No treats here, just lots of tricks.
It’s never too late for a Halloween-related post about the highly relevant topic of fear. Contrary to what our instincts should tell us, most people actually enjoy being scared. We go to horror movies so we can jump in our seats and spew popcorn into the laps of the entire audience. We do exciting things like sky-diving or bungee-jumping for the fear-induced adrenaline rush. Let’s not forget the haunted houses that pop around Halloween for poor saps to tiptoe through only to come out on the other side running like Usain Bolt. As for myself, I quite like horror anime. I know, I know…not exactly number 1 on everyone list of terror. It probably ranks just slightly above “slept in for class” in terms of getting your heart pumping, but anime can scare you in its own way.
I don’t mean to make this a post on anime of the horror genre and leave it at that, because I simply have no watched/read enough to be an even remotely good guide for suggesting new material to others. In fact, I went out and started reading or completed almost everything suggested in last year’s recommendation post by both Metanorn writers and site commenters alike. If I need new horror stuff to get into, I can’t possibly help you guys. Forgive me! What I want to talk about is what makes an anime scary.
This is a purely opinion-based topic, so some explaining of my tastes is in order since not everyone will find the same things scary. I once slit a wriggling mouse’s throat with scissors and then wrapped it in tin foil so I could throw it in the compost bin without caring, but my knees go weak if you put me next to a relatively high ledge and make me look down. Everyone has their own fears and quirks. Starting with what doesn’t affect me, I am nearly immune to gore, hate cheap jump scares, and feel no fear of monsters.
…and some people are scared of doggies
Being a bit of a sadist, gore and senseless violence really does nothing much aside from potentially putting me in a better mood. Not very good for trying to scare someone, right? I’m also looking into becoming a surgeon, so being squeamish around blood is a no-no if I’m the one guiding the scalpel. If you’ve ever been around to read me blogging about a bloody show, you’ll know my reaction is generally that of a typical kid in a candy store: glee. I also have a bit of an opposite (kind of) reaction to jump scares. They piss me off because I have rather sharp reflexes and overreact to any sudden movement. My friends never tap me on the shoulder, because my automatic response is to grab their hand and prepare to attack as I turn around. It’s that bad. I’m always surprised by a ghost popping out of the closet, but I dislike those kinds of cheap thrills. The fear is gone the second I don’t actually have to fend anyone off. My dislike for these surprises may be because instead of screeching and moving away from the screen, I’m putting my fists up and getting ready to punch a hole in my computer. This is what happens when you spend too much time in a dojo, I suppose.
As for monsters, they’re always 10x scarier when they’re not shown. As soon as I see what the monster looks like, it’s almost always dumb. I know it’s not real, and can intellectualize that a werewolf isn’t going to break into my house and eat me. Furthermore, monsters tend to look a lot less threatening in anime than in live action movies, so the effect is further watered down. In fact, I’m usually very unaffected by horror anime or movies in general. Aside from the jump scare thing I explained, I don’t really feel frightened as I’m watching or afterwards. I think something truly scary should give you a few nightmares or at least make you think twice about what’s around the corner when you go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. When it comes to horror anime, I am even less convinced of the power it could have over me. “HAH! I am the great Overcooled and if some REAL LIFE movie can’t phase me then why would little stick-figure with eyes like Bambi ever make me tremble in fear?!”
Oh, such a foolish girl I am to think this every time. It turns out that I do have a bit of a weak spot. Something I never paid much attention to, but something that can tear me up from the inside out for days after watching something. The scariest monster by far…is the human being, for it is capable of the most wretched evils. Next year for Halloween, just go out in whatever you have on now and tell people you are the writhing mass of black hearts beating as one that is humanity (don’t forget to steal candy when they’re distracted by this statement). The next most frightening monster is most certainly death, and any anime that makes me question why I’m alive is inherently threatening.
“…a moment will come, maybe in a month, maybe a year, maybe even several years. You’ll be sick or feeling troubled or deeply in love or quietly uncertain or even content for the first time in your life. It won’t matter. Out of the blue, beyond any cause you can trace, you’ll suddenly realize things are not how you perceived them to be at all. For some reason, you will no longer be the person you believed you once were. You’ll detect slow and subtle shifts going on all around you, more importantly shifts in you. Worse, you’ll realize it’s always been shifting, like a shimmer of sorts, a vast shimmer, only dark like a room. But you won’t understand why or how. You’ll have forgotten what granted you this awareness in the first place. [...] Then no matter where you are, in a crowded restaurant or on some desolate street or even in the comforts of your own home, you’ll watch yourself dismantle every assurance you ever lived by. You’ll stand aside as a great complexity intrudes, tearing apart, piece by piece, all of your carefully conceived denials, whether deliberate or unconscious. And then for better or worse you’ll turn, unable to resist, though try to resist you still will, fighting with everything you’ve got not to face the thing you most dread, what is not, what will be, what has always come before, the creature you truly are, the creature we all are, buried in the nameless black of a name. And then the nightmares will begin.”
-Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves
Re-reading House of Leaves – an old favourite of mine – gave me the idea for this post and helped me actually pinpoint what I found to be genuinely frightening in the medium of horror. This post is one big excuse to talk about it, in fact. If you haven’t read it, I highly suggest that you…you know…READ IT It’s a bit of an unconventional book, but it’s the most chilling piece of media I’ve ever encountered. House of Leaves is the reason I have to shut my door completely at night. But I’m not afraid of ghosts or monsters, I am afraid of the darkness because within it is death. House of Leaves deals mostly with the fear of death, using a dark labyrinth as a metaphor for existentialism. It frightens with the bone-chilling truth of all the wretched things humans must face in life and what horrible creatures we all are. Our mortality, our weakness, our mistakes and our sanity are put on display as a team explores a dark and shifting maze searching for a beast, only to end up turning on each other. The combination of painting humans in the worst light possibility and toying with the notion of death (and how humans will go crazy trying to escape from it) makes me the most frightened. Bone-chilling terror is better than hot and panicked fear, because it stays with you so much longer. For me, this is true fear!
House of Leaves does it best, but there is a similar pattern in the horror anime I enjoy the most. For example, Shiki is one of my top 5 anime and it continues to haunt me. Sure, it has vampires. But I think these types of monsters work well because they are essentially humans who were subject to extenuating circumstances and now require blood every night. The constant tug-of-war battle over whether either side (the Shiki or the humans) is justified in their murders is what always gets to me. They both kill to stay alive, because they have no other choice unless they want to die. Who deserves to die? There is no happy solution to the problems in Shiki, and the fact that we will go to gruesome lengths just to stay alive made the series all the more captivating. Not only do we go to gruesome lengths, we make ourselves think it is the right thing to do in order to feel good about it. Just listening to the soundtrack simultaneously brings on a wave of melancholy and uneasiness.
Another favourite of mine that pulls the bone-chilling horror off quite well is Mononoke. The odd thing about Mononoke is that it’s not really what I’d call a horror anime, but it did make my eyes bulge open rather often. Again, there are supernatural beings involved, but it’s often the more human things that get to me. It’s a show that’s very good at showing the cruelty of humans and spinning it into a wicked tale. Petshop of Horrors does the same thing to a lesser extent, since it never actually got me very riled up. However, it essentially is a collection of folk tales to say “haste makes waste” except that if you’re hasty, a giant bird-girl rips your ribs out and stabs you with them. The best way to learn morals, really.
That’s basically what makes me tick for horror. I’m always a bit wary posting more opinion-type pieces here since this is a team blog and a good portion of you probably don’t even keep track of the different writers. But then again, I still say yes to those 50 questions posts, so why not talk a bit about how I like horror for the Halloween season? I now bring the question back around to you. What scares you the most in horror? What are your favourite horror anime/manga? And if you want to really humour me…what did you dress up as/do for Halloween?
Happy (belated) Halloween! Remember…cavities are also pretty damn scary so don’t devour your candy!