In a chocolate factory, a child almost drowns, another fills with so much juice she may pop, and a child shrinks to a size so small he’s almost not there at all. A child catcher roams the streets of a small town and lures children away with the promise of lollipops. Then, there’s that tornado that sucks up a girl and her house and leaves her fleeing from a witch and evil flying monkeys. Most of all she’s lost and a long way from home and that can be terrifying enough without the added injection of things trying to kill her.
That latter movie terrified me as a child and, I’ll admit, for an awful lot of my adult years too. Even now, when I watch it, (we all know it’s The Wizard of Oz, right?) I feel a sense of disquiet, as if eight-year-old me shivers inside. I don’t think we ever completely get over what terrified us as children. However, any rational person should be afraid of evil flying monkeys.
Or anything with wings.
Except, The Birds didn’t frighten me at all and I found it quite disappointing. Maybe I should have watched the movie as a child rather than as a cynical adult. It’s so much easier to scare children.
How about the fairytales of wolves eating grandmothers, stepmothers attempting to kill stepdaughters with poisoned apples, of fattening children up so they’ll make for better meals, stealing first-born children and not to mention the poor old Gingerbread Man.
As bizarre as some of these things seem, the horror is that stepmothers do try to kill their stepdaughters, that children may not be fattened up for the table but they’re often starved, that children are stolen, are lured away and I can’t tell you how many gingerbread men I’ve decapitated in my time.
It’s all about how much we care for the protagonist and fear the antagonist. That’s horror for me. I don’t need maniacal killers hiding in cupboards (although they do scare the fuck out of me and I check the wardrobe before going to bed) or the dead climbing out of their graves to eat me (for me, zombies are best served as comedy). Give me an ordinary man holding a balloon, with an over-sweet smile and his hand reaching out to someone small or tall. He can be the most benign fellow in the world, but I’m preconditioned to think he’s up to something very, very bad.
Yes, horror can be in the unlikeliest of places and if you don’t believe me, wait until the circus is next in town and step beneath that lovely candy striped tent with candyfloss in hand and prepare to meet the clowns. Men and women in curly colourful wigs, wearing white make-up and red noses shouldn’t be scary but…
…Thank you, Mr. King. Thank you so very, very much.