By Alison Kemper
I saw my first horror movie, Poltergeist, when I was twelve. Afterwards, I locked my toy clown in the closet. I left my bedroom light on all night. I didn’t sleep well for weeks.
But I was totally ready to watch more scary movies.
Why? What’s the lure of horror flicks? Of terrifying books and video games? Why do we willingly immerse ourselves in nightmare situations? Why do we love to be scared?
The answer seems simple: we enjoy the thrill. Being scared is exciting. No one wants to read a boring book! A romance is more electrifying if the guy might bite the girl and turn her into a vampire. Or if the cute guy who lives down the hall turns out to be a stalker.
But can we take it a step further? Does the lure of horror go beyond the simple thrill? Maybe this genre allows us to explore the worst of life from a completely safe space. We watch and read about awful experiences, but from enough distance to make it bearable—and maybe even learn something in the process.
For example, one of my favorite recent reads was April Henry’s The Body in the Woods, a YA thriller about a serial killer strangling teen girls with a dog leash. Sure it was gruesome, but I learned about new tactics serial killers use to track victims (GPS in a flash drive anyone?). I wondered: does reading horror make us more wary? If the baddies are getting craftier, do we need to stay equally savvy? Would I let my teen daughter read The Body in the Woods in the hopes it’ll make her think twice when she sees an unclaimed flash drive left on a table?
In my new novel, Dead Over Heels, I had fun creating a main character, Ava, who uses her smarts in a horrifying situation. She’s a teen girl from the ‘burbs with allergies so severe she’s spent most of her life indoors, EpiPen at the ready. When a rabies-like infection hits the town where she’s spending Thanksgiving, she’s forced to flee into the forest with a local boy, Cole. She has zero experience in the woods, but is used to being hyperaware of her surroundings—this winds up being a major asset on her adventure. As I wrote, there was something satisfying about translating her strengths into skills that might help her survive a terrifying ordeal.
So what do you think? Do we read (and write) horror for the thrill? Or does it serve a deeper need? Does some part of us hope if we find ourselves in a life-or-death situation we might be as crafty as the characters in novels/movies and manage to escape? I’d love your opinions in the comments below!
About Alison Kemper:
Alison Kemper grew up in South Florida, the only girl on a street with eleven boys. She spent her childhood paddling a canoe through neighborhood canals and looking for adventure. She usually found it. Sometimes the police were involved. And large dogs. And one time, a very territorial snake. She now lives in North Carolina and writes books. The books often include girls having adventures. With boys. Cute boys. And cute dogs too. But no cute snakes. Never cute snakes. Donna of the Dead is her first novel. You can follow Alison on Twitter and check out her website for more info.
Make sure you check out Alison Kemper’s latest novel, Dead Over Heels.
The end of the world just might be their perfect beginning…
Glenview, North Carolina. Also known—at least to sixteen-year-old Ava Pegg—as the Land of Incredibly Boring Vacations. What exactly were her parents thinking when they bought a summer home here? Then the cute-but-really-annoying boy next door shows up at her place in a panic…hollering something about flesh-eating zombies attacking the town.
At first, Ava’s certain that Cole spent a little too much time with his head in the moonshine barrel. But when someone—or something—rotted and terrifying emerges from behind the woodpile, Ava realizes this is no hooch hallucination. The undead are walking in Glenview, and they are hungry. Panicked, Ava and Cole flee into the national forest. No supplies, no weapons. Just two teenagers who don’t even like each other fighting for their lives. But that’s the funny thing about the Zombpocalypse. You never know when you’ll meet your undead end. Or when you’ll fall dead over heels for a boy…