Is IT scary?

What scares you? As a kid, I was probably scared more by anything that I couldn’t see. Anything that peered out of the darkness at the edge of imagination, outside the frame of the mundane. Ghosts, vampires, witches… All these demons and monsters you hear or read about that could be real.

Now? Not vampires or witches, because my rational mind knows better. Well, sort of. Ghosts or demonic entities… The concept still manages to scare me. Maybe I’ve just seen too many weird things, despite my rational self. And that’s probably why I find films like The Grudge, Ring, or The Haunting of Emily Rose scarier than any vampire or slasher horror story.

I’ve just started watching Twin Peaks: The Return, and that scares me. At least, the opening moments did, with Dale Cooper stuck in the Black Lodge. It’s the weirdness and creepiness of that place… Everyone talking backwards yet forwards. That freakish tree thing – the evolution of the arm, apparently. All that weirdness scares me. The uncanny. The supernatural.

Flying scares me. I’ve never done it. Every time I think about it – try to imagine myself on a plane – I feel like I’m going to flip out and have a panic attack.

Different things scare different people. In literature and film, different modes of horror trigger our unique fears.

I went to see IT with no preconceptions about whether I would be scared or not. I haven’t read the book – which is odd in itself, I know, because I’m a huge King fan; but it’s on my to-read list, I promise! I was scared by the movie to some extent. I’m not frightened of clowns – and if you are, you’ll probably be really freaked out by the film – but Pennywise is scary. The way it talks. The way it lures the boy in at the beginning and… well, I won’t spoil what happens, but it isn’t pretty. The idea that this entity can take any form and turn up any place, any time – that idea scares me.

But the film adaptation didn’t scare many other people in the cinema.

“It didn’t make me jump,” one viewer said.

“I only jumped twice,” another said.

The barometer of fear in the cinema seemed to be measured solely by how many times the film made each person jump. I couldn’t help thinking, Seriously? Well, perhaps, to a point, you can measure fear that way. Someone sneaks up on you and you jump. It’s the unknown again. Who is it? Is it a killer? Those moments are scary, yes. But isn’t there more to horror than how many times it makes you jump?

Look at it this way: when you read a horror novel, there’s nothing to trigger a jump response – a shock. But the imagery can still impact on your sense of fear, and sink into your imagination like a set of vampiric teeth, chewing through your rational mind until it’s severed for a moment.

I jumped once during IT, but it didn’t occur to me that not jumping more often was an issue. I don’t watch horror films hoping or expecting to jump. I was afraid when the child was talking to the demonic clown by the sewer opening, innocently asking for the return of his balloon. Afraid for the child. I was afraid when the kids were venturing into the sewer, later, to find a missing schoolmate. I was afraid for the girl when her dad (a different kind of monster) leered at her, touched her.

I was afraid for the kids. And isn’t it the point of storytelling that we feel for the characters within the tale? It isn’t so much about ourselves.

Jump scares can be a cheap thrill. Something we usually laugh about afterwards, when the lights go up. But a great horror story (like any kind of story) absorbs you, until you’re there, in another silverscreen reality, with these other people, living their lives with them, praying for their survival. It isn’t about you, because you know you’re safe in that chair with that bag of popcorn (which may or may not be now in the hair of the person sitting in front).

So, have you seen IT? What did you think? And what scares you – what do you expect from a horror film?

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