Just finished watching Friday the 13th Part 2 with my fiancé. She is not exactly what you would call a horror fan, while I, on the other hand, grew up obsessed with horror movies, especially all of the big 80s slashers. When I was little I was terrified of anything remotely horror related, but once I found out how they were made I immediately wanted to be a horror movie makeup artist, presumably because in a way it gave me power over death. The more I knew about the movies, the more I knew they weren’t real and the more power that seemed to give me back.
However, that was before I knew about all of the actual horrors humans have inflicted upon one another, and before I knew death and grief intimately. And trauma. It’s very easy to feel superior watching characters on a screen do dumb things when being chased by whatever the monster is, but a wholly different experience when it’s real life. And of course, the worst demons of all are the ones that live inside of us.
Horror movies have been described by some as a thrill ride, like going on a roller coaster, all for that sense of relief once it’s over and you’ve survived. That’s a very interesting thing to contemplate, because on the surface, it’s very easy to say, “Why would you possibly want to watch a homicidal maniac kill teenagers at a summer camp?” In a lot of ways it’s because we, as the audience, survive, we outwit whatever the monster is and make it through to the end. We win.
Then of course there is the morality play angle. In many ways a lot of the big horror movies, at least in the 80s, were essentially morality plays or modern-day fairytales. If you go back and look at the early fairytales many of them were extremely dark, giving children warnings that there were terrible dangers out there and you had to act in certain “acceptable” ways in order to avoid those dangers. Likewise, how in so many horror movies it was the one virgin – the only pure, untainted one – who survived. They were instructions for how to behave, albeit bloodsoaked ones.
But getting back to the demons inside of us, the only ones that we can never run away from. I’m thinking of this in the guise of a horror movie, and how the more distracted a person is, the more likely they are to be killed. And so it is with our own inner demons. The more that we can be in the present, the more we can keep those demons from coming to the forefront. On the other hand, the more we let ourselves drift into the past or fantasize about the future, we put our mind on autopilot, giving those darker thoughts the ability to come in and take over. And so, enter mindfulness and being in the present moment.
Those internal demons are nothing but stories. If there is an actual demon in front of us we fight, freeze, or flee – all actionable steps taken in the present moment. But when it’s internal, a story, then there is no actionable step we can take other than bringing our minds fully to whatever it is we’re doing. Those stories are just that – not real, not happening to us right now. Yet, when we allow them to run the show we react as if they were real. In order to take back control we have to take back the present. Not the easiest thing to do, but the only way out. If we’re here, dealing with whatever is actually going on, then those devils can’t get us. We’re safe – just like the virgin in the horror flick – even though we might still go through some rough shit. We’ll survive.
Roll credits, and prep the sequel.