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Why We Like Horror: A Critical Analysis.

Nothing sucks the joy out of something fun like a thorough scientific examination. It follows, then, that the Halloween Season, widely recognized as the most fun of all seasons, will take a great deal of sucking before it is rendered joyless, but I am determined to try. I am frequently told I suck a great deal. Only last week my parole officer commented that I could 'suck the chrome off a trailer hitch', but it occurs to me now he may have been speaking of something else. And so I ask the question: Why do we like horror?

This picture of a scientist peering into
a microscope should prove I am serious.

From scary movies to thrill rides, from eerie tales told around the camp fire to kisses from your Great Aunt Helen who appears to be slowly transforming into a 'dude' in her old age, people love to be scared. And this is no recent phenomenon! Cave paintings in Lascaux France clearly depict our ancient ancestors jumping out from behind rocks to frighten their comrades, unless I dreamed that or perhaps made it up. Less deniably, medieval peasants are known to have said the Black Plague was a great deal of fun if you were one of the ones who didn't catch it.

Throughout early recorded history, people have enjoyed public torture and execution as entertainment, but is this because they enjoyed being scared, or because most people are creeps? It must be said that few Christians reported that being eaten alive by lions was fun, and the Romans watching, while certainly entertained, had no real reason to be afraid.

If however, we turn our sights on France in the 1890's, we can examine the practice of inducing fear for the sake of entertainment quite closely by studying "De Teatre Du Grand Guignol". Literally translated "The Theater of the life-sized puppets you can rent by the hour" - disappointed patrons, once inside, found nothing of the sort. They didn't remain disappointed for long though, because it turned out the only thing the French liked better than copulating with large, wooden dolls was simulated mutilation, murder, cannibalism and actors pretending to have forcible sex with large wooden puppets until fountains of fake blood shot out their wooden eyes.

This small French theater looks innocent enough,
but then again, French people pee in the street and eat snails.

Early Grand Guingol plays were shocking only in that they were social realist affairs. They caused quite an uproar simply by presenting whores, criminals, vagrants and other Parisian low life onstage as characters, instead of just waiting outside for the audience to encounter. Soon though, noticing that moments of staged violence seemed to sell a lot more popcorn than plot, dialogue or acting, the owners began measuring success by the number of patrons who fainted during the show. As a publicity stunt, a doctor was hired to treat sensitive audience members. House playwright Andre DeLorde, (called "The Prince of Terror" by the press) collaborated on several plays with his therapist, the experimental psychologist Alfred Binet (called "Alfred Bidet" by schoolyard bullies). For three decades, a series of directors upped the ante with ever more bizarre acts of atrocity and innovative special effects. If you can imagine a Gallagher performance where the front rows are showered not with pulped watermelon, but with fake blood, plaster bone fragments and raw pig intestines, you should tell your therapist so they can increase the dosage of whatever medication it is you take.

A poster for the play "Le Cercueil flottant", which
either means "The Floating Coffin" or "The poorly
designed hair-cutting device malfunctions".

A typical evenings entertainment, "The Lighthouse Keepers", went something like this: Two brothers having sex with prostitutes in a lighthouse accidentally extinguish the beacon. Ironically, their Mother is in a boat which now has no way of seeing the rocks the lighthouse usually illuminates. How do they know this? If I read French I might know, but probably not. They can't run downstairs and yell, as the Drunken Lighthouse keeper is so irresponsible he not only uses the lighthouse as a brothel, he also (for not entirely clear reasons) locks his clients in. One brother goes mad and blames the situation not on his own whoring or the Lighthouse Keeper's pimpish affection for locks, but the fact that one of the whores took the Lord's name in vain early in the first act. He slits her throat and throws her out the window. The Mother's boat crashes, killing all onboard, and the brothers fall into a religious frenzy and set the remaining prostitute on fire. As the lights go down, they pray over her smoldering corpse.

The audiences loved it, just as in modern times people flocked to see terrifying, plotless movies like 'The Texas Chain Saw Massacre', 'Hostel' and 'The Prince of Tides'. The question then and now is, why? Few people enjoy actually being afraid. What schoolchild, when told by a menacing lout that they will 'see him after school' says, "Hey, SWELL!" Who among us, in the instants before an unavoidable, potentially deadly auto accident, finds themselves thinking "Hey, Life, quit flashin' before my eyes, I'm trying to ENJOY THIS!"

I wanted a picture of a terrified driver about to crash, but then I found
this inexplicable picture of a soldier sharing Coke and showing his
tattoo to a Maori warrior and thought you'd want to see it.

Carolyn Palmer, a psychology professor at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie who studies the ways young children understand danger, believes it is because of our innate need to explore and master threatening situations. A well-reasoned theory perhaps, but since I found it by Googling the phrase "Why do people like being scared" and copied the first paragraph without reading it, I don't really know. On the other hand, it was in the New York Times, a source I have never come up with when Googling things like "Asian Tentacle pornography" and "why do people like Gallagher", so can we really consider them a reliable source on terror?

Gallagher fans can be separated into two distinct camps:
Those who enjoy being terrified and wicked retards.

On further analysis, by which I mean actually reading what I cut-and-pasted into the last paragraph, it becomes obvious this theory is what scientists call 'a steaming load of crap' or sometimes 'hooey'. If you want to 'explore and master threatening situations' which would serve you better? Curling up with a DVD of "Dawn of the Dead" or walking naked through a city park at night with a wad of twenties taped to your wiener?

The question shouldn't be "Why do people like being scared?", it should be "Why do people like watching and/or doing stuff that WOULD be scary if not for the fact that they know they are TOTALLY SAFE?" Bungee-jumpers do it for the adrenaline rush, but very few of them will give you money to shove them off a cliff with dental floss strapped to their ankle. It should be taken into account that this holds true even though when talking about bungee-jumpers you are already drawing your statistical sample from a cohort of people that are almost exclusively stupid.

As a pastime, this ranks right up there with
dragging your nuts over a cheese grater.

The reason that people enjoy simulated fear as opposed to real fear is simple: they are pussies. Still, though the actual threat level is very low indeed, Halloween has become a multi million-dollar industry, rivaling Christmas and surpassing Gallagher concerts. Safe or not, the question of why people enjoy simulated fear is still a good one, and I say this because to get paid my article needs to be longer than the 1300 some odd words it is at the moment. Thankfully for all of us, not much longer.

Recent theories suggest that the modern social phenomena of seeking simulated fear for the purposes of entertainment fulfills the same function as religion. In horror and religion, the metaphysical and transcendental merge. Both allow us to explore our own mortality, both examine issues of good and evil, the very disposition of the mortal soul. This theory has many big words in it, but does that make it true? Yes. Ask yourself this: If I tell you a very popular fictional story involves loads of violence and the dead rising from their graves, am I talking about a George Romero movie or the bible? And if I describe a tormented teen who every full moon is transformed into a ravening beast that turns out to be a terrific basketball player, are we talking about Teen Wolf.. or JESUS CHRIST?

1985's thinly veiled cinematic Christian allegory featured
a young Michael J. Fox. Ironically, this film sucks.

Perhaps the question is simply unanswerable. I like this idea because it gets me off the hook as far as a conclusion goes. And the idea of being literally 'on' a hook is, I think we can all agree, pretty scary. I am reminded of an ethnically offensive joke from my childhood that ends with a hideously maimed Asian-American prison escapee saying "Rooky, Rooky, balls on Hooky." Irrelevant, yes, but it still brings a smile to my face, even today, especially if I imagine the joke being told by Gallagher moments before he is inexplicably set upon by gigantic spiders and torn to shrieking pieces as he pleads for his life, pleas that the cold, alien minds of the spiders would find amusing if only they could understand anything beyond the insatiable hunger for living human flesh, which is all they know.

-Max Burbank


You found Scary-Ass Trading Card #2!
*copy this URL down, you'll need it once you've found all 19 cards!*

In the 1972 made for TV movie, "The Night Stalker", Darren McGavin played Carl Kolchak, a down on his luck, wise-ass reporter covering a series of murders that turned out to be the work of a vampire. A series followed in '74, but the premise—Reporter covers mysterious unsolved crimes which invariably turn out to be the work of monsters—turned out to be hard to sustain. Nonetheless, Kolchak left his mark on a generation of 70's kids, among them Chris Carter, the creator of The X-Files, who's said Mulder, Scully and company were inspired by "The Night Stalker".

Find all 19 Series II "Scary-Ass Trading Cards" this September and October (2007) and you'll not only get a special secret final 20th card emailed to you, but you'll automatically be entered to win a Halloween prize pack from I-Mockery! Cards will be placed in random new I-Mockery articles during the months of September and October. Simply copy the URLs of each card down into a text file whenever you find them.

Once you have collected the URLs of all the cards, simply email them to webmaster@i-mockery.com with the subject line "I-Mockery's Scary-Ass Trading Cards!" and you will have the special 20th card emailed to you and you'll be entered to win a Halloween prize pack which may include masks, DVDs and more! Remember, the cards MUST say "Series II" on them or they will not be counted.

Do NOT email the actual card graphics to us. We only want you to email us the URLs of all the cards which you can find directly underneath them.

If you enjoyed this piece, be sure to check out:

Death's Head Terror!


My Daughter's Halloween-Themed Birthday Party!