Why do we like to be scared? – the psychology of horror

As Halloween quickly approaches, I find myself dipping deeper into the pool of horror films, books and media that always seems to be present, any time of year you go looking for them. I didn’t come to love horror organically, as an over anxious child and teen I was somehow drawn to true crime documentaries, sneaking peeks at the coverage of the OJ Simpson trial, and staying up late to watch E! “Murders of Hollywood”. My first experience with horror movies was staying up in my friends living room, her German Shepard was half blocking my view of The Ring on VHS, which was particularly ironic. So why do we seek out things that scare us, instead of those that comfort us?

The easy answer is : We like to be safe. If we expose ourselves to things that scare us in a safe environment, it’s like going on a roller coaster. Your endorphins spike, your heart rate races, but in two minutes it’s over, you’re back on solid ground. I’d rather know how horrible the world can be so I can prepared for what actually goes bump in the night.

The Horror of It All is a memoir from the front lines of the industry that dissects the hugely popular genre of scary movies.

Horror movies and novels are much the same. People chose entertainment because they want to be affected. You choose a romance novel because you want to feel the giddy rush of love, you choose action because you want to feel excitement. Horror is another sensation driven genre. You want to experience the rush with none of the consequences of the situation, which lets you enjoy the sensation and adrenaline spike. Quoted from a 2004 paper in the Journal of Medical Psychology by Dr. Glen Walters “the three primary factors that make horror films alluring are tension (generated by suspense, mystery, terror, shock, and gore), relevance (that may relate to personal relevance, cultural meaningfulness, the fear of death, etc.), and (somewhat paradoxically given the second factor) unreal-ism.”(Walters, 2004)

So if you’re like me and looking for a thrill (while at the same time being wrapped up in a blanket fort for safety) then you’ve come to the right place for some recommendations. All of the things I recommend are available for checkout at the Cheshire Public Library, so let’s tuck in to my favorite genre:

hereditary_xlg.jpgHereditary  – When Ellen, the matriarch of the Graham family, passes away, her daughter’s family begins to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry. The more they discover, the more they find themselves trying to outrun the sinister fate they seem to have inherited. Making his feature debut, writer-director Ari Aster unleashes a nightmare vision of a domestic breakdown that exhibits the craft and precision of a nascent auteur, transforming a familial tragedy into something ominous and deeply disquieting, and pushing the horror movie into chilling new terrain with its shattering portrait of heritage gone to hell.

This movie is fantastic, Ari Aster is a master of portraying agony in a way I haven’t seen in any other movie thus far. His characters experience the broadest range of emotion, and each scene is raw and beautifully acted. It’s really a treat to watch, both for the performances, and the scares. Prepare to have expectations subverted with this movie, Ari Aster is one to watch as a newcomer to the horror genre, and A24 is producing some outstanding content as well. If you haven’t seen it yet, treat yourself to Hereditary, as well as his newest film, Midsommar.

The Stand – The Stand takes place in a post-apocalyptic world triggered by the breakdown of society following the release of a biological weapon. The weapon is a virulent strain of influenza that decimates the population. It follows a few key characters across the United States, attempting to survive and make peace with the people they’ve become after the world has ended. It has elements of horror, elements of suspense, and in my opinion it’s one of the best post apocalyptic fiction novels ever written. Above all else though, it’s a thoughtful, well paced book. (One can’t have a list of horror titles and not mention King at least once, if not multiple times – The Tommyknockers, Salem’s Lot, The Shining…) The characters feel real and well flushed out, and the antagonist is ominous without becoming comic. It’s my go-to summer read, and I keep a paperback copy in my car at all times, so I can dip back in whenever the mood strikes, which is often.

I saw Gone Girl  before I had read the book (I know, the cardinal sin) and I had no context going into it. Gone girl? Sounds like a witty comedy about a girl who’s traveling cross country! I was very wrong. I had no idea about the twists (which I will keep to myself) and I had no idea what a treat I’d be in for when I read the book. They both play off each-other beautifully, and the book is written with punch and one liners that stick with you. The cool girl speech (look it up) is worth the price of the paperback alone. You should definitely treat yourself to this book, as well as Gillian Flynn’s two other titles Dark Places and Sharp Objects.

If you’re looking for something with real world ties, look no further than the masterpiece that is I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by the late Michelle McNamara. McNamara devoted a larger part of her life to sitting up in her daughters old playroom, surrounded by stuffed animals and tracking who would be come to known as the Golden State Killer. Sure she had a day job, but she also somehow convinced retired detectives from the case to send over boxes of case files. She went over phone records, emails, connected leads to perps, and made some of the most important headway the case had seen since it’s beginning in 1976. The case had been unsolved for ten years, and just recently closed with the arrest of a 73 year old Joseph Deangelo, a retired policeman. The book is well written, well researched, and fascinating if you want to know more about detective work, but never had the stomach to do it yourself. You feel yourself dissecting the facts along with Michelle, and the fact that she died before the case was solved makes the ending all the more poignant. It’s definitely worth the read, especially if you’re a fan of true crime and cases being solved.

Dipping into horror as a person with a chronically small comfort zone is more than just a little ironic. It’s taken me twenty five years to accept that strange part of myself, as a small portion of a largely complex whole. As an artist, a writer, and a creative, I find the darkness just as interesting as the light. Luckily, there are plenty of people who agree with me, and the horror genre is booming. Last summer, horror films accounted for 10% of cinema visits by moviegoers under 30-years-old. I’ll support any genre that encourages its artists and producers to push boundaries and visuals, and luckily, horror is doing just that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coffee – Boosting Brain Power and Late Night Reads

If you’re looking for coffee in Cheshire, you don’t have to stray far to find a good cup. You can go to one of what seems like fifty Dunkin Donuts (or is it just Dunkin now?) or stop in to Cheshire Coffee for one of their seasonal pumpkin spice blends. But as crafty and creative person, I’ve always wanted to perfect the art of brewing my own cup at home. Usually I just pop a pod in the Keurig, and add some overly sweet creamer. But if you’re looking to learn a bit more about coffee, or add some books to your late night reading list, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve gone through the shelves and picked out a healthy selection of books on the art of brewing, and a few thrillers for library night owls like myself.

 

First off we have Craft Coffee : A Manual – Jessica Easto

Written by a coffee enthusiast, for coffee enthusiasts, this beginners guide to craft coffee explores different techniques of coffee making at home. Learn about different techniques, pour over, immersion, and cold brew, using up to ten different devices. This guide also goes over the basics of selecting brew by roast, selecting equipment, and deciphering the coffee bag.

 

Next, if you’re looking for something to keep you up at night, try Stephen King’s The Outsider .

In the aftermath of a boy’s brutal murder in Flint City, a local detective is forced to arrest a popular Little League coach who, in spite of an alibi, presents with open-and-shut evidence that is called into question when the suspect’s true nature and the realities of the crime come to light. King never fails to disappoint, and his latest novel is no different.

 

If you’re more interested in how your coffee gets from the farm, to the store, and to the cup, then Robert W Thurston’s book Coffee – From Bean to Barista is for you.

This engaging guide to coffee explains its history, cultivation, and culture, as well as the major factors influencing the industry today. The first book that coffee lovers naturally will turn to, it will also appeal to anyone interested in globalization, climate change, and social justice. This book has it all, especially if you’re   a person who needs to know every detail about what they enjoy.

 

If you’re looking for a fresh take on thriller, try Gillian Flynn, specifically my favorite of her novels, Gone Girl .

When a beautiful woman goes missing on her fifth wedding anniversary, her diary reveals hidden turmoil in her marriage and a mysterious illness; while her husband, desperate to clear himself of suspicion, realizes that something more disturbing than murder may have occurred. This book is really a treat, the way the author describes her characters makes you both love and hate them at the same time. I didn’t know which characters to hate and which to root for, which is a testament to her writing ability. If this book draws you in, you’re in luck, it’s also a movie! Starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, it’s a faithful adaptation of a great book.

 

Last but not least, it’s important to take a break, smell the roses, and sip the coffee. Check out The Little Book of Fika .

While the Danish concept of hygge as caught on around the globe, so has lagom—its Swedish counterpart. An essential part of the lagom lifestyle, fika is the simple art of taking a break—sometimes twice a day—to enjoy a warm beverage and sweet treat with friends. This delightful gift book offers an introduction to the tradition along with recipes to help you establish your own fika practice.

 

You can find all of these books, and more, at the Cheshire Public Library! Take a mid day Fikagrab a cup of joe and indulge in a good book.

 

Devil in the White City

NOTE: This post deals with a difficult subject matter, serial killers, so if you’re easily disturbed, you might not want to read any further.

A book kept passing through my hands and it seemed intriguing – psychopath, history, award-winning – probably good, and I read it at last. The Devil in the White City  by Erik Larson tells the true story of the great Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, a celebration of Columbus’s 400th anniversary of discovering the new world and an attempt to outdo the 1887 Paris World’s Fair, which amazed the world with the new Eiffel Tower, the tallest structure in the world. The fair covered more than 600 acres – almost six times the size of Disney’s Magic Kingdom – and attracted more than 27 million visitors in its 6 month-run (versus 20 million visitors to Magic Kingdom in 2016). It also chose Tesla’s AC electric current to power it because it was cheaper than Edison’s DC current, cementing the road for America’s future electrical grid.

Chicago was no charming city, known for stink (stockyards), grime (trains and soot), crimes and vice. And in this mix lurked a serial killer, H.H. Holmes. Holmes’s background was a perfect mix of known factors of psychopathic development – strict, cold, abusive parents with severe religious obsession. By the age of 6, Holmes liked to dismember animals, and by his teens was implicated in the death of a young boy but cleared due to the pitiful state of investigations. He fled to Chicago, where he became a con artist, bilking insurance companies, furniture companies, and drug supply stores. He also charmed single ladies, killed them, reduced them to skeletons, and sold them as medical supplies. He built an elaborate hotel nicknamed “The Castle,” complete with gas jets in the rooms, soundproof rooms, and a personal crematorium in his basement. When finally cornered for killing his long-time assistant, Holmes confessed to 29 killings, though only 9 could be proven, but his total might have been as high as 200. He was hung for his crimes. Leonardo DiCaprio bought the film rights to the book, and a film is in production with Martin Scorsese as director (it had a tentative 2017 date, but is still in process).

Serial killers – those that kill large numbers of victims over time – are rare as far as murder goes, but the extent of their crimes garners a lot of press. Connecticut has its own serial killer in Amy Archer Gilligan of Windsor, who killed as many as 48 of her nursing-home patients for insurance claims between 1885 and 1917. Some of the more notorious American serial killers include:

Jeffery Dahmer (1991), who killed (and ate) at least 16 young men and boys. Not a high count for a serial killer,  it was the cannibalism that made him famous. He was beaten to death in prison not long after his conviction. Some things scare even murderers.

John Wayne Gacy (1978), who dressed as a clown for kids’ birthday parties and killed more than 33 men.  Stephen King said “It” was fiction.

Charles Cullen (2003), convicted of 40 murders while he was a nurse, but possibly responsible for up to 400, making him the most prolific not only in New Jersey, but the USA. Carl Watts (1982) was also a nurse, convicted of six murders but possibly as many as 130.

Ted Bundy (1975), one of the most famous and perhaps sickest, who killed more than 30. He decapitated at least 12 victims and kept the heads in his apartment, and often performed sex acts on rotting corpses (I warned you). He was executed in Florida.

Gary Ridgeway (2001)  the “Green River Killer”, with 49 proven deaths, 71 confessions, with a probable total closer to 90.

Ed Gein (1957)– Gein was convicted of only two murders, but if you’re looking at psychopaths, Gein is King. Gein had a bizarre attachment to his mother (back to that cold/abuse/super-religious thing), and would go to graves and dig up women’s bodies, skin them, and save parts attempting to wear his mother. Gein was the inspiration for Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Silence of the Lambs. He was diagnosed as schizophrenic, incompetent, and died in a mental facility.

What predicts a serial killer? Most professionals look for early abuse, neglect, brutality, bullying, and mental illness. Animal cruelty, especially in young children, is a warning sign. Killers are often charismatic (Holmes, Bundy, Jim Jones, too) and manipulative, gaining friendship and trust.  Lack of empathy for their victims is  always present. Some do it for attention, especially media attention. One interesting point: 70% of serial killers had experienced significant head trauma as children; with what we now know about violence among football players and boxers who receive blows to the head, could this be a risk factor?

So hug your kids. Be patient. Be kind to them and to others, and teach them to be kind as well. Take bullying and animal cruelty seriously, and report it to authorities. You don’t know how many lives you might save.

The Best Audiobooks of 2017 (a subjective list)

The editors of AudioFile Magazine have released their selections for Best Audiobooks of 2017. AudioFile is a publication that reviews and recommends audiobooks, taking into account all the things that make an audiobook enjoyable: a great story, of course, but also the skillful pacing, structure, and narration that make them worth listening to.  (Full disclosure: I am a reviewer for AudioFile, mainly for romance books, and I have received free audiobooks from them to provide honest reviews). I have perused the dozens of audiobooks selected as “best”, and winnowed them down to three favorites in six categories, click on the titles to read more about each one. Consider this a jumping off point, audiophiles!

GENERAL FICTION

  • Beartown by Frederik Backman, read by Marin Ireland.
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward, read by Kelvin Harrison, Jr., Rutina Wesley, Chris Chalk.
  • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, read by Nick Offerman, David Sedaris and George Saunders, with a full cast that includes Carrie Brownstein, Don Cheadle, Kat Dennings, Lena Dunham, Bill Hader, Miranda July, Mary Karr, Keegan-Michael Key, Julianne Moore, Megan Mullally, Mike O’Brien, Susan Sarandon, Ben Stiller, Jeffrey Tambor, Jeff Tweedy, Bradley Whitford, Patrick Wilson, and Rainn Wilson.

MYSTERY & SUSPENSE

SCI-FI, FANTASY, HORROR

ROMANCE

YA FICTION

MEMOIR

Childhood Horrors

Sometime ago in the mists of the last century, there were only three TV networks. On holidays, you usually had the choice of a football game, a different football game, or the longest movies the network could find – usually Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Sound of Music.  Chitty, an overly technicolor musical, scared the daylights out of me. As soon as that Childcatcher came prowling, I was behind the sofa holding my breath. Today’s kids would just send his photo to Instagram and beat him up.

Children see things differently. Some are easily spooked, some are skeptical from birth. Kids misunderstand and misinterpret things, and that alone can create unfounded horror.

Obviously, most children’s films try to avoid horror, but what’s marketed to kids is not always Barney and Big Bird – few Grimm’s Fairy Tales end happily ever after. Poltergeist –  ghosts, demons, peeling faces, and evil clowns in child-swallowing glowing closets – was only rated PG. PG, because PG-13 hadn’t been invented yet.

Young Sherlock Holmes (the food nightmare) scarred one of my children; to this day she won’t eat cream puffs. Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! and its disembodied heads was another. Another didn’t trust Nazgûl (nor should you), and was terrified by Matilda. The 1971 Alastair Sim animated A Christmas Carol, with its writhing starving waifs and the faceless, voiceless Ghost of Christmas Future taints every incarnation I’ve seen since.

If your child likes spooky things and wants to be a part of the Addams family, here’s a list of kid’s films – honest! – that just might give your kid the shivers. If you have a child with a more sensitive nature, you might want to wait a few years on these:

Toy Story – Oh, doll-headed spider and hook-bodied Barbie, how we hate you! You may be Pixar, but you’re scary!

Coraline – Creepy button-eyed fake parents trying to steal a child?  Hmm….

Labyrinth – Sure, we adore Bowie, but these are Muppets who steal babies, chase girls with drill bits with intent to kill, and drop people into pits lined with talking disembodied hands. ‘Nuff said.

Something Wicked This Way Comes – Disney likes to whistle and pretend this isn’t theirs, but Ray Bradbury didn’t edit the scariness out of his novel of two boys and an evil carnival run by Mr. Dark, complete with electrocutions and freakshow.

Who Framed Roger RabbitBut this is a comedy! you cry – and it is, until crying Toons get faced with The Dip. Be prepared for a talk on death.

Return to Oz – if the flying monkeys didn’t scare you, perhaps Dorothy’s electroshock treatments will.

Jumanji – sure, it’s a game, but a deadly one. Floors that swallow people are just some of the issues; the intensity and situations may be too much entirely for young viewers.

Harry Potter series – yes, the first one is a charming tale of an orphan boy who learns he’s a wizard, but the stories get darker, and major beloved characters start dying. By the third film, Voldemort is embodied evil and believably out to get Muggles. Like your child.

The Dark CrystalFraggle Rock it’s not. It’s a dark Muppet film with lots of dark themes. Preteens maybe, but there’s no Elmo to lighten it for the little kids.

Gremlins – another movie made before PG-13, so it was stuck with PG. Gremlins are cute little things until you feed them, and then they become psychopathic demons out to harm and kill.  If preteen horror films was a separate genre, this would be one of their cornerstones, along with perhaps The Witches, Watcher in the Woods, and Jaws (which is also only PG).

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – let’s face it, Roald Dahl is almost never nice to children. Here alone, he sucks them up pipes, dumps them down garbage chutes, and has them cornered by very scary men in dark alleys asking them to sell their souls for money. But the crowning touch cited by many critics is the boat ride  scene, all psychedelic and threatening – but that’s the way it is in the book, too – a disorienting journey where everyone believes Wonka’s looney.

Every parent knows their child best. Some kids like a scary movie, some kids will wind up sleeping in your bed for a week with all the lights on. If your kid shows interest in scary movies, these might be a gentler introduction over, say, The Exorcist. Just be aware that even a seemingly wholesome, kid-marketed movie can have some really scary moments when you least expect it.