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Little Hub of Horrors
I came to pick up my kids after school the other day and they were incredibly spooked by a story they had just heard. It took them some time to finally tell it, because it had shocked and scared them so much. Not sure how the story was shared with them, but it involved an urban legend about a black and white photograph from the 50s showing happy children at a playground. In the background, hidden in a shadow is a very tall, very thin image of a man watching the children. Upon expanding the photograph, as one can these days, it becomes apparent the man is likely over eight feet tall and has no face.
So the story - as they told it to me - is that a man recently discovered this photograph, and started conducting research to find out the background of the image there. He went to the library, he blew up the photograph, he found the scene where the photograph was taken. And then one day he was found eaten. Presumably, by the Slender Man.
And the legend was born.
With very little digging (remember when we actually had to conduct research, before Google?), I discovered the photograph in question, along with several others. I also discovered that the Slender Man was the creation of Victor Surge, who in a 2009 photoshop contest on paranormal pictures, created the image, then built a story upon it. About what you'd expect. To the right are two images of the Slender Man. You may have to click on them to expand to see the image in the background.
The idea of something stalking us somewhere in the shadows, something that's been there for a long time, just waiting for the moment to consume it's innocent, unknowing prey, is pretty darned creepy.
People definitely have a fascination with things that scare us. I've never been much of a horror aficionado, feeling that most anything I've ever seen that fit in that category is a bit silly, gory and implausible. Each of us has something different that feeds our interests; however, so if one's passion is in scream therapy, attending Killercon, or just liking watching goosebumps on one's arms, more power to you!
Some of the first movies made were horror, such as Nosferatu (1922), Lon Chaney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and Phantom of the Opera (1925), Bela Lugosi's Dracula and Boris Karloff's Frankenstein (1931). and many of the more fun ones were the B movie variety, such as The Blob (1958), The Fly (1958), and of course, The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), all of which were re-made for a scare-thirsty modern audience.
"We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones." ~ Steven King
Things that go bump in the night...
And then there are the Urban Legends - those stories that have been passed down for years, whether owing their origins from a Twilight Zone or Hitchhiker episode, or from a Steven King novel. What better way to spend time beside an isolated campfire than to tell ghost stories, to distract campers from the perils of bears and mountain lions, and instead worry about a crazed maniac lurking in the woods. Some of the more popular tales you may have heard (edited for brevity):
- A boy and a girl go to lover's lane, only to hear about an escaped mental patient in the area on the radio, who has a hook for a hand. As the boy advances on her, the girl shrieks and makes him take her home, so he leaves in a huff, drives her home, and when they arrive, they see attached to the door is a severed hook...
- A girl is babysitting for a couple in a large, dark house. She tries watching TV, but there's a creepy clown statue in the corner that seems to be watching her. The couple call to check on the kids and the babysitter complains asks if she can move the statue. "We don't have a clown statue," the father says.
- A man and woman were married over 50 years, and knew everything about each other including being able to reach each other's thoughts. She passed away and was buried in a casket. That night, the man woke up in a sweat, sensing that she was still alive, so he calls the authorities, but is not able to get someone to dig up the grave for several days. When they do, her fingernails are bend and bloodied from trying to claw her way out of the casket.
- Late at night after work, a man is driving home when he sees a young girl hitchhiking alone, so he slows down and picks her up. She thanks him and he takes her to her home. The next day, he realizes she left her sweater in his backseat, so he drives it to the home where he dropped her off. When he knocks on the door and an old woman answers, he shows her the sweater and tells her of the young girl who left it in his car. The old woman responds, "that's my daughter's, but it couldn't have been her, because she's been dead 40 years!"
“There are moments when even to the sober eye of reason, the world of our sad humanity may assume the semblance of Hell. ” ~ Edgar Allen Poe
Top Five Horror Themes
So what is our greatest fear? Judging from the movies that tend to rise to the top of best scary movie polls, there are, as I see it, about five major categories of horror films, which include.
- Demon possession: Child's Play (aka Chucky), Exorcist, Rosemary's Baby, Amityville Horror
- Alien invasion: Alien, Signs, The Blob, War of the Worlds, The Thing
- Psychotic persons: Psycho, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Shining, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Carrie, Wicker Man, Seven, Saw, Silence of the Lambs
- Unnatural phenomena: Jaws, The Birds, The Fly, Christine
- Hauntings and Dead things: Night of the Living Dead, Dracula, Frankenstein, Pet Sematery, The Others, Zombieland
In a nutshell, it's stuff we don't know. You could group demons/devil, aliens, unnatural phenomena, hauntings and dead things into a mega-category of the "supernatural/unexplainable". Which leaves only "just plain crazy", or stories about psychotic persons. Honestly, it's probably the only realistic thing here to fear, because there really are psychotic, unbalanced, crazy people out there. We read about them all the time: Jeffrey Dahmer, Cary Stayner, Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, and the like. Now, I don't believe most of them wore clever masks, or chose gruesome instruments of torture. But they were crazy nonetheless, and we should be afraid of them, or their modern-day counterparts who will unfortunately splash tomorrow's headlines.
“Reality is shaped by the forces that destroy it.” ~ H. Harlan Wilson
“Horror, let's face it, is basically pretty dumb. You're writing about events that are preposterous, and the trick is to dress them up in language so compelling that the reader doesn't care.” ~ T.E.D. Klein
A funny thing happened on the way to the graveyard
For me, the only horror category that interests me are those that make fun of the genre. They are silly and self-aware and don't pretend to be anything other than a parody of themselves. Examples are I Know What You Did Last Summer, Scream, Zombieland, and Shaun of the Dead.
After all, how many times can you experience the camera angle behind the back of the guy's head before you know without a doubt someone's going to attack him from behind? Why does the girl stop and scream when a blood-spattered maniac runs in her direction - do her legs not work?
What's fun about the gore-rich Zombieland is that the characters keep finding new and comically crazy ways of knocking off the flesh-eating Zombies, for whom we're not terribly sympathetic. The best line, after Woody Harrelson's and Jesse Eilenberg's characters, along with two girls, throw Bill Murray's dead body off the balcony and Jesse turns to the others, "Purell anyone?"
We're all different. Scientists say that while the reasons vary, most enjoy horror because it stirs up primal survival emotions by tapping into a part of the brain called the amygdala and gives viewers an adrenaline rush. It also lets folks escape from the mundane circumstances of the moment and feeds their macabre voyeurism - you know, that thing that makes folks want to rubberneck at the scene of an accident.
I'm not sure exactly why I'm not attracted to horror movies, or even to rubbernecking. I suppose I ascribe to the notion of the Buddha: "The whole secret of existence is to have no fear," or Einstein's "The fear of death is the most unjustified of all fears, for there's no risk of accident for someone who's dead."
The point is, this is a temporary journey. And while not my preference, if some slobbery chainsaw-wielding maniac were to corner me, I'd fight back, but if things didn't go my way, I'd call it a day.
"The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time." ~ Mark Twain