I have trouble with scary movies. At least certain types of scary movies. They give me nightmares, and I’m the kind of person who, while having a nightmare, climbs out of bed, running around waking up everyone I can find, frantically trying to explain the horrific danger we’re facing and how we have to come up with a plan to deal with the threat now.
I love certain types of scary movie. I could watch the 1931 Dracula, or the ’31 Frankenstein or ’35 Bride of Frankenstein, or the ’32 Mummy over and over and over again. Give me a classic Godzilla any time!
Sometimes while explaining this, I’ve had friends ask how this can be true, when they know I have written some pretty creepy and horrific stuff. Or, as a friend very recently put it, “How can you love Fringe so much? It presents a lot of things far worse than many scary movies you’ve refused to watch!”
Part of the issue is control. If I’m writing the scary stuff, I’m in charge. I can save whoever I want. I can make the bad guy lose when I want and how I want.
To a lesser extent, watching a scary movie (or series) at home on TV or iPad is different in part because I have some control. I can pause or stop the movie when I want. More importantly, if I’m not immersed in the big screen setting without the theatrical sound system it’s easier for me to remember I have control. I’m not trapped in the center of a row of strangers in a dark room. And sometimes just looking away isn’t enough.
There’s also familiarity. Forbidden Planet was one of the first movies to trigger this reaction when I was about five or six years old (it’s the one my Mom still tells stories about), but now, it’s one of my favorite movies of all time. I know how it ends. I know what the monster is and what its limitations are. None of that was true the first time I saw it.
And in Fringe‘s case, there is an additional salvation: there have been very, very, very few scary movies ever made which any character who is even one-tenth as smart as Walter is on the good guys’ side.
Because what’s missing from most nightmares is a hero you’re confident will win the day.