everything we know as right, that just being able to acknowledge its existence would send your mind spiraling into madness.
In the words of a great master of the macabre, “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of the infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. Some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new Dark Age.” H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu.