The Horror Place

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My friend Lauren works at Starbucks. And because she’s worked for years now, and we talk about the job, I’ve learned some things about Starbucks’ corporate philosophies and the ideas which guide the company.

Some of these ideas are, of course, a little laughable (e.g. their commitment to “legendary” service), but others do make a lot of sense.

One that makes the most sense to me is the idea of the third place.

The third place, as I understand it, is that place that you go that is neither work nor home, where you feel known and comfortable, a place that is part of your regular life, a place where you’re free to relax, to hang out, to make new friends and conduct business and personal matters. It’s what Starbucks wants their stores to be.

And say all the bad things you want about Starbucks, but their best stores really do achieve this ideal.

I think something like that third place may be crucial to the true enjoyment of horror movies. Not the third place that’s comfortable and friendly, of course, but a third place for horror, a horror place.

Here’s why.

I almost never find horror movies that I watch at my house, or at friend’s houses, scary. But there sure have been a few movies, even ones that turned out to be bad, that have sent a chill through me in the theater. And as the years have gone by, I’ve found this to be more and more true – I enjoy many movies so much more in the theater.

In the theater, you don’t have to worry about your roommate talking too loudly on the phone, the cat scratching at the door of your room, the neighbors playing their stereos too loud. If you get to the right theater (I recommend matinees, if possible. Fewer kids talking on cell phones), nothing is there to interrupt your connection with the film (for me at least).

And that kind of connection is what, I think, is so vital to truly experiencing a horror movie, to being able to find it scary or chilling or disturbing. At home, all I need to do is look to my left or right during a scary scene and I’ll find something familiar, something safe, something known that will defuse the tension and remind that, in the words of The Last House on the Left poster, “it’s only a movie… it’s only a movie”

In my home, I’m far too safe to feel really afraid of what’s on the screen.

But at a theater, I know hardly anyone and there’s the possibility for strangeness or violence as a result. In the theater, the room is cavernous behind me, and dark, and who knows what lurks in that deep darkness. In the theater, nothing is familiar, nothing is a part of my life which can be used as a rope to pull me back to reality if I need it.

The theater, for me, is the third place, the horror place where I can lose myself in a movie and be truly afraid.

Of course, it’s still a rare movie that frightens me anymore (that’s what I get for a systematic course of macho horror-movie watching in my early teens, I suppose), but if I’m not in the horror place, I have no chance of being scared.

And I liked to get scared.

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