These season breaks are a great opportunity to revisit some of my most popular stories over the past three years. Today's edition was occasioned by the first images from scary movie maker Robert Eggers's Nosferatu, which is being hyped as an "old school Gothic horror" film in the tradition of the 1922 vampire classic of the same name. I don't usually have the stomach for horror, but during the pandemic, and over all manner of terrifying crises since, I have found a weird comfort in this genre. Some of you from this community have echoed my experience. What might this phenomenon tell us about human psychology? (Fun fact: Eggers is married to clinical psychologist Alexandra Shaker, who's known to be a major influence on him.) Go have a read and let me know if it rings true to you as well.
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Fear is like matter. It is neither created, nor destroyed. It only changes form. Fun, joy, happiness. Those feelings you need to work hard to manufacture. Not fear. Fear is always close. It lies just one uncurled toe away.
I've hated manufactured fear, fear as entertainment, for as long as I can remember. In a children's magazine, I read about a young man who spent a night in the Tower of London as a dare; he was haunted by such nightmares that when he woke up next morning, all his hair had turned white. This kind of bravado frustrates me. Why be so desperate to seek out horror when it's coming for us all anyway?
You'd avoid going to the doctor to find out what that lump in your neck is, but you have no problem going down the ladder to the abandoned basement gurgling with the sounds of death, all alone, in the middle of the fucking night? How does that make any sense?
I've mostly ever watched horror movies under peer pressure. Everyone knows it's a bad idea. I dig my nails into whoever is unlucky enough to sit next to me, pre-empt the creakiness of doors and floorboards by parodying the sounds myself, talk constantly and laugh and make predictions loudly so that nothing can catch me by surprise. Horror turns me into a total nuisance.
Which is why this past week has unsettled me. The omens began last Wednesday. As I prepped lunch, I wanted to watch something mindless. It wasn't until half an hour later, when my wife walked into the kitchen to fill a bottle, that it properly dawned on me what I'd decided to watch:
Jordan Peele's Us, the story of Americans' oppressed underground doppelgangers who rise up in revolt, scissors in hand. It's very not mindless. It's also the kind of stuff you couldn't have paid me to watch, and now here I was, chopping onions, frying potatoes, and enthusiastically taking in jump scares, even replaying some scenes again and again to clarify missed details.