Stories that awaken memories stored in the body

In her essay “Horror Lives in the Body” (Electric Lit, Oct. 10, 2018), Megan Pillow Davis identifies similarities between horror films and camp more generally. Both are “highly stylized and highly artificial. Horror consistently sports a veneer of low light and screeching violins. It’s populated by screaming women and the destroyed bodies of people of color.” These “orgiastic excesses are only matched by pornography,” and indeed, as she quotes director Edgar Wright, horror mimics pornography in having “some kind of splat every 20 minutes.”

In giving so much attention to physical detail, horror “moves beyond the bounds of visual and auditory fear and into the kinetic.” Here lies one of its strengths.

“This is more than just the fight-or-flight response. It’s about the way that the movements in horror echo in our bodies and how we listen to them. The shocks and jumps we experience while watching a horror movie are adrenaline, but they also signal an awakening of our own traumatic experiences, experiences that we are then compelled to relive. This makes the genre, and our bodies under its influence, something akin to a living archive of human trauma, a collection of bodily and psychological horrors, the things that we can often see coming but ultimately cannot escape.”

The horror genre then becomes emotional, Davis writes, as it “infuses violence with a cocktail of other muddled emotions that”—by contrast—”action movies frequently treat in isolation.”

This is important for writers to think about. A story does not only create new memories. It can connect people with the memories already stored in their bodies. In doing so, it is possible to awaken powerful emotions and teach about the strength needed to get through them.

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