My relationship with scary movies – and my relationship with fear in general – has changed a great deal since I started this space over six years ago. Back then, I didn’t care much for horror and for many reasons hadn’t seen many of “the essentials”. Much of this aversion came from what my friend Matthew Price calls “a poor sense of horror”. I didn’t like being afraid…didn’t like the way it made me feel…I struggled with feelings of shame and awkward reminders of being a boy especially susceptible to being spooked.
I felt a lot like what you see in this image: a terrified person struggling mightily to contain the screams his body so dearly wanted to let out.
Then over the last year or two, much of those feelings fell away. They fell away because I started looking through the hands that used to cover my eyes. Where once I would turn away, I forced myself to watch – heart still pounding, breathing still heightened, muttering to myself “it’s only a movie”. Part of why I have taken this new approach was summed up nicely in a book I just read by Marisha Pessl called Night Film. The book revolves around an enigmatic horror film director and the cult of fans that surround him. On the specific feeling of fear, the book suggests:
“Mortal fear is as crucial a thing to our lives as love. It cuts to the core of our being and shows us what we are. Will you step back and cover your eyes? Or will you have the strength to walk to the precipice and look out?”
Not long after reading that book, I arrived at this film – THE TINGLER. Here we have another tale cutting to the core of fear itself. In this gloriously cheeky tale, fear physically manifests as a parasite that grows inside us and wants to do great harm. The fear – or “The Tingler” as it is so gloriously named – is already in us. It preys upon our feelings of tension and slowly takes over from within unless we are able to keep it in check.
But there lays the rub…
One would think that keeping the fear in check would be to summon the guts to keep collected. Fear means not running, not trembling, and certainly not screaming. That’s what we want to try to be, isn’t it? Like Vincent in this image, we will go to great lengths to keep from letting the fear take control. We won’t hide and we certainly won’t scream. But the campy message in THE TINGLER shows us how counterintuitive that is, and that by keeping the fear buried we actually give it more power. By feeling that shame, that awkwardness, we let the fear grow and grab hold. The film wants us to embrace it, to walk within it, and understand that expressing of fear is not just a sign of its affect on us, but on our recognition of that affect. The counter-measure is to declare its affect, this rendering it inert and giving us the ability to move forward.
So I look at this image with fondness. It’s a wonderful totem from one of my favorite first-watches of 2014. It’s a perfect encapsulation of the boy I used to be and the man I was until very recently. And it’s a symbol of what this space has allowed me to become. Once upon a time, I would have been like Vincent there…fighting mightily to control my fear. Lest we think I now possess nerves of steel, I will readily admit that there are some things I still can’t handle. They are becoming fewer though, and further between.
Now for the most part, thanks to many of you and many of the films you’ve nudged me towards, I allow myself to embrace the fear.
I let those screams ring out, and follow them with a wry smile.
It’s a great feeling – thanks for helping me find it.
Here’s three more from THE TINGLER for the road…
This series of posts is inspired by the “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” series at The Film Experience. Do check out all of the awesome entires in their series so far