The title may have been click bait, but while I have you, horror really has saved your life whether you realize it or not, of course not in the Caped Crusader sense or even the chemotherapy sense, but in the very way the repulsive taste of rotting meat saves your life by warning you away from ingesting it. Horror is a tool to sharpen our awareness and keep us from fearing things that can’t hurt us, teach us to avoid the things that can hurt us, and helps us strategize a plan for facing the real threats that we face every day.
Ever seen the film from the 70’s Night of the Lepus? If you have not, don’t. It was a failed effort. There are reasons for the film’s failure other than psychology (like the poor script, worse special effects, and just laughable dialog), but the Night of the Lepus’s biggest blunder was having it be about Lepus. Evolution has taught us plenty about how to survive. One key little thing that has been engraved into our genetics is to not fear rabbits. So when they made Night of the Lepus, everybody’s first reaction is always, “Really? Killer rabbits?” The second reaction is to call for the Holy Hand Grenade. This film illustrates the first way horror really helps us grow as people. It helps us to sort out what should be feared and what shouldn’t. This is also where many sequels fail. Halloween 37 for example, or whichever one came right before H20, in that one they tell us that Michael Meyers is actually driven mad by the moon and star alignment on Halloween night. It was such a ridiculous explanation that the movie instantly fell to being on par with the average Scooby Doo episode, with slightly more bloodshed. The suspension of disbelief is more crucial for horror than for any other genre…except maybe erotica. The instant you are able to stop believing you stop fearing.
While discussing the Halloween franchise, the reason the series worked so much better as truly scary films is because being scared of large men in Captain Kirk masks is probably a pretty good idea. Horror exploits those real fears we have and makes us keep them in the forefront of our minds. Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh yes, but don’t forget the bats and spiders and rats. Building terror from the real dangers that we face daily keeps us on our toes. The black plague is often blamed on the rats and mice and with good cause, but they hadn’t acted alone. They were just victims of a bigger culprit: the fleas. Swarms of the black bugs came from the rats and crawled through the body hair, inching their diseased bodies up pants legs and into the tussle of pubic hair before biting down into the skin to drink the blood and spread the walking death. Go ahead and scratch at it, you are already infected. Ah, but the flea itself, like the scurrying rodents, was also just an accomplice. The virus itself was the true culprit, and the thing that most crucially needed to be avoided. Is it any wonder that our makeup has a natural inclination away from all three of these threats? We have grown to avoid them, even though the rat in itself is no more dangerous than a cat or dog or any flea carrying vermin.
The years following the release of the film Jaws had fewer reported shark attacks than any of the years in recent history. The reason was because of the movie. Jaws hit the natural chords in our brains that made us fear sharks, something that the vacationing tourist usually didn’t think about. Jaws brought it to the public’s mind, and the public reacted to it. Shark attacks also became big news, and every lost toe was reported from Portland Oregon to Portland Maine, just to keep the public afraid. The movie was able to capture one of humanity’s genuine fears. The fear has been diminished now, in large part by Sharknado and its bastard offspring. These films lose the suspension of disbelief before they even begin, making the very concept a joke, resulting in a declining respect towards the danger presented by both sharks and tornadoes. Films like Sharknado, while fun, are bad for the psyche and should either be avoided of followed up with Open Water and a Weather Channel specials on sharks and tornado destruction just to balance out the mind.
When a horror novel or film is done well, it should be something that makes you question the choices of the characters and has you thinking of how you would have handled the situation. Would you have taken the chainsaw instead of the machine gun, knowing the demonic rhino had to be decapitated? Would you have burnt the house down with the killer inside and not worried about the damn cat? Would you have taken the ear rings off the old dead lady and melted them into bullets to kill the werewolf? These are good questions to ask yourself, as long as you don’t let it get too far. Most families in America have a zombie apocalypse strategy but not a house fire strategy. That’s a problem. But having a home intruder plan, an attempted abductor plan, or even a S.H.T.F plan is a good idea. Watching and reading quality horror fiction will better prepare you for all possible scenarios.
So yeah, horror has saved your life, or at least it has mine. When I was a child, I used to catch snakes and play with spiders. The horrific scene in the Well of Souls in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the scene with the snake in the mummy’s mouth stopped me from catching snakes. The silly John Goodman movie Arachnophobia actually got me to leave spiders alone. The multitude of ghost stories had me staying away from abandoned buildings. Reading Cujo made me stay away from strange dogs. I’m sure one of those saved my life, but if not there are hundreds of other scenarios I could think of. So embrace the fear this fall, and allow it to steer you to a rational and healthy fear of all that could threaten you.