Don't roll your eyes, answer, "...because people like to be scared... it excites us... blah blah." and convince yourself that this is one of those articles. Believe me, I don't like to be scared. In fact, I never dared to read the horror genre until very recently, when I read my first Stephen King book. That too, only because some idiot told me it's not as scary on paper as it is on screen..
For someone who got scared even by the obviously fake white faced, black eyed ghosts in most run-of-the-mill horror movies; and whose only experience with horror fiction involved pathetic childhood encounters with R. L. Stine, King's book was something else. I am, what you call, a classic "scaredy-cat." And this post is about why I love to read horror fiction.
"At last he crept back into bed and pulled the blankets up and watched the shadows thrown by the alien streetlight turn into a sinuous jungle filled with flesheating plants that wanted only to slip around him, squeeze the life out of him, and drag him down into a blackness where one sinister word flashed in red: REDRUM." - Stephen King (The Shining)
It's not like I've ever actually come across the word "Redrum" splattered somewhere in blood, like Danny here. But at night, when I read this, I'll pull the blankets up to my chin and focus my eyes completely on the book, trying to ignore the shadowy trees outside my window. And I'll be just as terrified as Danny is. And you know what I'll tell myself... Such things don't exist? Not really. Something like... "Calm down. It's not like it's happening over here!"
Horror fiction, according to me, anyway, is not about how gory you can be; but, how convincing. The story can star vampires or zombies, spirits and ghouls or just plain crazy people - a horror novel works when the reader believes in it, if only for a second. I mean, I can never be completely sure that there isn't a ghost standing in the next room as I type, wondering what is making the tapping noise. And it's this paranoia that a horror writer gets to play with.
Movies are too definite. When you watch a horror movie, you are watching someone else's nightmare. But yours is always the worst. For instance, spiders or snakes or dark jungle scenes only creep me out - but add a white faced ghost to the equation and bam! I'm scared. In a movie, you'll only see what you're shown. In a book, though, the writer just lays the groundwork; the imagery is up to you. It is up to you to fill in the blanks, and like I said, nothing is scarier than your worst nightmare.
I still maintain, though, that I don't like the fear. But the fear is intriguing. I find it fascinating, that a bunch of words can completely convince me that there is someone standing behind me, watching me read. How they can make me quickly glance back and make sure there isn't. It's horrible, that I can't sleep well for days after I read a particularly scary novel. It's wonderful, that a writer can so effectively do his job.