Why We Fear Things that go Bump in the Night

rf-hide-and-seek

Ready or Not

I never climbed into bed as a child without checking under it first. I’d kneel to the floor in the centre of the room to do it, making sure there was enough distance between the bed and me to have a head start in case I had to make a run for it. The closet door had to stay open, too, for fear something might materialize in it during the night and try to get out. I blame Scholastic’s Real Canadian Ghost Stories series. That and the nightmare I had about the ghost that lived in our basement. (Of course, the fact that there was a Hydro field in our backyard beaming EMFs into my brain might also have had something to do with it.)

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As a teen, I played Ouija board with my friends until The Exorcist put a stop to it, read Stephen King, and Peter Straub and Dean Koontz, and relished each and every Freddie and Jason and Michael movie, but was never seriously freaked out until I saw Videodrome and An American Werewolf in London.

As an adult, my fears are of more realistic things–family members sick or dying, school shootings, planes going down (especially with me on them). At some point between hiding under my bedsheets, feeling safe only if all body parts were covered and now, I’ve become immune to the fear of the supernatural in popular culture. Even though I sort of believe in the reality of spirits due to personal experience, I am nevertheless able to watch Ghost Adventures into the wee hours of the morning unaffected.

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Still, I wonder why so many people, including myself, are drawn to horror as a genre and the paranormal in general.

Allegra Ringo, in her article, Why Do Some Brains Enjoy Fear? explains that, when people experience fear, the body releases adrenaline, dopamine and endorphins, in a fight or flight response. It is how our bodies handle these chemicals that determines if we will enjoy a good scare.

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In Why Some People Love Horror Movies While Others Hate Them, Margarita Tartakovsky says it’s because people know the threat isn’t real. People love horror “because they enjoy the adrenaline rush of of being scared while being safe.” She adds that horror, particularly stories involving the supernatural is what scares adults the most. Disease is also an adult fear, which may explain the recent upsurge in zombie fiction.

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The Revenant was a first for me in the genres of young adult and paranormal fiction. In it I explore the horror of having to lead life after death as a mindless  zombie slave, as well as experiment with the blood and gore of a good Walking Dead episode, at the climax of the story.  The scary elements serve as a backdrop to the central themes of good triumphing over evil and persevering in the face of adversity.

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