Welcome back to Horrorhead, a column where we explore the intersection of horror and scifi. I wasn't born a horror movie fan, I made myself one through years of careful practice and studious watching. Everybody has an origin story, and mine begins with the pulsing, gooey strands of sludge that enveloped and destroyed every single point-of-view character in the 1970s version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I was so young that I missed the political allegory about Nixon, and the joke about how Spock plays one of the pod people. I crunched down into the fake velvet movie theater seat, wondering if there was a way to worm out of the narrative but still make it through. My first discovery came then: If I plugged my ears, blocked out the heart-beating soundtrack, I could survive the alien invasion.
I still use this little survival mechanism to get through the scary scenes in movies. It's amazing how covering your ears, rather than your eyes, makes it all much more bearable. Plus, I wouldn't want to miss the best parts: the spatter of gore when the infected lady explodes; the crunch of the monster's gigantic mouth through the annoying dude's neck; the boiling pool of bloodslime where the ladies stab each other with rock-climbing equipment while a monster looks on; the giant alien orgy where some poor sucker gets dissolved and eaten.
So I have trained myself to watch horror movies, using little tools like fingers-in-the-ears and watching so many flicks in the genre that I know what will happen before the director does. And I'm willing to admit that I pay a little price in my electricity bills every month. That's right: I can't sleep without leaving the hall light on. I've got too many excellent eviscerations packed into my imagination to ever sleep soundly again.
Why do I do it? Why do we all do it? Here are five reasons — they may not be good reasons, but I guarantee that they are true.
As I have already pointed out with my little story about Invasion of the Body Snatchers, part of the fun of every horror flick is getting through it alive. I am a firm believer that the right way to watch horror is not to distance yourself from it, but to plunge in and let yourself be completely credulous and scared. Sure the monster in Neil Marshall's amazing spelunking horror flick The Descent was a little cheesy, but watching those women get deeper and deeper into the dark tunnels, more and more lost, squeezing through the claustrophobic, dirty spaces and into madness — if you let yourself feel the horror of the situation, you'll be thrummingly high on relief when the flick ends.
To Take Your Secret Thoughts to Their Most Extreme — and Laugh
When I first saw Stuart Gordon's mad doctor gorefest Re-Animator, it was like a revelation. There were all these gross brain-operation scenes, and headless zombies, and people drooling blood. And that was good, but I'd been over that terrain before. But then came the moment of pure breakout genius. The headless zombie bad guy, whose body carries his head around in a bowling bag, finally kidnaps the lady he's been wanting to hook up with. His body straps the lady to a medical table, and proceeds to jam his severed head between her wiggling legs. He's giving her head! Also, holy crap what the fuck. Director Gordon WENT THERE. I mean, he wasn't afraid to just show you the most fucked up thing he could possibly imagine. How could even your weirdest private thoughts ever seem disturbing once you've laughed at the most fucked-up thing in the universe? Same goes for the moment in Frank Henenlotter's Brain Damage where the main character's penis-shaped parasite hides in his jeans and pops out to eat the brains of a girl who is just trying to give him a nice blowjob. Damn. I will never feel weird about any of my random fantasies ever again, because they can't top what Henenlotter actually committed to film.
To Let Everyone in on Your Nightmares
All of us have dark thoughts, but probably some of us more than others. I'm one of the ones with the ultra-super-dark thoughts — and my dreams are even worse. But the whole situation becomes a hell of a lot more bearable, and even fun, when some of those dark thoughts are realized in film. After all, most of our dark thoughts aren't really unique or special. That's why I will always treasure David Cronenberg's mad gynecologist movie Dead Ringers. Those gynecological tools for mutant women, pictured below? Oh yeah, I imagined stuff like that about twenty million times before I saw them in his flick. And now I can force all my friends to think about them with me when we watch the movie together. Same goes for the lady impregnated by aliens in Slither, who grows to the size of a barn before exploding with all those sperm-shaped baby aliens going everywhere. Sick, but I've dreamed that one too. Welcome to my mind. Nice to have company in here!
To Speak the Unspeakable
It may be hard to articulate what's wrong with your city, your sexuality, or your relationship with your boss. That's why horror does it for you, in grisly, unsparing detail. While the movie Akira is usually billed as pure scifi, anybody who has watched the grotesque physical mutation-explosion of the gangster-psychic Tetsuo at the end knows that it's also a terrifying look at the unspoken but well-known psychological consequences of poverty in the city. And anyone who has ever quietly suspected her boss might be controlling the fabric of reality was rewarded by that scene in The Matrix when Neo is kidnapped by Agent Smith, told to be a good little worker, and then tortured and implanted with a tiny robot while his mouth is sewn shut. In a few months, when Frank Henenlotter's latest movie Bad Biology hits theaters, we're about to get a good dose of inexpressible sexual panic in a tale of a guy whose giant cock is both detachable and addicted to drugs — so it's always running away to score some dope. I know the feeling. But I wouldn't have been able to tell you about it without the help of Henenlotter's film.
To Shove a Big Spiny Stick Up Rationality's Ass
The great part about science horror, full of mad doctors doping themselves with Hyde serum and physics experiments gone wrong, is that they are a slap in the face to so-called rationality. How many times have you heard someone describe the "rational thing to do" and known that it was also the worst, scariest thing to do? Sure, it was "rational" to try to get samples of those aliens in the first Alien flick; and it was "rational" to put that futuristic Prozac in the air of that planet in Serenity that created the rapin, cannibalizin' Reavers; and it was rational to genetically engineer dinosaurs for a cool new theme park in Jurassic Park. All those things were done with pure science in mind (and a little profit). My point? Scientific rationality is great and all, but scifi horror is here to remind you suckas that sometimes you need to check with your ethics and all that mushy crap before experimenting on people's brains or messing around with outer-space superweapons that you don't understand. Your science won't save you when the Hulk comes around to beat your sorry ass.