As far back as I can remember I have been fascinated by monsters. Not just in film, but in books and art. The first horror film I can consciously remember seeing was The Wolfman, my father's favorite Universal Monster movie. We were living in San Diego at the time, and my Dad had discovered that the film would be airing as part of a "Creature Feature" and insisted I stay up with him to watch it. I was four years old. Though it was years ago, I can still remember the foggy moors of Wales being stalked by a transformed and feral Lon Chaney Jr, cast in shades of silver on my aunt's television screen. That was perhaps the moment that began my fascination with horror, but it wasn't until years later that this film and others like it were put into a valuable context.
I was six and while thrilled by visions of Legosi and Karloff, I was disturbed by the prospect of the existence of their alter-egos. And after some time agonizing over the matter, I decided to ask my mom if monsters were real. Instead of a parental brush off, I received perhaps the most beautiful and terrifying answer of my childhood. She didn't simply tell me "no" and tuck me in. My mother was more poetic than that, she told me: "wolfmen and vampires and Frankenstein's monsters aren't real. But monsters exist in us, human beings. Nazis are real monsters, people who hurt others, are monsters." Credit to my lovely mother for being honest and eloquent, but credit her also with awakening me to the fact that humanity is capable of great terror as well as great beauty. Sometimes the two go hand in hand and it was after this revelation that my exposure to horror in art was given new meaning.
Larry Talbot's lunar activities paralleled part of my family's struggle with alcoholism. The horrors of war and death, felt by my father and uncles during Vietnam, could be mirrored by Ben and Barbara in a farmhouse besieged by the undead. And as the 80s drew to a close, my taste in horror began to shift to more gruesome fare in films about the children of Elm Street, showcasing the consequences of the "Stranger Danger" slogans we all grew up with.
With every film I took in, with every short story I read, I began to see that the brilliance in horror wasn't in the gory details, but in fact, the secrets. The things too shameful for us to admit out loud, the secret evil thoughts we all have are why horror is necessary. It is a dark reflection of our inner most thoughts.
"At first I started back, unable to believe that it was indeed I who was reflected in the mirror;and when I became fully convinced that I was in reality the monster that I am, I was filled with the bitterest sensations of despondence and mortification." -Frankenstein
Horror, in any medium, holds a mirror up to our society and shows us the darkest parts of ourselves. In it, we see allegories for what we are capable of, our fears and weaknesses. They are our modern fairy tales and morality plays. They harken back to the myths of ancient Greece and the Grand Guignol Theatre of Paris. Seeing these monstrosities parade across page, or stage or screen helps us confront ourselves in a healthy way.
And THAT is the value and power of horror. Whether we like it or not, these tales of terror reflect us. In experiencing horror stories, we finally realize that monsters are real and, truly, we are them.