It was 2 AM and I was driving over the Appalachian Mountains on a trip from Raleigh, North Carolina to Nashville, Tennessee. The mountainous roads were mostly barren, which made for a nice relaxing drive. The tourists wouldn’t be out for hours, so I appreciated the opportunity to get to my destination without dealing with the idiots who didn’t respect the sharp curves and the space needed to properly stop.
I was steaming music, when suddenly, I hit a dead spot. My cell signal was lost and so was the soft sounds occupying my mind on this dark, quiet night.
After waiting a few moments hoping I’d regain service, I decided to turn on the radio and see what station I might pick up. It took some time, but finally a voice came in clear. It was a talk radio show, something I was not interested in hearing, but my options were limited. So, I allowed the station to play while assuming I’d have cell signal again in just a few miles.
The conversation on the radio was not political in nature, which was a huge relief to me. No, this conversation was about… a Ouija board!? I listened to the host and the caller recite the history of the Ouija board and then someone else called in to tell a story about being haunted by a Ouija board.
Alone, in the middle of the night, with no cell signal in a sparsely populated mountain region of the United States, I felt a feeling of dread beginning to take root. My normal comfort was replaced by a feeling of things being out of control. Help was no longer a phone call away.
I’ve never believed in the power of a Ouija board, but as I carefully drove and listened to the desperation in the caller’s voice, I began to question what I believed. I’d only been disconnected for a few minutes, but I felt like I had entered a Stephen King story. I was isolated, disconnected, and now forced to listen to discussions about the supernatural. It was both terrifying and thrilling all the same.
That was the last time I felt that sort of a fear, the same fear that horror movies gave me as a child. I remember the long, creepy walk to the kitchen for a soda in the middle of the night while watching a horror movie. I’d carefully turn on every light as I made my way from my upstairs bedroom to the kitchen. Then I’d get to the kitchen a take a good look around every corner to make sure nothing was lingering in the shadows. Once I had my drink securely in hand, I’d cut the kitchen light off and sprint to my room, trying to outrun the darkness and whatever may reside within. Once I closed my bedroom door, I was safe, and things were back to normal.
I feel like I’ve been chasing that high ever since I was a child and that one trip over the mountains several years ago, was the last time I truly felt it. The world has connected us in so many ways, that it’s near impossible to feel truly cut off from the world.
I remember renting horror movies at video stores growing up, and the rarer the box, the more I wanted to rent it. I’d sit alone in my bedroom watching some low-budget movie and I felt like I was the only person in the world who’d seen it. It wasn’t for several more years, and the invention of IMDB that I quickly realized I was far from the only person to rent Sleepaway Camp 2.
Horror appealed to me because it was taboo and then because of how it isolated me. It made me feel helpless and alone, and in some strange way that was comforting. It forced me to face my fears and find an inner strength, without the commentary of others. As I grew up, and the fear wore off, my fascination with horror evolved. I went from looking for a scary high to wanting to know more about the motivation behind the stories. I wanted to learn how my favorite movies were crafted and explore different subgenres. I was lucky to have been in high school when DVDs became mainstream, because that opened me up to a world of special features, documentaries, and commentary tracks that gave me an unprecedented look into the world of horror.
What I love and appreciate about horror may have changed over the years, but at the core, I still enjoy watching fucked up shit. Maybe it’s a bit trashy sometimes but horror is fun. Even a bad horror movie can be fun, which is part of what makes the genre so special. You won’t find many people dedicating podcasts or YouTube videos about a terrible drama film, but a bad horror film? Oh, it’ll have a legion of fans and probably merchandise being created.
Horror fandom has always catered towards the outcasts. The people who didn’t quite fit in but most likely didn’t have a problem letting the world know, “We are the weirdos.”
Horror is a movie genre, an emotional response, a community, an analysis of life and death, and whatever else you want it to be. That is what makes it so great.