In the spirit of Halloween, let me just say this: I am one of the most horrifying monsters in existence.
No, really, I am.
I am an alien monster who (occasionally) robs George of his free will and makes him do my bidding. He is a slave to me. And whenever I need or want his assistance, there’s no way he can disobey me.
Isn’t that horrifying to you humans?
People have walked out and screamed at movies like “The Exorcist” or “Paranormal Activity,” not because they’re startling, but because they’re unnerving. They tap into very real human fears. But why is this?
Against my better judgment, I allowed George to re-read one of his favorite literary classics, “Nineteen Eighty-Four.” As he read, I examined what he was thinking, and I thought it was a horror novel. George was fearful of the idea of a boot stomping on his face forever, after all.
But when George explained it to me, he didn’t describe it as a horror novel. He saw it as science fiction. And that made me ponder how you guys classify “horror.”
Horror, to me at least, has always meant more than just scary effects or jump scares. Horror taps into what we personally reject and dislike. Horror, at its most basic root, makes people feel uncomfortable with themselves.
This is what makes something like “Silent Hill 2” or the older works of Edgar Allen Poe so terrifying. The monsters in those works are based on ourselves, our feelings and desires. At its best, the genre takes what we try to publicly deny and twists them into something uncanny.
That’s what made “Nineteen Eighty-Four” so scary for George. His very political views are twisted into their most horrifying extreme.
Obviously, I don’t find George Orwell’s work horrifying. The picture he paints is of a dictatorship run by massive idiots. A dictatorship can be done right, as the slug regime proves. To me, “Nineteen Eighty-Four” is more of a parody than horror. But as we’ve seen in the past few weeks, the U.S. government is populated by massive idiots, and that makes a novel like this feel all the more surreal and chilling.
Let’s look at the protagonist of this novel, Winston Smith. Obviously, I’m going to delve into some pretty heavy spoilers here, so if you somehow haven’t read this novel, go and do it.
Orwell described Winston as an everyman that readers could identify with. He’s a worker at a dead-end office gig, who meets a so-called resistance leader and likes their line of thinking. However, he’s deceived and brought into the Ministry of Love for torture, where he breaks under pressure and confesses his love for the novel’s totalitarian regime.
The point of Winston’s character was to show that our pride overestimates ourselves. Readers like to think they can overthrow and rebel (it’s in your very history as Americans), but when put under pressure, they snap. They show their true colors. They easily give in.
The “monster” in this horror story, in a way, “invades” Winston and makes him turn against the ones he loves, turning him into another one of the monster’s minions. By the end, Winston is long dead, replaced by another lifeless, soulless puppet in the novel’s society.
That always sends chills down George’s spine in a way that no other horror story has managed to do. A horror story in which the protagonist wins fails to horrify. A horror story where the protagonist either loses to the monster or is the monster themselves? Now that’s scary.
Monsters like zombies or Cthulhu are frightening at first, but as we’ve seen recently, they’ve also become standard and expected. A monster like Big Brother is always going to be scary.
There’s a line from Friedrich Nietzsche that sums this up quite nicely: “He who fights monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze for too long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”
Happy Halloween, folks. Remember to wear bright colors or lights when you go trick-or-treating. And of course:
RESISTANCE IS FUTILE. EMBRACE THE SEAWOLF SLUG.