This week I’ve been training a new person at my day job. He has an issue with personal boundaries – sitting too close, grabbing things, etc. He’s a nice guy, but he doesn’t seem to know where his space ends and my space begins. I never knew this would bother me till now, and it’s made me consider that perhaps the reason horror works is because it breaks those boundaries. Not physical boundaries, of course, but mental ones. It pushes past the point of comfort to make us squirm and wince.
I look at some of the classic monsters – vampires who bite necks, werewolves who savage their victims with claws and teeth, zombies who literally eat you alive. Monsters seem to be all about invading personal boundaries. Then you have your more psychological monsters. Hannibal Lechter, for example, gets in your head. Sure he might also eat your head, but he gets inside first. Even good old Freddy Kruger invades your dreams, one of the most personal parts of you, and while he does physically kill you, he first crosses those boundaries that we all have inside.
I would not say my co-worker is a monster, of course. He is a nice enough guy, even gave me a ride home last week, but he serves well as an example of what good horror should be, pushing through the personal boundaries and into the realm of discomfort. If it doesn’t make you squirm, it’s just not worth reading or watching.