Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Has Fear Ever Made You Feel More Alive?

Much has been made by horror writers, filmmakers, and critics about the attractiveness of the horror genre.  Countless tomes, articles, blogs, and essays have been written on the subject. I even grappled with it a bit in my review of Noel Carroll's The Philosophy of Horror (an excellent work), and wrapped up my thoughts here. You could also Google "Why do people like horror?", and get literally hundreds of results.  

So I'm not going to rehash that all here.

Instead, I'm going to share an experience from my vacation, in which I actually FELT fear, and it made me feel better, afterward.

Now, I'm a pretty boring guy (I think so, anyway). I'd rather read and write most of the time, but I also like spending time with my wife or friends, playing with the kids, or simply mowing and raking the lawn or puttering around in my garden.  And, ironically enough, I've never been much of a horror movie fan.

So consequently, I don't go out of my way, usually, to seek that "fright" experience.  Let's be honest, a scary novel - and it's debatable how many novels can actually SCARE us - can always be put down. A horror movie on TV or DVD can be paused or stopped.  Even a horror movie in the theater can be walked out on.  These are reasons why Noel Carroll, in his work The Philosophy of Horror doesn't totally "buy" the catharsis of simulated fear for these experiences, because we can always "tap out", so to speak, if it gets too scary.

This past week, however, I willingly engaged in an experience that, once in the middle of, was much harder to quit than all the above circumstances. And, believe it or not, it was actually enough to make the heart beat faster, make me breath a little heavier, and experience some really unsettling, fear-like symptoms.

It was a "spooky" wax museum. The "House of Frankenstein Wax Museum", in Lake George, as a matter of fact.

I tried to get Madi or Zack to go in with me - on the ticket taker's assurance that the museum featured no moving parts, just still life - but they wouldn't bite. So, Abby told me to go ahead for myself. I felt a little silly - a little selfish, going on a joyride by myself - but several turns into the tour, I felt a lot less silly.

And just a little bit...disconcerted.  Uneasy.  Dare I say...afraid?

I'll say this, the folks at the House of Frankenstein did a nice job, especially with a bunch of largely inanimate wax statues.  The lighting was perfect, JUST light enough for me to see "something", lots of blind corners, and several spots brightly lit that "faked me out", made me think the tour was over, even though it'd just begun.

I'd round a corner, completely shrouded in darkness...and then a display would light up.  I'd descend a flight of brightly lit, normal looking stairs, expecting it to be over...turn the corner, and once more find things shrouded in darkness.  

The most startling experience was probably the most cliche. I turned a corner and stood at an entrance labeled "Tourist Trap." Now, of course, I'm thinking to myself, "Yeah, right. How lame." Of course, that's what I was thinking on the surface. Being all brave and jaded and grown-up, and all. On the inside, however?

I'm thinking: Oh, crap. I'M a tourist. This was made for ME.

So I walked into the darkness.  Felt the walls change to chain-link fences.  About halfway through, lights started flashing, plastic started rustling...and I saw them.

The bodies.

Shrouded in clear plastic bags, dressed in tourist clothes of all kinds...hanging by their feet from the ceiling. Dozens of them.  

Of course, all wax figures.

But still pretty effective. And even worse than the museum itself was an interesting....hiccup. Fodder for a future story, certainly. See, a father and his reluctant teenage daughter went before me, after much coaxing from the ticket taker.  And somehow, in the first fifteen minutes of the tour, they must've double-backed on me...or something...

Because they disappeared.

And all I could think for the rest of the tour was: Where did they GO!?!

Even the attendant at the end with the walky-talky wasn't quite sure where they went


And you can bet, when that tour was done....WOW. Sounds really corny, but the sun shined just a little bit brighter, the air felt warmer, and I was REALLY happy to catch up with the rest of the family. Literally happy to be alive.

Anyway, though I know it's a holiday and probably a poor day for garnering blog responses... What about you?  Any of you out there experience anything like this? A fear-experience - willing undertaken - that made you feel more alive afterwards?