The first book I ever fully committed to reading was Stephen King’s “Carrie,” though it was mostly on accident. I have older siblings who read voraciously anything and everything.
On all the shelves of well-worn books that I would eventually stumble across, I could have just as easily picked up “Anne of Green Gables,” but I didn’t. I picked up the fantastical horror story of a girl with telekinetic powers. This premise, of course, is completely appealing to an eight-year-old.
Forget Ramona Quimby. I wanted to move things with my mind.
From there I began reading all kinds of horror genre books, though mostly sticking close to King at first. Scary cars, scary dogs, scary Indian burial grounds, scary vampires, aliens, and clowns… all of which truly frightened me, but never enough to deter me from reading more. This interest eventually bled into Gothic. Walpole, Shelley, Poe. Of course, I also found movies. Lots of movies. Consequently, I saw “Nightmare on Elm St.” entirely way too young and I am forever damaged from that.
It’s funny, actually. We’re working on the “666 Project” right now at The Push Comedy Theater, and the piece we are directing mocks the movie in one line.
My Pavlovian response is immediate, though. I stiffen a bit at the sound of it.
Isn’t being afraid fascinating? Your palms start to sweat, your breath quickens. You are simultaneously hot and cold. You feel your organs tremble and your heartbeat in your ears. You JUMP!!… but then the laughter comes. You laugh, your friends laugh, strangers join in. The laughter extends, contagious and seismic. It’s silly and completely cathartic.
I was taking a lovely stroll through a haunted trail the other day with my friend Edwin Castillo at my front, barricading me, as I have a tendency to sprint in fear at the first character to jump out. Admittedly, I have improved through the years at containing this flight impulse, but I have never lived down the one time I took off Flo-Jo style. Zoom. Triggering all the scare zones and ruining it for everyone behind me, I ended up alone in the fog wearing glowing bunny ears. A beacon of fear. My screaming, wild abandon, had created a cliched, though real, predicament. Where were my friends? Where was I? It wasn’t until I started understanding to just let the scare happen as intended that I could, one, not only stay with my party but, two, accept on a much larger social level why we collectively submit ourselves to such types of stress.
There is a multitude of ways to define our individual fears. We are all afraid of something. Rooted in our tiny little almond shaped amygdala, our fear register is deep in our brains. Our self-preservation survival tool. Those without it are extremely rare and most likely would not last very long without being able to define true danger. While we can all agree on the broad scope of certain fears, death being the great equalizer, what makes us unique is how we further define the specifics. When the individual mixes their own fear recipe, things get interesting.
Some fear drowning in a car, others falling from a cliff. One time I was told by a friend, “Oh no, I don’t go where there might be big fires.” Now that’s an odd thing to say. Interesting and entertaining.
Humans have based the entirety of our entertainment on five major conflicts: Man vs. Self, Man vs. Man, Man vs. Society, Man vs. Nature, and Man vs. Technology. Further defining these categories can result in everything from extreme comedy to extreme tragedy, and usually these two are only separated by a Goldilocks beat. One beat too long… this moment is funny… one beat too short and it is serious. You have to feel it out to know what is correct for the moment. There is an instance just as such in our “666” piece were we play with that beat involving a drunken mother.
Extending from your inner demons to the ghosts in the machine, humans are afraid. How this fear manifests itself is the main subject of all entertainment. What we classify as horror is merely an exaggeration of that particular conflict. The horror genre is an exploration of a statistical improbability occurring in the most special of circumstances. But we don’t think this way when we watch a movie or read a story. Our fear is visceral. The practicality of it all is inconsequential to our physical response. We are simply afraid and vulnerable.
Be comforted though: this is shared vulnerability. We laugh together. We cry together. We scream in terror together. When we witness each other in this state we are ultimately bonding beyond what words can do. We are accessing our common humanity by experiencing, collectively, our base fears. What may seem unpleasant is in reality the catalyst for connection and compassion. It’s love.
And I do love. I love autumn. I love October. I love Halloween. I love the jumps, the costumes, the friends and, more importantly, all the laughter that follows.
The 666 Project runs October 27, 28, 29 and 30 at The Push Comedy Theater. Shows start at 8pm. Tickets are $15 and are available PushComedyTheater.co