According to Clive Barker,

our passion for horror

movies derives from a

need to confront our fears

in a place which is safe.

So, sit back, relax and brace yourself for his A-Z of Horror

Why do we adore horror? Novelist, filmmaker, painter and all-round horror- meister Clive Barker believes that "the simple answer is that we all love to have the bejesus scared out of us".

Those not satisfied with that response are advised to make a date with Clive Barker's A-Z of Horror, which occupies the witching-hour over the next six weeks on BBC2.

Like cream buns, horror is a guilty pleasure enjoyed often in secret by many millions. "There are an awful lot of covert fans out there," Barker claims. "A lot of housewives slip out to the video store in the afternoon to rent a few vampire movies. This series is for them.

"Horror has never not been popular," he continues. "Look at the darkness in fairytales, Titus Andronicus or the ghosts and witches in the Scottish play. There is a long and unbroken line of people who have used this kind of imagery in plays, paintings, novels, and now movies."

Barker could be described as a horror evangelist, eager for converts to his cause. "Even if you don't like horror," he enthuses, "the imagery is part of your cultural baggage. Everyone has stepped into a shower and thought of Psycho. That's in our cultural lives as much as Coca-Cola or Elvis Presley; it's part of who we are. King Kong, Boris Karloff, vampires - these are universal things. All of them partake of the same pool of images. I thought, `Why not pull these things together in a compendium?' The key word here is `celebration'."

But why are we so drawn to what we find repulsive?

"Horror represents a confrontation with our fears in a place which is safe," Barker reckons. "We all have very reasonable fears about what it is to be human and alive. In daily exchanges, those fears are passed over in encoded language. We only confront them when we're forced to - in hospitals or when someone close dies. But those anxieties remain ticking away. Horror is a way to look at those fears in a safe situation where everyone will walk out in an hour and a half and have a pizza."

There is, he maintains, something reassuring about sharing those fears with hundreds of others, equally scared out of their wits in, say, a cinema. "That tells us we're the same as one another. We're comforted by the fact that our anxieties are universal. We're not weird because we have nightmares, and we're not mad because we fear what happens to us after death. Horror says, `Don't worry, we're all in the same boat'. In that regard, it has a therapeutic purpose."

Some critics remain unconvinced by such arguments, however. There is a lofty disdain about horror; it is viewed very much as an inferior genre. Barker sighs with exasperation at what he perceives as such critical snootiness. "You can't intellectualise horror," he reasons. "It's like lewd humour - it's not susceptible to the intellectual dissection that a certain kind of critic feels comfortable with. It's about the gut and the heart, not the head. It's about `boo'. You can't analyse that stuff. For critics, that's frustrating because much of the analytical vocabulary they've honed is irrelevant. Their response is negative because they've been robbed."

`Clive Barker's `A-Z of Horror' begins tonight at 11pm on BBC2

A book of the series will be published on 31 Oct