Why do we love to be frightened? In fact, we love it so much, we pay people to scare us. We watch horror movies, visit haunted attractions, obsess over T.V. shows promising authentic hauntings, and treat the undead like folk heroes.
I guess the fun comes in having a temporary jolt to your heart, the thrill of being taken to the edge of peril, then pulled back, all the while remaining safe. As for myself, I’m guilty as charged. Like most people, I love a good scare.
I remember my very first scare. It was the late 70s, and I was about 7 or 8 years old. My mom had gone to bed, and I, in my infinite wisdom decided to sneak downstairs and watch Creature Feature—a campy horror T.V. show, featuring classic horror movies every Saturday night. It had a ghoulish vampire emcee, Count Gore de Vol that kept me enthralled as he introduced the first horror movie I ever saw, George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.
My initial thought was, “How can a black and white movie be scary?” The blood wouldn’t be scary. It wouldn’t even be red, but I decided to watch anyway. So I sat alone in near darkness, with the only light in the living room coming from the old floor model T.V., and skeptically watched.
I’m so glad I did.
I became deliciously scared, revolted yet fascinated by Romero’s multi-layered storytelling, stark cinematography, and inventive special effects. As frightened as I was, I couldn’t turn away, I had to see the terrible, inevitable end of the hero as he valiantly fought for survival and then succumbed, not to the zombies who craved his flesh but to society’s fear of him.
It wasn’t until decades later, as an adult, that I fully understood the subtext of Night of the Living Dead. Not only did it elevate the horror genre and set a standard, but it captured all the fear, angst, anger, and uncertainty of the Civil Rights/Vietnam Era. It demonstrated, in unsettling detail, that as bad as flesh-eating zombies were, they weren’t the worst predators on screen.
May all your scares be good ones!