Diana: “Oh, Anne, I’m so scared.”
Anne: “So am I. Deliciously scared.”
– Anne of Green Gables (TV Miniseries)
I am not a fan of horror movies. I can’t take those…”slasher flicks” I believe they’re called. All that blood and gore and people being cut to bits with a chainsaw.
But I do like to be scared. Deliciously scared. I love that phrase of Anne’s. It’s not in the book, it just appears in the television series but it’s such a good description of the best way of being scared.
All the great masters of fright knew that to truly scare people, you didn’t need horror in the form of violence and intimidation. It could be a mere door that would make your heart beat that little bit faster.
“I was once asked what I thought was the most disquieting thing you could see on the screen and I said, “An open door.” “- Christopher Lee
“Nothing is so frightening as what’s behind the closed door.” – Stephen King
Open or closed, a door leaves you wondering what is behind it or what will come through it. Your heart rises up in your mouth, you hold your breath….
“There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” – Alfred Hitchcock
Yes, the anticipation. Alfred Hitchcock certainly knew his stuff there. The “is what I think is about to happen, about to happen?” nervous thought. And then, because of the suspense, even when what we think is going to happen happens, we still jump out of our seats in fright.
“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” – HP Lovecraft
Recently, we took a Ghost Tour of the local old gaol. Built by convicts when the city was first founded, it’s a place of horrifying injustices and menacing history. The Ghost Tour is conducted at night with only small lanterns for light. To add to the atmosphere, we happened to choose one of the wildest and coldest nights of winter to wander about an old bluestone gaol in the dark. Shivers all round.
The guide shared stories of various inmates and of course tales of those believed to still haunt the place. We were, at times, shut into cells in the dark while frightening stories were told, more often than not ending in a sudden scream.
Were we scared? Of course. Did we love it? Of course we did. In the darkness, we would titter nervously. Jumping at the sudden screams, we would laugh at each other. “My, aren’t we silly?” we would see in each other’s faces and then try not to run as we made our way out of the cells.
It was invigorating.
I’ll confess here that the scary movie that has had the most profound effect on me is The Sixth Sense. The story of a boy who can see dead people haunted me for years. My boys were mere babes at the time and every time one of them screamed unexpectedly in the dark at night, my heart would beat a little faster and I would have to quash the urge to turn on the light.
The Sixth Sense was one of the best movies to play on our fears of the unknown, of the dark, of things we don’t understand. And to play on that thought of “this could really happen”. It wasn’t gory or over the top. The scary scenes were played almost casually. A boy with his head half blown off wanders casually into the child’s lounge room. It was the normality of it that made it all the more frightening.
Doctor Who writer Steven Moffatt is a master of the spine-tingling fear of monsters. The television series has been frightening children for more than 50 years but Moffatt has been responsible for introducing two of the most frightening new monsters the series has ever seen. One is the Weeping Angels (previously written about in this post) and the other is The Silence.
Both of these monsters play on the same fear – that which we know is there but we cannot see. Is there anything more frightening than knowing there is a danger but being unable to see it?
That digs into our deepest childhood fears. The noise of the wind that sounds like a ghost, the dressing gown on the back of the chair that suddenly becomes a crouched man in the dark, the awareness of space under the bed and what might be lurking there.
Pixar tapped right into those deep-seated fears with their movie Monsters Inc. But I can’t help wondering how many children were actually helped by the personification of the monsters that haunt their bedrooms into everyday people who go about their job of scaring small children and who are just as afraid of them.
Scary books are easier to handle. We can stop reading at any time, go and do something else, take the scary bits in small doses. But books are also, therefore, great ones for granting that delicious scare that we love. From Grimm’s Fairy Tales to Stephen King, the opportunity to make our hands go clammy, our hearts beat faster is there for the taking whenever we want it in whatever dose we think we can take.
I rather love to be scared but only in that tingly, caught-breath, delicious way.
Do you like to be scared? What scares you?