Are ghosts terrifying or horrifying? Perhaps both. It depends on the ghost and the person reading or viewing the ghost, or whether the reader or even author believes ghosts are real or figure of someone’s imagination. In Richard Matheson’s “Hell House” when “Florence shrank into her chair as another serving dish began to skid across the table, headed for Barrett” is evidently an example of a terrifying ghost, or at least this person is terrified but what she believes is a ghost haunting her. Pretending it is indeed a ghost, it is evidently angry with Barret. So, it may be a bad or evil spirit. However, what if Barrett deserves to have a serving dish thrown at him? Then the aggressive spirit becomes heroic to the reader. There is the ghost trapped between two worlds: the living and the afterlife. Then there is the ghost that comes back from the spirit world to seek revenge on a person or people who did him or her wrong when the person was alive; and the ghost that takes possession of a house, building, land and scares or/and kills anyone who sets foot in it. Ghosts, whether one accepts them to exist or not, have been a famous and/or infamous part of stories in books and film that terrorize, bewilder, and yet fascinate readers and viewers.
One who sees the ghosts as some vengeful spirit or that is haunting someone like in “Hell House” or the “Poltergeist” will probably perceive it as both terrifying and horrifying. Fear produces the terror, while horror may come from the consequences of how the person reacts to the particular spirit. Which one comes first, the horror or the terror? Maybe the horror creates the terror, or the other way around. And in today’s culture, many films and books portray ghosts as aggressive and seekers of revenge, because that is how they have been portrayed in literature and film. Nonbelievers of ghosts may not find them terrifying. In my personal view, ghosts in film and literature are not necessarily horrifying. This could be my lack of ability to empathize with a ghost attacking me, as such an event has never happened. There have been a few events that I cannot explain, but no furniture or dishes have been thrown at me by invisible source, I have not been levitated and tossed through the air, or have had the covers yanked off of me in the middle of the night by some unseen entity. Odd scents and sounds that I can’t explain have been a part of my experience. My switch to my outlet clicked off by itself. Probably some mechanical malfunction, as it didn’t turn off after I plugged the gap with a tiny ball from a napkin and the switch didn’t turn off (mechanically inclined). And the blinking light on the ceiling fan and my porch can be assumed to be mechanically related.
I lay in bed on my side. The night was dead silent. Then comes a breathing sound close to the bed like the sound a person whose lungs have suffered ages of smoking tobacco. A look around the room and nothing was there. I lay on my back to face the surroundings and eventually fall asleep. There would be other nights like this in the same room. However, I heard it less or not at all when laying on my back. The mind is strong enough to play tricks on me without the help of anyone else or myself. Fear, perhaps, facilitates the process of feeling terrorized.
The truth is no one knows what happens to a person’s soul after she or he dies. Assumptions exist, and all of these assumptions are portrayed and studied in books and movies for people to critically ponder themselves.
People can be horrifying. Animals can be horrifying, depending on what act they commit. The Texas Chainsaw massacre is horrifying, evidently. Ghosts can be terrifying, but can also be something that attracts sympathy, empathy, and curiosity in individual reading or viewing. Who doesn’t love Caspar?
I think the most terrifying aspect of a ghost story depends on each reader’s perspective, because it’s impossible that each reader shares the exact same thought and experience from reading any story, including a ghost story. If this was so, then what would be the point of literature? Literature is to make readers critically think and think uniquely. To bring a story together, or provide back story. Ghosts in American Gothic fiction are usually essential for the plot and protagonist. Perhaps, after reading “Turn of the Screw”, I conclude Henry leaves it up to the reader. However, I feel he portrays the idea of a ghost as a psychological reaction to a situation. For example, was the baby sitter losing her mind or truly witnessing and communicating with ghosts? With an unreliable character, it is left up to the reader. There is no hard evidence that I can see to say for certain what the protagonist witnesses were ghosts, or her over active imagination.
Ghosts in the 18th century literature are similar to the ghosts portrayed today in fiction. Both lead to the discovery of a story, how one died, and a ghost who leads one to the evidence in order to help find her or his murderer.However, ghosts seem to have become more aggressive, more horrifying and terrifying in literature and film today.. In the 18th century, people were not exposed to so many interpretations of ghosts. In the past, ghost appeared to someone, friend, family, or stranger for a soul purpose. The ghost was going to accomplish something, or have a character accomplish something by the end of the story.