When I was a child I was evil. One of my clearest and earliest memories is of standing at swing-door in my childhood daycare, beckoning a loose toddler to approach the exit so that I could let them free. It was not benevolence: I was curious about what might happen – would they stumble into the streets and end up in the Obituaries? Or find their way home on reflex? It was an experiment of sorts, and a rather gruesome one at that.
A woman caught me – one of the “part-timers” who’d always recognized that something was off about me. She stopped the toddler in her tracks and sent me back to the main room. I was not expelled, or even directly chastised, and my parents never heard of it; Life went on.
The following year, my parents received a phone call from my elementary school. During a game of “Jake The Snake,” I sat down in the corner and began to tell my Physical Education teacher about the most recent installment of the Scream series. I hadn’t seen it, but managed to describe the plot in such vivid detail that she was possessed to drag me to the principal’s office, call my parents, and demand they be more discriminating in what they allowed me to view. My mother showed up, confused, and informed her that I wasn’t even allowed to watch Harry Potter.
Columbine was fresh on everyone’s mind, and overreaction was the norm. But she was onto something without knowing: As I grew older, and my parents grew laxer, I began to track down and watch the films I was barred off from when I was younger: I taped Friday the 13th and watched it on low-volume in the back room of my house while some family friends were over.
It was more liberating than frightening: I saw myself in Jason, or his Mother, although I couldn’t place why. The way that they harmed people was exhilarating – not because they harmed people, but because they did so unembarrassedly; they were What They Were, they didn’t care, they weren’t Sorry For Existing.
I wasn’t either, except in all the ways I was, and I felt less and less like a Human Person with each passing semester. Jason hurt people, because he could, because he was strong, because he was beyond shaping himself into the images his victims might endorse. He was cruel because he owned himself. These were not the subtexts that the filmmakers had mind, presumably, but they were what forged my connection therein. Horror accused me, which I found liberative.
As I got older I got worse. Some deep resentment, towards authority, towards women, towards my parents – mostly towards women – grew louder and more pronounced, and with each passing film I felt more acutely the shrill accusations the horror films I so adored would level at me. It couldn’t be further from the reassuring drawl by which Guidance Counselors and Pulpiteers reassured me that I Was Fine The Way I Was. They did not know me, and they would not want to if they did; But horror films saw through me.
When the day came that I repented of my sins and sought to love my neighbors rather than prey upon them, it was because some Grindhouse Double-Feature trash film insisted, for the thousandth time, that I’m a hop-and-skip away from being a Masked Assailant™, and that I shouldn’t want to be, and that I ought to do something about that. Go and do likewise.
[Featured image is The Wreck of a Transport Ship, c. 1810, by J.M.W. Turner]