RECENTLY I became hooked on one of those vampire series targeted at teenagers, but secretly watched by exhausted women with a wild streak – the ones for whom clean-cut eye candy just isn’t enough.
Halfway through the first episode, in which a supremely gorgeous Damon mutates into a wolverine version of Jack Nicholson’s "The Joker” character, I was closing my eyes to the bloody bits and making tea while waiting for the love scenes, when everybody looks human and happily alive.
Twenty years ago, I wouldn’t have cowered through the violent, terrifying parts in a movie. I had guts then: I could eat popcorn with a straight face while watching several beheadings and axe attacks.
I didn’t go to bed without leaving on the lights, obviously, but being able to stomach hours of horror flicks and actually falling asleep afterwards was impressive enough.
I can’t do it anymore, scary movies. I also feel justified heavily censoring what my daughter watches now, because I know exactly what she’ll do when she hits 14 and sleeps over somewhere – surreptitiously watch The Omen or The Beast or other sensibly age-restricted, badly-named monster movie and never tell me about it.
My friend, Ollie, was the cult queen of horror – we first tasted the depths of fear at her house, where we crowded onto the sofa after supper and waited until the folks were asleep, swapping High School Princess for Nightmare on Elm Street and keeping the sound low, just in case. Didn’t stop her mom from sweeping in, since it’s impossible to mute a histrionic, hormonal bunch of teenage girls watching white-faced, axe-bearing ghouls chasing an equally histrionic, hormonal bunch of teenage girls on-screen.
To this day, there are things I can’t watch or experience because I’ve been tainted by my horror movie days. I won’t wear red and green striped clothes (Freddy from Elm Street); hate convertible cars (Freddy again); will never own a Rottweiler dog ( The Omen featured it as a hound from hell) and didn’t name my son Damian (again, The Omen narrowed my choices).
I also have issues with red raincoats ( crazy blonde children wore them in a cheap, B-grade thriller) and gave away a life-sized doll given to my little girl, because it resembled demonic toy "Chucky” from the movie of the same name. Why I scarred myself, in such random, twisted ways, by watching negative nonsense as a teenager, is beyond me. However, World of Psychology associate editor Margarita Tartakovsky says that there are sensible, scientific reasons why some people can handle horror and others can’t.
She cites studies by communications professor Glenn Sparks, who looks at the biology behind our obsession with blood baths. Many of us are turned on by the excitation transfer process – that lingering feeling of excitement after an event has passed.
Frightening films raise our blood pressure and heart rate, as well as increase our respiration. If we associate this "heightened state” with positive emotions – such as enjoying the time spent with good friends – we’ll want to feel it again and again.
Of course, if your focus is negative – cue my raincoat, black dog, clothing and convertible car phobias, say – you’ll be less likely to rent the sequels.
I feel better about being a romantic sop now, given to watching Downton Abbey of an evening and dreaming of a safe, pretty world of tea parties and freshly-ironed socks.
But if we do ever have a horror fest reunion, Ollie, I’ll put on my big girl panties and do my best. This time, though, I’ll have wine to make it blurry.