Posts Tagged ‘fear’

Think of every childhood monster you thought might be in your closet or under your bed or anywhere else a monster might hide during the day. What did your child-self know about the monster? Probably only that it was big, that it only came out at night and wanted to eat/kill you, and that maybe only the nightlight kept it away. Perhaps there were certain details, like fur or scales or whatever, but that was the extent of it. You didn’t know if the monster had any weaknesses, or where it came from, or why it chose your closet/bed/whatever. The monster just was, it wanted you, and you were only able to keep it away during the day. And it terrified you.

Now perhaps as a young child, you simply weren’t capable of thinking that any of that other stuff might exist for your monster. But if you confronted a creature like that as an adult, a monster where all you knew about it was its location, its active period, and its diet of humans, but nothing else, you’d be freaked. Because a monster is scary, but a monster that you don’t know how to fight is even scarier.

And that can be applied to nearly any antagonist in horror. The less is revealed about it, the scarier it is.

Case in point: vampires. When I first learned about vampires, my knowledge of what they were was limited to that they came out at night and didn’t like the sun, that they drank human blood (which could sometimes create other vampires), and that they could turn into bats. For a few years, that was all I knew about vampires, and they terrified me. If I ever came upon one, the only recourse I had was to try and survive till daylight, or I was dead! But when I found out that vampires were susceptible to stakes, garlic, crosses, and required invitations into private residences, they became a little less scary. Why? Because they were easier to deal with, and things that are easy to deal with are less terrifying than those that aren’t easy to deal with.

Contrast that with many of the works of the manga artist Junji Ito. I’ve had the opportunity to look at a bunch more of his work since reading his masterpiece Uzumaki (read my review of the manga here, as well as my review of the film adaptation here), and his works rarely tell us the hidden history or how to deal with the monsters featured within. He only gives us enough of a look to get the modus operandi of the monster, and then weaves the story around that. One of his works, Tomie, revolves around an immortal girl whose beauty often drives people to murder her/for her, and who keeps coming back to life no matter how much you kill her. We never get a full explanation of how she is able to do that. Is she some sort of genetic aberration? An undead creature brought back by a grudge? Ito doesn’t tell us, and forces the reader to wonder at the possibilities, as well as how much is being kept from us about these mysterious monsters.

Tomie, one of Junji Ito’s signature characters.

And that is terrifying. And Ito is well aware of that. He knows that the less you know about an antagonist, the more possibilities there are, and that makes the horror more effective. And not just Ito: HP Lovecraft, Stephen King, Adan Ranie, and other horror authors, including me, are well aware that adding a bit more mystery to our horror stories, and not letting the readers see beneath the proverbial hood of the monster, heightens the fear the reader will feel.

And this is the main reason why I was disappointed with Alien: Covenant this past weekend, as well as the catalyst for this post. Granted, that movie had a number of problems, but one thing that Covenant and its predecessor Prometheus both do is try to give an origin story to the films’ real stars, the Xenomorphs. When it comes to antagonists in horror getting origin stories, it’s on a case-by-case basis, and in the case of the Xenomorphs, I’ve actually come to dislike the idea of giving them an origin story. Part of their power is that, even for man-eating monsters, they’re so divorced from what humans perceive as normal. In fact, the name Xenomorph means “strange form,” and it’s that strangeness that makes them so terrifying and iconic.

So when Prometheus and Covenant try to explain them to us in origin stories, they put them in contexts that we can understand, robbing Xenomorphs of what makes them so amazing. Granted, it’s a question everyone who’s seen the original films has asked at some point: “Where do the Xenomorphs come from?” But it’s not a question that has to be answered. The fact that they had such a shady origin to them was part of their mystique, causing our minds to wander and wonder if maybe, somewhere in that until origin story, there’s a dark truth out there waiting to make us wet our pants. And now, that sense of wonder is gone, because these movies have given us an origin that, rather than being dark and terrifying, is at times confusing and at other times lame.

What I’m trying to get at is that sometimes–not all the time, but a significant portion of the time–you don’t need to reveal everything about your monster. Sometimes, keeping some mystery around adds more to the story, and keeps the source of our terror effective. And in a horror story, keeping things terrifying is one of the most important aspects of horror storytelling.

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Today has been one of the scariest days of my life.

A little before ten this morning, a man named Abdul Artan rammed his car into Ohio State students as they evacuated Watts Hall, a material engineering and science building. The students had evacuated because someone had pulled an alarm in the building over a gas leak (no word on if this leak was a coincidence or planned). Artan then stepped out of his car with a butcher knife and started slashing students. A police officer nearby responded immediately, shooting Artan and killing him. The gunshots triggered a campus-wide lockdown and reaction from law enforcement throughout and outside Central Ohio. Somewhere between 7 and 10 people (reports still vary) were rushed to hospitals in the area, with one person in critical condition.

I was notified by a friend while at work. Immediately a coworker who had been in my graduating class at Ohio State with me and I were glued to my phone as we checked for updates through Twitter. We both knew that Twitter news can be very inaccurate sometimes, but we were scared and we didn’t care. We’re not just alumni of the university, we still have friends and family there. My old roommate is still a student there. My sister works at a bakery near campus. I still have former coworkers from the Student Financial Aid office whom I consider very good friends. Not to mention the number of fellow students and professors whom I still care for and was worried sick about.

For the best part of an hour, my coworker and I devoured updates, my fingers refreshing the feed every three seconds or so. Rumors were flying throughout that hour. There was a shooter at Watts Hall. There were two shooters at Watts Hall. Someone got slashed by a machete. There was another assailant in the garage at Lane and Tuttle Ave, connected to the building I used to work part-time in. There was a body on campus. There were five injured students. Seven injured students. Nine. Ten. One assailant had a machete, the other a gun. An assailant had been caught. An assailant had been killed. Two people had been arrested and were being escorted off campus for interrogation.  Watts had been cleared, and the surrounding buildings were being searched.

It wasn’t until around one o’clock, where I caught a news conference on the TV in the breakroom, that I started getting facts. And even then it didn’t reduce my fear. It just left me exhausted and anxious.

Understand, none of my friends or family were hurt. In the case of a few, including my sister, they weren’t even near campus when they happened. And I was a few miles southeast of campus, so I was in no danger whatsoever But it was still terrifying. For all I knew, a Columbine-style attack was happening at my alma mater, and no one was safe. I thought for sure that there was a definite chance someone I knew was going to get hurt or even killed.

And unlike when I want to get scared, where there’s a bit of a thrill, this fear was all-consuming. It filled me like a balloon with air, only instead the air within the balloon was dark and corrosive and wanted me to panic and feel that the worst was inevitable. And it left me cold and empty and with the promise that the moment there was more bad news, my fear would come back in full force.

Even now, I’m still a little shaky just writing this. I’m hoping that writing it out helps me process this, and maybe helps others process what happened today. I know quite a few people are going to be coming back to classes or work tomorrow wondering if the normally-safe campus will be attacked again by someone with a knife, or even an actual gun. They’re not alone. Everyone is scared and hoping that nothing like this happens again.

I hope you’ll join me in praying that the injured students and staff come out of today stronger than what they were before, that nothing like this ever happens again, and that we can stand up to fear and walk on proudly.

 

Raymond Esposito, a horror writer and acquaintance of mine (check out his website here), recently started a video series with romance writer SK Anthony (check out her website here), Writers After Dark. The purpose of this series (besides a fun excuse to drink, that is), is to discuss the various qualities of their respective genres. The topic of their first video was which of their genres was the more like life. Or not.

And because it’s fun to watch them just go at each other in a good-natured way. I’ve posted the video below. Enjoy:

 

Okay, if you didn’t have a half-hour to watch the entire video (too bad, because you’re missing out), here’s the conclusion: both of them think that their genre is the one that’s more realistic, though I think they both poke a lot of holes in each other’s arguments. And maybe spend a bit too much time on if love is real.

Anyway, after watching this video I thought I’d give my own opinion on this subject. I actually think I’m in a unique position to talk about this subject. Yes, I write and read mainly horror, but I also read a lot of romance mangas, read a book series that went from prehistorical fiction to prehistorical romance fiction in the later volumes, and watched one or two movies (10 Things I Hate About You is still considered romance, right?). Plus a lot of my stories, even ones that I haven’t written yet, have heavy romance elements. Snake is a horror-thriller with such an emphasis on romance, and my thesis/novel project Rose is a horror story about a really twisted love story (among other things). I kind of live in both worlds (though I prefer the one with deadly hotels and evil spirits and Lady Gaga in a leading role).

 

So which is more realistic and which is totally out there? Well, I think that’s kind of a trick question. In terms of horror, I’ve seen evidence of the supernatural and I’m well aware of the evil mankind is capable of (check out current events of the world to see what I mean). However, last I checked zombies were still a fiction and when a serial killer dies, they usually stay dead. And we still haven’t discovered any mummies that have come to life once unearthed or come across any pizzerias with killer animatronic bears.

At the same time, I’ve seen my fair share of long-lasting and happy relationships, and I’m sure you have too. Still, I’m not sure I believe in the concept of unconditional love. All relationships, especially loving ones, are built on give and take, on trust and communication. No two people ever say to each other, “I will love you no matter what and you never have to do a thing for that to continue”. All relationships take work, and romantic ones most of all. And true love? Same answer: all relationships are based on work. I don’t think you can meet a person and within minutes know they’re the one for you. Maybe after thirty years and you still care deeply for them, then maybe we have something there.

 

So which is real or unreal?

I think, in the end, both fear and love, the bases of horror and romance, derive from the need to survive. Horror is the result of the fight or flight response, and romance is the result of our desire to find the mate who will give us the best offspring. Neither one is truly realistic or unrealistic, because both speak to the human experience. Sure, some cliches and tropes are pretty silly and unrealistic (the virgin girl is most likely to survive, the couple overcome all and live happily ever after, etc.), but it’s the stories themselves that speak to us and keep us coming back for more, not the various elements that may or may not be realistic.

But what do you guys think? Is there one genre that’s more real than the other? Did I or the folks in the video miss something? Let’s discuss.

And let’s discuss it fast, I and six other people are being chased by a killer who died twenty years ago and we can’t seem to escape this haunted mansion no matter how hard we try! And in the meantime three of the people I’m with–one the crown princess of a kingdom of succubi, one a young woman with big dreams and a curse that’s slowly killing her, and one a very handsome young man with a dark past–have confessed their love for me at a really inconvenient time. I’m kind of attracted to all three, and I have to choose one of them before we leave this house! Strangely the killer takes five-to-ten minute breaks so that I can deliberate over my romantic predicament and let it take center-stage in my life when I should be more worried about where the killer is, how he came back when he was electrocuted in 1995, and why for the love of God there’s a convenient object in every room that could become some sort of murder weapon!

What a weird world I live in.

A while back, I wrote a post about how I was kind of scared of dolls, especially older dolls. Well, it’s been nearly three years since that post, and I’m not sure if that applies so much anymore. I mean yeah, I had a nightmare when I was a kid about a doll that was popular among girls at the time chasing me (great thing about having younger sisters, you know what’s popular among their age group when you spend time with them). And the Goosebumps books about the dummy freaked me out at the time. And anyone who saw the movie Annabelle probably had a healthy fear of human-shaped toys for girls for the next few days (I have a friend who’s been afraid ever since, much to my delight worry).

But am I afraid of dolls in general? Particularly the old ones, dummies, and bisque or porcelain dolls? If I was, I’m not so much anymore. It’d be fairer to say that I find myself fascinated with dolls. They show up in stories I write (good or evil, living or otherwise), they’re in the anime I’m watching these days, and as strange as this sounds, I’m thinking of buying one or two because of their association to said anime (though considering my job and financial status, I’ll probably hold off).

I think the fascination I have derives from where the fear comes from in others. Fear of dolls and other human-like objects, or automatonophobia, has several theorized causes. One of them says that when humans recognize other humans, we expect certain behaviors from them. When something looks human but doesn’t conform to those expected behaviors, we feel fear or repulsion. There’s also the idea that being exposed to negative ideas or portrayals of human-like objects (Chucky from Child’s Play or the Autons from Doctor Who), especially at a young age, can cause bad feelings towards them. And of course, the idea where something looks human but isn’t can scare people badly.

I think for me, instead of revulsion or fear, all those reasons cause me to want to know more. Especially about ones reputedly haunted (I found this article about the market for haunted dolls not too long ago, and I kind of wanted to get in on it, though I’m a little wary about having anything with haunted associations in my house). There’s something about something so small, and so seemingly human but not, and possibly containing some secret soul or knowledge that we can’t truly comprehend, that’s powerful. That’s pretty amazing to me. That’s freaking terrifying! And you know me and terrifying! We’re bosom buddies.

So don’t be surprised if I have a few stories come out that involve dolls of all sorts, that come alive or become the focus for a character’s psychosis. And maybe someday I might actually buy a doll or two, ones that have personal connotations to me or may even have a haunted reputation. You never know.

Anyone else feel that some of these dolls are watching you from the photo?

Anyone else think these things might be watching you from the photo?

What are your thoughts on dolls? Like or dislike? Why or why not?

Let me know, I love to hear your thoughts.

 

Oh, and on an unrelated note, yesterday I had my last class as an undergraduate student. And today I turned in my final essay, for both class and, unless I have to write essays for one of my finals, for my undergraduate career. Two finals next week, and then I’m done. Twelve days to graduation. The road is shortening. Hopefully there will be a job too afterwards. Wish me luck, my Followers of Fear!