A few years ago, I was in Salem and making my way through a haunted house experience that has literally blocked out every other haunted house memory I had. A werewolf, which I had assumed was a prop, sprang to life and chased me and my crew out at full speed. People were falling all over the place, scrambling to avoid its grasp, and I still can’t believe I somehow sailed over my fallen comrades, swerving around flailing limbs as the lights streaming through the cracks of the door at the end of the tunnel grew brighter. It was everyone for themselves.
Bursting out of that pitch-black maze, I immediately experienced intense gratification. Pleasure from pain. I had escaped death at the clutches of the wolf-man and lived to regale others with my tale of victory. For five seconds, I was goddamned She-ra. And you better believe that if I saw Hercules waiting for me outside, he would have been the benefactor of my pulsating victory.
A byproduct of fear, commonly overlooked, stems from experiencing a chemical storm in our brains that’s intense, invigorating, and to some that relish in the frightful glee, righteously stimulating. It can shake us to our core, turning us inside out, leaving one with a sensation akin to the face-melting transformation the aforementioned wolf-man experiences every full moon. Adrenaline pumps through our trembling bodies, triggering our central nervous system. Our hearts begin to gallop, our bodies begin to glisten, a madness takes over and…woah. Where’d my shirt go?
That surge of adrenaline is the hormone epinephrine (which increases sympathetic neural activity) which our body involuntarily succumbs to in the throes of flight-or-fight (and, perhaps, fright). We feel alive. Present. Powerful. While we’re struggling to gain footing in this flood of stimuli, we could easily confuse fear for attraction. Primal instinct takes over. Me Tarzan, you Jane. To some, it’s more aphrodisiac than anything else.
Case in point: Bruce Campbell announcing, “This is my boomstick!” in Army of Darkness. Watch the crowd quiver in fear, then draw closer. That sense of sexual arousal triggered by intense experiences is one written deep in our bone. Anyone who has ever been through something beyond the pale of normal interaction, popping out the other side scared half-stupid while simultaneously being more than half-turned on, will recognize the sensation. Personally, I get off on it.
In the film, you see Mr. Campbell blast a demon into the water well, followed by a close-up of Sheila, the sister of a fallen knight, gazing longingly in his direction. Her chest begins to heave from the sordid cocktail of nerve-rattling terror and unabashed hot-pants, ready to offset all the horror surrounding her with earth-shattering sex. If you turned the general pathway of this process demonstrated in the Sam Raimi classic into an equation, it would probably look something like: Fear + Adrenaline Rush + Demon Goes Down = Gimme Some Sugar, Baby.
And opposed to the real evil stuff, it’s the kind of sugar I can totally get down with.