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Meghan Overdeep Headshot

From Lovable Serial Killers to Sparkling Vampires: How America and I Came to Love Being Scared

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The boogey man used to live in my closet (seriously, ask my dad) and blood-thirsty murderers used to hide in my shower when I was home alone. Oh, and Halloween? Witches were waiting to cook me and eat me around every corner.

It's a miracle I survived, really. Or any of us, for that matter -- the world was a scary place back then.

And now? Well, vampires sparkle and fall in love, witches and wizards get acne and have crushes and serial killers live by a code of ethics. And they certainly don't make werewolves like they used to.

Around the end of my running-and-jumping-into-bed-days, CSI and Harry Potter, and later Dexter, True Blood and the Twilight saga began to stake out warm and fuzzy places in my heart.

So it's not that I just grew out of my skittish, superstitious days (although age certainly helped) but in some perverse way, pop culture led me to love the ghosts and ghouls that used to spook me.

And I'm not alone.

Brett Talley, a horror writer and author of the new book, That Which Should Not Be, explains the growth of horror entertainment as a reflection of changes in our society.

"Vampires and serial killers as good guys? Some of it is just creative people trying to put a new twist on old stories. But as our social mores change, things that we used to view as evil or immoral are looked at in a different way," says Talley. "As our society re-evaluates its judgments on good and evil, it's not surprising that the old bad guys are now the ones we're rooting for -- particularly when those 'bad guys' were also social outcasts."

And it's not just the changing social times, but the rocky political landscape that make stories of witches, vampires and monsters a welcome relief for the real world horrors we face daily.

I, for one, would take the studly vampires of True Blood over the national deficit any day.

"Unemployment is rampant, people are in debt and losing their homes, and they don't know who to blame or what to do about it," Talley says. "It's complicated shades of gray that make the real world so difficult. But we can find relief in fiction and stories of good vs. evil. You may not always know who's on which side, but at least you know which side to root for."

Cause and effect aside, at the end of the day bits of pop culture like Twilight, True Blood, Dexter and That Which Should Not Be are just deliciously entertaining.

"At the most superficial level, horror is simply fun," says Talley. "It thrills and scares us and gets our adrenaline pumping in the same way that a roller coaster might. So we love it for the same reason we climb aboard a miniature train in order to plummet down fake mountains: Because it's fun!"