Are You Afraid of the Dark? We Still Are (Among Other Pretty Scary Stuff)

Traci: I’ve always been easily frightened. All you have to do is mention the possibility of a zombie uprising and it’s enough to send me hiding under my covers. I remember seeing that scene from “Star Wars: Episode V” where Darth Vader cuts off Luke’s hand when I was five years old and running to my grandpa’s bedroom in fear that a lightsaber attack by an asthmatic dark lord was imminent.

While those fears are slightly — okay, very — irrational, the only way I can think to justify them is this: There’s a lot of scary shit out there.

With the evening news always describing gruesome scenes and terrifying criminals, the last thing I want to do when I pop in a DVD is watch Freddy Krueger murder children in their dreams. And don’t even talk to me about movies with giant bugs that shouldn’t be giant. A spider in my kitchen is enough for me to handle.

I don’t know where these fears originate, though it’s been suggested that I suffered some sort of trauma at an early age. A friend I used to carpool with in elementary school said that if a person didn’t hold their breath when they passed a cemetery, the undead would come to life. I remember holding my breath every time my mom would drive us down Riverside Boulevard in Sacramento, which happens to hold three cemeteries right next to each other for several blocks. Maybe that’s the trauma people are talking about.

Why do we like getting scared? I think it’s a combination of things, from curiosity to a need for adventure and excitement beyond our daily lives. The adrenaline rush that comes from watching an intense chase scene or from jumping out of your chair when sudden movement happens on the screen is exciting and keeps people wanting more. It’s an escape from the ordinary, a thrilling foray into the unknown.

My horror film-loving friends tell me to get over it but I don’t see that happening, especially now that the world has become an even scarier place. The rising intensity of scary movies doesn’t help either. I admit that I do enjoy a helping of Alfred Hitchcock films here and there, but in 2010, “Psycho” isn’t really considered that scary anymore. Updated special effects have also separated the past from the present: Compare the 1953 “War of the Worlds” with Spielberg’s 2005 film, for example, and I think it’s safe to say that alien invasions in the 21st century are a little more terrifying.

I’ve tried to buy a ticket and take the ride along with the other millions of fear-loving fans out there, but I just can’t will myself to enjoy the adrenaline rush as much as everyone else. I know I’m not alone because I’m positive that there are plenty of people out there who share my anxiety. Sorry, friends, but I won’t be joining your next scary movie outing, unless you want to be holding my hand and convincing me that a serial killer isn’t hiding around the corner for the following week.

Amanda: I’m going to be frank with you: I believe in ghosts. I inherited this belief from my crazy Irish Catholic family and I intend to pass it on to many more generations. I grew up in the morbid embrace of “Goosebumps,” “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” and “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.” Halloween has always been my favorite holiday and I used to rival the Crypt Keeper in my scary story telling abilities.

Despite all this, I am not the brave kid who watches gory horror films with clinical interest. I am, however, the kid who still believes that hiding completely under the covers is the only way to stay safe at night.

A few summers ago, I went in search of old episodes of “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” on YouTube.  I was convinced that they were going to be just as scary as I remembered.

The first episode I found was “The Tale of the Lonely Ghost.”  In it, our protagonist gets trapped in a house haunted by a mute girl in search of her mother. I was utterly unimpressed.

I moved on to “The Tale of Laughing in the Dark.” The moment the story started, I realized that this was the episode that fueled my intense fear of clowns.  In this one, a boy steals the nose of a funhouse clown dummy and his nightmares are haunted by the spirit of the clown who had been burned alive in the funhouse. I cowered in fear on the couch next to my mommy for the next couple of hours after that one.

Apparently I’m a glutton for punishment when it comes to scary things. A friend of mine once informed me of something the Internet likes to call “Creepypasta.” Creepypasta is another one of those wildly popular Internet phenomenons to come out of 4Chan, much like LOLCats, but significantly more terrifying. Encyclopedia Dramatica defines Creepypasta as “short stories designed to unnerve, disturb, elicit a negative emotional response from, and scare the reader.”

Late one night, I went in search of Creepypasta and found a large collection of it.  A few hours later I had read everything I could find and there was no way I was going to ever sleep again. It was suddenly four in the morning and there were rotting corpses and murderous spirits looming in the dark all around me. I was actually spooked long after this fitful night of sleep. A week later, I was still uncomfortable in the dark.

So, why do I subject myself to this? Because I love it. There’s just something about the hair standing up on the back of my neck, that dead chill filling my body and the tears that instantly leak from my eyes in response to scary things. I want to be in those scary movies, running from ghosts and whacking murderers in the face with baseball bats. I want so much for these things to be real, even if I can hardly handle them when they aren’t.