"I had nightmares about Freddy Krueger before I even saw A Nightmare on Elm Street"by Sam Leith / October 15, 2015 / Leave a comment
“If it’s in a word or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook…” On balance, it may not have been the best idea in the world to watch that movie by myself, in the dark, in bed. For those who may have missed it, The Babadook is a low-budget Australian horror movie about a widow, her disturbed six-year-old son and a mysterious, top-hatted monster from a children’s book which invades their house and her collapsing mind. The tension in this film builds until, about halfway through, you wonder why you’re finding it difficult to breathe, and you realise that you’ve crammed your fist into your mouth up to the third knuckle.
Well, I say halfway through. Actually, I was about 20 minutes in when I decided that on reflection, perhaps I’d instead spend the evening watching Wreck It Ralph, a children’s movie about a character from a computer game who wants to win a medal. Watch it—with the door locked and all the lights on—I duly did.
I am in my early forties. What the hell is wrong with me? The Babadook, with its apparatus of creaking doors, black figures, mysterious noises and sinister children’s rhymes is on the face of it no less silly than Wreck It Ralph, and yet—when actually submitting to its spell—I found myself rigid with fright.
What’s more, the following evening I went back and watched The Babadook through. Why? Evidently, I like to be scared. Millions of us do. Stephen King once said that he wrote for the sort of people—adults—who know with absolute certainty that if they stick their foot out of the duvet and place it on the floor beside their bed, a clammy dead hand will not shoot out to grasp their bare ankle, but who don’t stick their foot out of the bed nevertheless, just to be on the safe side.
That seems to me a very good description of the pleasure of the supernatural horror: of being scared not like you’re scared when a mugger pulls a knife on you; rather, scared with the sort of half-pleasurable frisson you get when you’re wading into a cold sea and a wave comes and lifts the water up to your armpits, causing you to yelp.