I’ve loved horror movies since I was a kid, but it’s different now. Horror has changed.
I’ve always enjoyed fantasy, with its implication that there are worlds and creatures unknown and unseen in our daily lives. And within the fantasy realm I’m especially drawn to dark paranormal stories, in the same way my toddler is drawn to the color green: I don’t know the reason, but when I see it I want to pick it up.
And so, back in my ’80s childhood, I picked up The Monster Squad and Poltergiest, Ghostbusters and Fright Night (Chris Sarandon’s demon face leering at me from the cover of the VHS at my video store).
My favorite movies back then intrigued me, startled me, and freaked me out. But, at the very end, they did something else too: they gave me hope. The poltergeist was vanquished, if at least temporarily. The vampire next door who bit your girlfriend met an explosive death in the sunlight. Evil had come out to play, but it didn’t have the last word.
Horror movies have lost their happy endings. When I venture to a scary movie nowadays, I’m often impressed as well as scared by the improved effects, psychological twists, and genre-pushing thrills. But when it’s near the end and I’m ready for my reprieve, a sense that everything will somehow be okay, it gets worse, oh so much worse. The murderer isn’t killed, the ghost lives on. And it kills your mother and your sister and your sanity. Instead of hope, there’s a knife twist.
Maybe this is a genre expectation now, or what hardcore horror fans like. Maybe we want our fear with a side of fear, and then topped off with a thick dripping slice of terror for dessert. Maybe conquering monsters at the end means they weren’t such baddies after all, nothing to be afraid of–and so something we shouldn’t see in a scary movie.
I don’t know. But I miss the stories where the monsters turn to dust when the day breaks.
This post is part of the Halloween 2014 series, featuring my posts and guest posts on all things spooky, from Sherlock to spiders to the scariest stories ever read.