Horror movies and the fear of death

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While working out at the gym tonight I had the misfortune of seeing this—the preview for Saw VI, the latest installment in the wacky, wild, uproarious Saw franchise of child-friendly comedies.

As a kid, growing up on the tough, gang-infested streets of Mahopac, N.Y., I loved horror films. From Friday the 13th to Halloween to Blood Beech, I could only hope my folks would allow me to stay up late and watch the tale of some crazy slasher go Jose Offermann (only with a chainsaw) on a gaggle of near-naked teenage girls. I laughed, I cringed, I hid my eyes behind my hands. It was a blast.

As I’ve aged, however, something has changed. At age 37, I hate the modern horror movies. Part of it is probably just growing up—just as I no longer find Police Academy to be even remotely funny, I no longer have much interest in watching some masked freak boy with a steak knife. But mostly, it relates to death. Today’s horror movies generally lack the camp of yesteryear, and—as a result—take death entirely too, eh, seriously. There’s this ravenous clinching to life; a scratching and clawing and desperation to hang on, as a gun is pointed at the character’s head or a swarm of tigers is released from a cage. The victims aren’t afraid of the actual villains, a la Jason, Mike and Freddie, but of the termination of life. They don’t want to die. They don’t want to die. They don’t want to die.iceman

I wonder what teen-agers think, seeing this. Is death a joke—just something that happens in a movie? Is it real? I’ occasionally think of the scene in Forrest Gump, when Sally Field’s character has reached the end of her days. Her son comes rushing home and appears at her bedside. She looks at him and, with a sparkle in the eye, says, “Death is a part of life. It’s just a part of life.” Although I am working to better cope with the issue of life’s inevitable termination, I agree 100 percent with the Gump-ian sentiment. Death is a part of life. It’s mysterious and scary and remarkable and tragic and poetic—but, at day’s end, something we all approach and confront.

Yet the more we endorse this sense of dread, the more we wind up producing paranoid freakoids … like me.

2 thoughts on “Horror movies and the fear of death”

  1. I wish I could think about death in the same way as the Tigers’ announcer Ernie Harwell. Now, who knows what he says in private. But in his public statements he has been totally accepting of his diagnosis and said, “I’m ready for the next adventure.”

    Maybe some of that comes from being 91 years old. Maybe some of that comes from what seems to be his genuine belief in a higher power. But I am pretty sure I would not react to that kind of a diagnosis with nearly the same amount of composure and equanimity.

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