The first Stephen King novel I read, Christine, was chilling, weird, creepy, and strange. But I loved it. The second, Carrie, was even less normal, and I was enthralled by it, too. How could these horror stories of a possessed, homicidal car and a supernatural, misunderstood, vengefully murderous teen be a story for anyone other than pre-pubescent boys?
That is exactly what Stephen King sets out to explain through humor and metaphor—in a startlingly ironic way—in his essay, “Why We Crave Horror Movies.”
Stephen King approaches the subject of why people want to read such freaky absurdity from the angle of horror movies. From this position, he jumps right into his thesis: “When we pay our four or five bucks and seat ourselves at tenth-row center in a theater showing a horror movie, we are daring the nightmare.” In other words, Mr. King says that horror movies are humankind’s method for touching on the baser side of its collective soul.
He illustrates this point most effectively with the gruesome metaphor, which seems to become central to his argument of the thesis: The horror film has become the modern version of the public lynching. (…) The potential lyncher is in all of us (excluding saints, past and present; but then, most saints have been crazy in their own ways), and every now and then, he has to be let loose to scream and roll around in the grass.
In other words, according to Mr. King, the viewers of horror movies are delighting in the pain and agony depicted in the characters—with buttered popcorn, no less—in much the same way that the French proletariat watched the beheadings of the aristocracy during the...