Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I’m afraid in so many ways


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the Week, Patrick Shearer.

 I want to thank Nat Cassidy for his terrific posts on the topic of theatrical horror.  I'd certainly planned to write about other things (well, truth be told, I wasn't quite sure WHAT I was going to write about this week.  I was just gonna wing it until a topic of interest popped up,) but the serendipity of having such a terrific opening sortie on a subject so near and dear to my heart cannot go un-remarked upon.  It was funny to read Nat's "Monsters and Murderers" post because it was like he was describing my childhood in the suburbs of Los Angeles (even down to having Stephen King in one hand, and Shakespeare in the other).  I know for a fact that we weren’t the only ones, Nat.  So if our dear readers are done with the horror thing, feel free to move along until next week.  We won't be (too) offended. 

I should start by telling you, I’m afraid.  

I’m afraid in so many ways, and always have been.  There were nights growing up when I’d sit on the beach, in the dark, when the sky and the ocean melted into a single mass, into one enormity, and the sheer weight of it terrified me.  And then I’d grasp the immensity of the earth itself by comparison and I’d start to shiver, and then the immensity of space would blow my mind, shorting out my semantic circuit entirely, and I’d just be a tiny quivering mass of tiny jelly on a tiny little beach somewhere in Southern California.  

And that feeling excited me.  

It wasn’t just big philosophical concepts that scared me, either.  (It’s just easier to share that one, cause it makes me seem smart or something, instead of like a coward.)  I was afraid of BOB.  You know, BOB from Twins Peaks?  Scared the holy crap out of me as a young teen, and I still can’t believe they broadcast the final episode of the series on non-cable television.  Those last thirty minutes, man.  Those last thirty minutes.  

I used to have nightmares ALL.  THE.  TIME.  They were awesome.  They were ridiculously coherent.  And they were terrifying because they were real.  I had a dream about a decade ago that looked exactly like that scene in Inception where the ground and the buildings tilt up into the sky?  Except I actually heard the sky (the motherfucking SKY, people) rip open, and when I looked up I could see the street on which I was walking, and could see myself looking back at me, through that enormous tear in the fabric of reality, and I thought with calm, complete certainty: “This is it.  This is the end of everything.  The laws of physics have become no more than suggestions.  And I have to/get to see it.”  

That was right before I woke up sweating, and shaking.  

I’m REALLY afraid of getting into a situation like that guy in 127 Hours where that boulder trapped his arm and he had to cut his arm off with a pocket knife.  (I’m also afraid to go and see that movie because I might throw up or pass out, like all those other people who saw it.)  Can you imagine?  Knowing that you’re going to die unless you do something SERIOUSLY drastic?  And then thinking, “Well, I do have my Swiss Army knife, and it’s got a saw blade on it.  But after I cut through the flesh, and the fat (which, anyone who’s ever eaten a gristly steak will know is not easy to cut through, especially one-handed), AND the muscle -- if I can remain conscious and not drop my knife down this chasm -- will it still be sharp enough to cut through the entire bone?   But then, I have to go through the muscle, and the fat, and the flesh on the other side all over again.  Or I could just sit here and die.”

I probably won’t be seeing that movie.  

But chances are, I’ll be watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  Again.  In the fairly near future.  

It honestly doesn’t surprise me that people sometimes look at me funny when they see my work, or when I tell them what I’m reading or what I’m watching.  I made a short film last year for a friend’s Halloween short film festival.  He told us to push the envelope, so I tried.  To me, my little film was about a romantic couple, and the intensity of their attraction and their passion for each other overspilling the limits of human expression, and how terrifying it is to feel like that.  Of never being able to entirely express yourself, or to feel entirely satisfied.  And of two people trying desperately to reach satisfaction.  

Some people got stuck on her cutting him open and crawling inside of him.  Hey, that’s okay, too.  I’ll go for the gross out.  I’m not proud.*

It wasn’t real, and it’s pretty obviously not real, but I hope it touches on something deep, something visceral and expresses that thing in a way that words couldn’t quite achieve.

When I was young, it was in attempting to face all these debilitating fears that I watched horror movies, and read Stephen King, and Peter Straub, and Ramsey Campbell, and Clive Barker, and Shirley Jackson, and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, and Anne Rice, and H.P. Lovecraft.  I never liked roller coasters, but I loved
Fright Night.  And that led to The Exorcist, and on and on.  Adults thought it was weird, and looked at me funny, and gave me the third degree, and I was eventually cornered into finding an explanation for why I liked these things.  It happened late, but I’m told that’s better than never.  

I was one of those sad sacks that actually caught
The Blair Witch Project early, before the hype, before anyone even knew anything about it.  I knew from the first frame that this wasn’t ACTUALLY found footage, but it didn’t matter.  During those last 10 minutes or so, my friend and I (at the tender age of 21, far too old to be acting like this) had our arms wrapped tightly around one another, literally shaking in the oppressive dark of the theater. Neither of us slept that night.  We were both mildly tramautized.  H.P. Lovecraft would have called people like us “of a sensitive nature” and the prime audience for weird tales.  

But that night, driving to a coffee shop because neither of us could face being alone, the shadows had never been darker or more impenetrable, and the street lights had never been brighter to my eyes.  

And that’s why I’m attracted to these dark subjects.  Because after you’ve spent some time down there in the dark basement of human imagination, when you come back out you tend to appreciate the light a little more.  The happier stuff -- which I just find to be cloying under different circumstances -- becomes tolerable, and even welcome.  It makes me feel glad to be alive.  It’s the most tried and true way for me personally, in this day and age, to experience what I believe to be actual catharsis.  

And despite everything else, the experience of fear is still as sharp as it ever was in most of our population (for good or for ill.)  

I’m a big fan of genre, but I think this kind of horror is beyond genre, as Nat and some of our commenters have noted.  I think it gets to the essence of who we are as a species.  As the great bard Terrence McKenna has said, “We have one foot in angelhood and one foot in the identity of a carnivorous ape, and the tension between these two on a global scale is excruciating.”  Horror is about staring into the face of the carnivorous ape and accept that it's you, and I’m so grateful to be able to do that in front of a live audience.

There’s something very important about being locked in a dark room with the human ape.  

Tomorrow, we can talk about the dangers of making the ape dance...

*10 points if you recognize that quote.  


1 comment:

  1. Aw, dude, I'm all kinds of ridiculously excited that you're up next. Thanks for the kind words, my friend - if anyone is done with this topic and moves on to a different blog now, they are a foolishly foolhardy fool. Lovely first post.

    And I have a rather darkly hilarious BOB story I'll have to share with you sometime when it's not being recorded on the interweb for all eternity . . .