Monday, November 9, 2015
365 Catch Up Elements of Horror: Darkness
We are going old school on this one, primordial even. Most horror stories, with very few exceptions, take place in the darkness. There is a nice, simple reason for this. Evolution. See, when we were cave people, just trying to get by in this workaday world as hunters or gatherers, we were super vulnerable. No stab proof jackets or safety equipment existed. Also, no door locks as there were no doors. And damn our biology but, we have to sleep about once a day or we go insane. The super simple, stupid advantage of light over dark is that one can see in the light and not in the dark. Adoy.
So, imagine you are a cave person and you A) can't see in the dark and B) have to sleep at some point. It just makes sense to sleep when you can't get anything productive done and to be awake while the environment is conducive to you fulfilling your requirements. There is one major drawback, this leaves you totally vulnerable. I kind of have to admire cave man logic here because, you sleep at night and leave yourself vulnerable because you were already vulnerable. All the things you hunt and kill with ease in the day can suddenly hunt you with greater ease when the light goes away. Wolves and giant cats and all sorts of vicious beasts can see you in the dark even though you can't see them. You could stay up all night, trying to fend them off blindly and then sleep when they can still see you or you can get some rest until the sun comes up and the odds become more even.
So, in our primitive minds, dark equals dangerous and light equals safe. Thus it has always been but it may not always be like that. Night time is no longer as dangerous to us. Thanks to electricity, we have lights...lots of lights. We can stay productive after the sun goes down. Hell, we can stay productive 24 hours a day. It is still easier to sneak up on someone in the darkness, but we have drastically reduced the amount of darkness in the world at any given time.
Horror movies love to take the safety of light away from us. This is the informational deficit I was talking about at its most pure. You are getting very limited sensory information in the dark. Literally anything can be in those shadows. My favorite horror movies (like Paranormal Activity or The Orphanage) use deep shadows or lack of visual information to make us scare ourselves. We have this fear of the dark built into us, a good horror story just exploits that. So from the sunless caverns of the Descent to the candle blowing out in the attic in the Exorcist, darkness is the last place you want to be when the monsters come.