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.

 

I (Finally) Read “It”

I am not a fan of horror. I would not shut the shower door for ten years because Kolchak: The Night Stalker scared the daylights out of me. My father’s description of the movie Killdozer made me terrified of construction equipment – as if I wasn’t already, from a preschool nightmare involving dump trucks. I watched the original 1931 Dracula and got a bloody nose in sympathy. I won’t sleep in a room with a vacuum cleaner thanks to Zenna Henderson. I like sleeping at night, and I don’t need any more anxiety in my life. I have kids for that.

ZX0AYe8 It was my mother who got me reading Stephen King. I was about twelve, sick in bed, and Night Shift, his book of short stories, came out. Wouldn’t you know it, the light from the bathroom at night struck every knob on the dresser at just the right angle so each one looked like an eye staring at me, just like the cover story. I only dared read half of them, and never enjoyed going to the dry cleaners again. But I read The Shining (I will NOT go into a hotel bathroom without a light on), read The Stand (his best, I think), Cujo, The Dead Zone (more my style), Firestarter (I needed a book for the train back from Canada) and Christine (Like I didn’t suspect that already). One thing you can say about King without ever reading his books: he doesn’t write short volumes.

Jacket.aspxBut by Christine, I was Kinged out. The books were were getting to be too similar, and I moved on. That was how I missed reading It, the book everyone seems afraid of. I avoided it for the longest time, but it popped up in a series of references this year, and I decided the time had come to tackle it. I’d re-read The Stand, and The Shining, but nothing new of King’s in 30 years.

“It” tells the story of an evil presence that takes over4775612-3278691654-IT.jp the town of Derry, Maine, until a ragtag band of seven misfit children decide to take it on. Although the entity takes the shape of what scares a person most (werewolves, mummies, giant birds, etc), it often lures children to their deaths by taking the shape of a clown, Pennywise. I’ve never been afraid of clowns, though I understand the psychology behind it (like Daleks, you can’t read a clown’s frozen face, and it makes some people uneasy). I’m still not afraid of clowns; but I’m now nervous about balloons. Calling the evil “It” is a brilliant stroke of semantics – think of all the times you use the pronoun It: It was calling me. I tripped over It. It snuck up on me. I’m scared of it. You can’t help it; you can’t escape it. You talk about it all the time. Because you know it’s there. “It” can be anything, and you know it to be true.

But for everything anyone told me about the book, I think this is his worst that I’ve read. He’s written 55 novels, 200 short stories, comic books, films, has awards oozing out his ears – he knows what he’s doing. I don’t mind the back and forth nature of the story, bouncing between 1958 and 1985. The characters and style are classic King, but it is soooo long (1100+ pages), it really, really could have had sections of character description cut. It drags in places. It’s not the length: Game of Thrones is 1200 pages, scatmanbut I read it with more gusto. King’s name-dropping of characters from his other works grated on me. One is cool, but not several. Don’t stick Dick Hallorann in your book, a man with a strong sense of Shining (or, if you’re a Simpsons fan, Shinnin’), and have a catastrophe or a presence about that he doesn’t get ESP on. You laid Hallorann out in detail in The Shining; you let him drift in It. Sometimes the action is too cartoonish: having a victim’s head pop out of a box on a spring and go boing ruins my tension. I understand it might be appropriate to scare a child, but I’m not a child. Dolores Claiborne smashing my ankles with a sledgehammer makes me lie awake in a sweat all night. Cartoon boings don’t. I won’t tell the ending, but after fighting tooth and nail to wade through 1100 pages, I wanted more of a bang for my effort. The original Stand was 800 pages or so, and that ended with a nuclear explosion.

Yeah, yeah, I shouldn’t criticize King because he’s one of the most successful novelists images itof our time, and I don’t disagree with his talent. But perhaps he set his own bar too high. No one – not even Shakespeare – hits the nail of perfection every time. From the man who brought you Stand By Me, The Green Mile, Under the Dome, and so many, many wonderful tales, I just don’t think it’s his best.

What do you think is King’s best work – book or film?

Seven Novels That Will Creep You Out

creepy hand

Do you like the creepiness of Halloween?  Do you like books that scare the dickens out of you?  Here are seven novels that will creep you out.

The Terror by Dan Simmons – The men on board HMS Terror have every expectation of finding the Northwest Passage. When the expedition’s leader, Sir John Franklin, meets a terrible death, Captain Francis Crozier takes command and leads his surviving crewmen on a last, desperate attempt to flee south across the ice. But as another winter approaches, as scurvy and starvation grow more terrible, and as the Terror on the ice stalks them southward, Crozier and his men begin to fear there is no escape. A haunting, gripping story based on actual historical events.

The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper – You won’t be able to put down this spellbinding literary horror story in which a Columbia professor must use his knowledge of demonic mythology to rescue his daughter from the Underworld.

The Last Policemanby Ben H. Winters – A fascinating portrait of a pre-apocalyptic United States. The economy spirals downward while crops rot in the fields. Churches and synagogues are packed. People all over the world are walking off the job—but not Hank Palace. He’s investigating a death by hanging in a city that sees a dozen suicides every week—except this one feels suspicious, and Palace is the only cop who cares.

Your House Is On Fire, Your Children All Goneby Stefan Kiesbye – A village on the Devil‘s Moor: a place untouched by time and shrouded in superstition. There is the grand manor house whose occupants despise the villagers, the small pub whose regulars talk of revenants, the old mill no one dares to mention. This is where four young friends come of age—in an atmosphere thick with fear and suspicion. Their innocent games soon bring them face-to-face with the village‘s darkest secrets in this eerily dispassionate, astonishingly assured novel.

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters –  Dr. Faraday, the son of a maid who has built a life of quiet respectability as a country physician, is called to a patient at lonely Hundreds Hall. Home to the Ayres family for over two centuries, the Georgian house, once impressive and handsome, is now in decline, its masonry crumbling, its gardens choked with weeds, the clock in its stable yard permanently fixed at twenty to nine. Its owners—mother, son, and daughter—are struggling to keep pace with a changing society, as well as with conflicts of their own. But are the Ayreses haunted by something more sinister than a dying way of life? Little does Dr. Faraday know how closely, and how terrifyingly, their story is about to become intimately entwined with his.

A Prayer for the Dying by Stewart O’Nan – One neighbor after another succumbs to a creeping, always fatal disease. Our sole witness to this epidemic is Jacob Hansen,  sheriff, undertaker, and pastor. As the disease engulfs the town, Jacob must find a humane way to govern, as well as take care of his wife and baby daughter.  And what of the tramps slipping nightly through the tinder-dry woods, the spiritualists from the city camped on the edge of town with their charismatic leader Chase? Who-will bury the dead properly, if not Jacob?

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy – An epic novel of the violence and depravity that attended America’s westward expansion.  Based on historical events that took place on the Texas-Mexico border in the 1850s, it traces the fortunes of the Kid, a fourteen-year-old Tennesseean who stumbles into the nightmarish world where Indians are being murdered and the market for their scalps is thriving.