The Badness of Undeath
It’s an interesting feature of horror films that most people either like them or dislike them for precisely the same reason: they are terrifying. Those who like them enjoy the “rush” of being terrified and those who don’t like them find being frightened distressful, unpleasant, or uncomfortable. Few, if any, enjoy horror films but fail to find them frightening to some degree. One reason that horror scares us is because we have an ability to empathize with characters as they are being chased, slaughtered, mauled, impaled, burned, eaten, or tortured. We can easily imagine what it would be like to be hung on a meat hook by Leatherface while still alive or to have one’s jugular vein sliced by one of Freddy Krueger’s razorsharp “fingers,” and it scares us. Horror films such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and A Nightmare on Elm Street frighten us, in part, by playing on our fear of death. After all death is regarded, at least by most folks, as a bad thing for the person who dies.
While people’s emotional responses toward death range from mild anxiety to all-out panic, there is a scenario that frightens us even more. Films about the Undead, such as Night of the Living Dead, Dracula, Nosferatu, and White Zombie to name a few, trade on this more terrifying prospect: they threaten us with the possibility of becoming Undead ourselves. There is no shortage of examples in zombie and vampire films of characters that either kill themselves or ask others to kill them so as to avoid becoming Undead. Being Undead is generally regarded as a