Martha Thomases: The Horror! The Horror!

It is more than a little likely that, as you read this, I am getting a root canal.

Dentists terrify me. Not on purpose — they are not the stars of It — but, nonetheless, they fill me with dread.

I’m sure that most people who go into dentistry as a career are motivated by a desire to help others, and yet, when I go to the dentist, I can’t help thinking about this movie and this scene.

A lot (not all!) of horror fiction is about the fear and loathing of our bodies. As children, they frustrate us with their limitations. We can’t fly, and we are not tall enough to reach the cookies. As adults, they frustrate us because they no longer do the things they did when we were younger, like stay awake all night on purpose, or digest spicy food.

I’m not really a fan of horror fiction. My life as an informed citizen has enough horror non-fiction. However, I understand that fiction provides a way for humans to process our fears in a healthy way. And I enjoy Stephen King books, not because they are scary, but because he has a gift for creating characters he seems to really care about. If we didn’t care about them, we wouldn’t be frightened by the threats they face.

(A friend of mine was in a rock band with King, and he says the conversations on the tour bus focused on body functions a lot.)

The horror and thriller genres are, to me, most effective in prose, when I can imagine the threats, or in movies, where a good director (and script) provide surprising jumps. Comics can’t do that, at least not in the same way. Comics can give the reader some vivid imagery, and there is no limit to the amount of blood and gore and mucus the artist renders on the page, but, in the end, it’s just a flat picture. We, the readers, come at these images at our own pace. We can rip them up or throw them across the room if we like.

For me, the primary exception is Alan Moore. From his first Swamp Thing stories, with Stephen Bissette and John Totleben, he made stories that haunted me long after I finished reading. It wasn’t just the insects (although they gave me the icks), but the way he treated the characters’ perceptions of their bodies. The stories inspired not only fear, but disgust and mistrust.

More recently, Moore has explored these issues and this imagery in Providence. I confess that I’m not a big Lovecraft fan, so these books are not my jam. Still, Moore, with Jacen Burrows, gets plenty creepy and ominous, and perhaps you will enjoy it.

There are scary stories about ax murderers and the like, but it is those with threats from within that freak me out the most. As a culture, we especially fear women’s bodies. In modern film, from Rosemary’s Baby to this week’s debut, Mother!, it seems that the men who make most movies are terrified about women’s ability to have babies. What if women decide they don’t want to? What if women want to have babies, but with somebody else? What uncontrollable forces inhabit the bodies of women that allow the creation of other beings?

There aren’t many horror movies from the perspective of the women who might have children, especially when they don’t want them. The closest I can think is Alien and, this day, I can’t watch those movies because I read the comics adaptation first. A monster who plants a fetus in my body against my will that bursts from my chest? No, thank you.

The lesson I learn from horror fiction is that I am responsible for myself, especially my own body and what happens within it. Nothing will make me immortal, alas, but the choices I made about food and exercise and how I go through life are my own. This is why it is so important to me to support Mine!. Without access to health care, people cannot make the choices necessary to live the lives we want. We need to get PAP tests and STD tests and mammograms and birth control. We need pre-natal and post-natal care. Today is the last day you can pledge, and I hope you will.

Any other being that grows in and comes out of my body should only do so with my permission. The alternatives are too frightening.