Since it's nearly Hallowe'en, I thought I'd take a moment to discuss horror and being scared.
Not too long ago in an article at BBC, Tim Burton said he'd never made a scary movie. The writer may perhaps seem slightly sceptical about this, but I totally agree. Very few of Burton's movies even qualify as 'horror', in my mind, they inhabit a dark, but beautiful, region of their own. But that's beside the point. Mostly I don't think they're scary because I simply don't find fiction scary. And this applies equally to actual horror movies.
I love the horror genre. However, I don't watch/read/play horror to be scared. Because I never really am. Like any sub-genre of fantasy, I enjoy it for interesting stories and 'flights of fancy'. The use of imagination is one of the things I appreciate most in life, and the horror genre often features some of the most imaginative creatures around.
A well written, psychological tale of horror can be quite suspenseful, of course, but that's not the same as being scared. I really enjoy surprising plot twists and feeling slightly mystified, but an action thriller might well cause similar feelings. The genre is simply a question of aesthetics.
Sudden shock effects are a matter of their own. They can give you a delightful jolt of adrenaline, but again I don't think being surprised is the same as being scared. And once the moment is over, things soon get back to normal.
Excessive violence or gore can likewise cause a momentary 'ick' reaction, but again that quickly passes. Gore rarely bothers me much, and the more over-the-top it is, the less it does (gore movies tend to be more comedy than real horror, anyway). It's very realistic violence that probably affects me most, but that's not really the stuff of horror stories, in my mind.
So, whether suspense, shocks or gore, afterwards I have no problem switching the lights off and going to sleep. I almost never have nightmares (as I've written before), and while real life problems might occasionally keep me awake, I don't think fiction has ever done so.
There are some things that can make me feel... uncomfortable, for lack of a better word, but these are not the stuff of horror. Bigotry and totalitarian regimes, for one. Or illness and disease, for another. Essentially, real threats, not the stuff of imagination. And though the realms of fact and fiction do occasionally mingle (you can't write a story without it having some roots in the real world, nor would the real world be worth much if it didn't have so many glorious stories in it), there is a divide between the two.
To be perfectly honest, people who say they're unable to watch horror movies puzzle me. I guess many people's brains are just wired differently from mine. Occasionally I wonder what it would be like to actually be scared by a story. It's like I'm almost missing out on a whole aspect of the genre. But I'm willing to take what I can, and continue to appreciate a good horror story.
So, whether you're a fan of horror or not, have yourself a happy Hallowe'en!