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Focus on the Frightful: Horror and Loss of Control

We like to be scared. Whether it’s in small, spooky doses or immersing yourself in the depths of the more extreme depths of horror. When we visit haunted houses we are partially relinquishing control over what happens to us. We are giving up that control but in a setting where we do actually still have control. If it gets too scary we can leave. I am, of course, not talking about the extreme ‘haunts’. Horror is similar. We are allowing ourselves to be frightened.

And most horror, when you think about it, boils down to loss of control. I’m not even going to say how young I was when I watched The Exorcist (suffice to say that I was young enough that I thought Regan was stabbing herself in the stomach not…other places) but it was scary. When I got older and watched it as a mother it was frightening in a different way. As a parent, all I could think of was how terrifying it would be and can be to witness something happening to your child and you don’t know what or how to fix it.

Possession stories are the basic story of the loss of control. Something has invaded your body and you’re helpless to stop it. This seems particularly true of the stories where the possession happens and the person is still present mentally, observing the things their body is doing and being used for.

The haunted house is another popular sub-genre of horror. Home is where you’re supposed to be able to feel safe. Where you can lock yourself inside and leave the wold out there and create your own haven. Invasion is a very basic fear. Whether it’s in the form of a human intruder or supernatural. I think that’s why intruder is popular. It’s a form of horror that people can fight back against in a realistic (for the most part) manner. I don’t care for the genre much, myself. Mostly because I read horror for the escape and realistic horror does not interest me much.

Curses are a whole other form of loss of control. Just by virtue of one bad decision or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time you can become ‘infected’ with something you may or may not be able to fix. Most times not. And if you are able to remove it somehow it’s always at great personal risk to yourself or others.

One of the ultimate forms of horror that deals with the loss of control are the monster movie classics: werewolves, vampires, and zombies. In each story or monster, the amount of control you have varies. But, in general, once you’ve become a werewolf, a vampire, or zombie you become the danger to others. I believe this is what shifted werewolves and vampires in fiction from being deadly enemies to be feared to charming, handsome almost-human idols. If you’re almost human and not driven by an overwhelming need to feed your hunger then you’re not as dangerous. It’s tamer, safer. There is still the undercurrent of danger but it’s sublimated into that sexy vamp next door who broods over his hunger for you (literally).

There are plenty more examples that I could give but it all boils down to horror being the loss of control, whether it’s of self, property or environment. It can also be seen as taking back control as well. Horror also gives you the tools to fight back. You can root for the heroine fighting back against the people that have invaded their home, the mother searching out alternate solutions after science has failed or trying to combat the forces of darknes with rituals, spells or silver bullets. Horror is darkness but the darkness is not always all-consuming. Sometimes there’s a light.

Published inFocus on the Frightful
┬ęSci-Fi & Scary 2019
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