On Nightmares and Horror Movies
BY STEFANI MUÑOZ
By the time I finish this piece I’ll still be twenty. Less than a month from now, I’ll have reached that point in my life when, metaphorically, my by- gone days of adolescence will have disappeared into nothingness and my newly born adult self will have emerged. The big twenty-one.
And yet, by that time, despite my newly envisioned metamorphosis into the “real world,” I’ll have been afraid of the dark for the entirety of my twenty-one years of life on this earth. Twen- ty. One. Years. Recently, I purchased a night light online. It was at the top of the “recommended for you” list on Amazon. It wasn’t until later that I realized it was listed under the “children’s” category, a horrifying thought that came to me as I began to plan proper celebrations for my night on the town as a newly recognized, legal adult. Even now I can see its cute little cat-self staring at me from its perch on my shelf. The best part? It’s squishy.
Twenty-one and the idea of a dark room still gives me goosebumps. Oh, did I mention I also get nightmares? Yeah, and lots of them. I have conceded to the fact that Francesca can only do so much (my night light that is– I named her myself.) Because even as she glows, her soft illumination casting muted light over the entirety of my room, the nightmares persist. And even her cute little cat-self can’t calm my nerves after a particularly horrifying dream. I’ve even tried burning sage to quell any fears that I might have of a supernatural impression lurking in my room. Unfortunately, it didn’t do much besides nearly suffocating me with its pungent smoke (I have since converted to the spray form.)
Speaking of nightmares, I love a good horror movie. I once read an essay by Stephen King titled “Why We Crave Horror Movies,” where he eloquently informed his readers that we are all, essentially, sadistic masochists who enjoy watching other people be bludgeoned on the head or terrorized by ghosts in their basements for many different reasons; my favorite being so that we may contain a part of ourselves that may or may not be entirely sane. And while I am apt to think that I, in fact, do not fit into that category (my love of horror movies aside,) I can’t say that he’s entirely wrong either. Case in point, my father laughing hysterically while watching the newest Texas Chainsaw Massacre film a couple years ago and rooting for the messed up guy in the mask every time he chopped someone to bits. My father also immensely enjoyed interior decorating and tiny Christmas trees during the holiday season (I swear he was a nice guy.) I guess there’s just something about seeing another person being terrorized that appeals to some darker part of ourselves.
Not too long ago I began talking to my doctor about my nightmares. She asked a series of questions to which I fired off quick answers and we continued like this, round and round, until she had hit the big ticket item: night terrors. She then began to explain to me the unfortunate consequences of such a thing identified as a sleep disorder, at which point I began to panic as I relived, in retrospect, the last twenty years of my life: my sleepless, nightmare infested life. Twenty years I have suffered with this sleep disorder, of waking up every single night in unexplained terror. What were the chances that they were going to stop anytime soon?
It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I began to think about a few things. Recently I had succumbed to the temptation of a favorite of mine, The Conjuring. It was a few weeks before Halloween, a time when we voluntarily self-induce the heebie jeebies so that we may fully immerse ourselves in the holiday spirit. I found myself scrolling through the pay-per-view section in the dark. At this point it is important to understand that, no, I was not alone (do you really think I’m that brave?) and, yes, a part of me was thoroughly disturbed at the idea of exposing myself to this horrifying, albeit enjoyable, viewing experience. And while I’m sure there is a lot to say about the first circumstance (I can’t even imagine what King might have to say about that) I’m more concerned about the latter. Because how is it that, despite my understanding of my slightly disturbed psyche, I am often apt to torture myself so? I have acknowledged this Achilles heel of mine, there is no denying that.
And yet I still love to watch horror movies. I enjoy the feeling of apprehension and the dose of adrenaline that accompanies it despite having come to the conclusion that, yes, horrifying images do tend to make my night terrors more, well... terrifying. I cannot begin to tell you why or how my night terrors came about. My doctor thinks that at some point, I might have experienced a traumatic event at a young age that would have caused my psyche to react in such a way to this extent. I have assured her plenty of times that I, thankfully, have no recollection of something so terrible occurring that it would have made me the way I am now: this would not be a good time to mention the fact that, because of my nightmares, I would sleep with my mother every single night and inadvertently be exposed to the wonders of the Sci-Fi channel at two in the morning (thank you, Mom.)
All that I can say is, perhaps, Stephen King might have caught on to something here. Perhaps we are all enticed by the objection of moral values within horror films if only so we may satiate a part of us that, as King himself states, “appeals to all that is worst in us.” Perhaps somewhere deep, deep down I enjoy seeing people bludgeoned (dear god I hope not) or I find satisfaction in seeing people in a place that I hope to never be. Perhaps I enjoy facing my fears, telling myself that, despite this, I will not have another night terror. And yet I still find myself, time and time again, to be sorely mistaken.