Crossfader’s Super Spooky Listicles: The Five Stages of Becoming a Horror Fan
My last contribution to Crossfader’s Super Spooky Listicles opened with the phrase, “I hate scary movies.” This past year came with a lot of personal growth and change, but I am perhaps most proud of my acquisition of Big Girl Pants. That’s right, folks: pigs can fly, Hell has frozen over, and Kate watches horror movies now.
As Halloween draws on apace, self-proclaimed “sissies” find themselves pushed to the wayside as horror films dominate theaters, televisions, and festive get-togethers. The good news is, there is a path to salvation. You see, dear sissy, I was once like you; but unlike you, I had no one to show me the way. So here it is: my path to horror movie fandom in five (not-so-simple) steps.
Stage One: Confusion
As someone who loves to sit down at the end of a hard day and unwind with a film, the idea of watching a movie designed to induce stress and anxiety was completely beyond me. Why on earth would anyone want to watch something knowing that some freaky psycho was just going to jump out and say “boo”? How does that build a story? How does that contribute to tone? It felt pointless and lazy.
Looking back, I suffered from a misunderstanding of what horror films actually are. Sure, the horror genre encompasses disasterpieces designed to sell popcorn and give horny teens a dark place to covertly fondle each other. However, from VERTIGO to THE THING, it also includes masterpieces of suspense and visual effects. You can make a horror film without one single jump scare, and in fact you should. A good horror film won’t just surprise you — it can take you from the height of laughter to the depths of despair, sprinkle on an icky, prickly feeling, and cultivate an anxiety that starts in your stomach and ties your limbs up in knots. And that’s just the first act! If that isn’t powerful storytelling, I don’t know what is.
There is such a wide breadth of horror films available that even the sissiest of sissies would be hard pressed to not find a single one they like. However, as anyone who’s ever had their mind changed knows, a shift of opinion often comes with…
Stage Two: Reluctance
Accepting that horror films aren’t all pointless gore and jump scares is the easy part. The hard part is actually sitting yourself down and watching them. Those first few horror films can feel a bit like going to the dentist: It’s the worst, you hate it, but you know deep down it’s good for you.
This time last year I worked at a movie theater, which came with some esteemed benefits: long hours scrubbing gunk out of the popper, existential horror at parents obliviously bringing their toddlers to DEADPOOL, and unlimited free movie tickets. When your friends are die-hard horror fans and in the process of starting a magazine, you feel a little shitty making them pay 15 bucks a pop for tickets when you can get them in for free. (My doctor says this is called “decency,” but I’m getting a second opinion.)
So I very reluctantly went to THE VISIT. I squirmed, I screamed, I… laughed? At some point during the film it popped into my head: Oh, this is supposed to be funny! For those of you on your journey to horror movie fandom, a smart Comedy Horror (perhaps specifically THE VISIT) is a great place to start. For me, it marked the first time I actually got something out of a horror film. I wasn’t just sniveling in terror, I was paying attention.
I was doing it.
Stage Three: Confidence
“OK,” I said to myself, aloud, annoying the people around me in the theater, “If I can handle THE VISIT, what else can I handle?” The answer was quite a bit.
After THE VISIT, I tackled THE FOREST — which was bad: completely devoid of atmosphere, terrible writing, bland characters, and culturally offensive to boot. Sure, there were jump scares, but they were so damn predictable that they didn’t even bother me. This was a bit of an underhand toss, but dammit, I did it, and I was proud. Horror films 0, Kate 2!
Next up was THE WITCH (Lots of “The” movies this year…). I went in ready to flee the theater in tears, but instead I fell in love with the rich atmosphere, haunting score, chilling visuals, knockout performances, and feminist themes. THE WITCH is so far above jump scares, it parodies them in its first five minutes as if to say, “Yeah, I’m not about that life. You wanna watch a real horror film? Here’s one.” And holy crap, was it. This wasn’t just a good horror movie. It was a good movie.
And don’t even get me started on 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE, which is a damn near perfect movie for 94 minutes of its 104 minute runtime. But I digress, that’s a completely different article.
To sum it up, my biggest surprise on this journey was how quickly I fell in love with the films I watched. Within a few months I was the one dragging my friends to the theater to see the latest horror release. I started handling those horror movie nights like a champion, equally ecstatic for the cheap thrills of THE GALLOWS (culminating in one unexpectedly breathtaking visual) and the heart-stopping surrealism of UNDER THE SKIN (which is, in fact, a horror film no matter what this dingus says).
Stage Four: Dismay
It felt great knocking out horror films left and right… for a while. In the beginning, the thrill of not being scared was almost equivalent to the thrill of actually being scared. It was a point of pride. But after a while, not being scared left me a little… bored.
The trailer alone for DON’T BREATHE practically gave me nightmares. It was a genius premise and promised loads of spooky night-vision camera — a trope that always gets my goat. For the first time I found myself going into a movie wanting to be scared… and I wasn’t. (Some may argue that DON’T BREATHE is a thriller and not a horror film, but for the sake of this article let’s say that it is a horror film.)
Weirdly, I began to miss the early days when the slightest bump in the night would send me rocketing through the ceiling. “Making it” through a horror film wasn’t enough anymore. I was off of sparkling cider and on to champagne. I needed the good stuff. I had to work harder to seek things out. I acknowledge that I’m still on my horror movie journey and there are plenty of films I’ve yet to watch that would still send me screaming into the night, but the honeymoon phase has officially worn off.
Stage Five: Acceptance
While unpacking my underwhelming (and admittedly unpopular) experience at DON’T BREATHE, I thought back to another recent horror film I’d seen: LIGHTS OUT.
Now, LIGHTS OUT is practically the definition of a summer popcorn horror flick. At the end of the day it wasn’t too much to write home about. It had some creepy visuals lifted from the seminal short film, a few good moments…but altogether it a standard summer horror release.
I had the great fortune of seeing it at the Arclight Hollywood, where film douches go to douche. I could tell right away that this was not your standard moviegoing audience. They laughed at tropes and cheered when a character finally took out a goddamned cell phone. These were horror fans, and I found myself laughing and cheering right along with them. Me, Miss “I Hate Scary Movies.”
Horror films are really goddamned successful for one important reason: They perform remarkably well to domestic and international audiences. Why? Fear is a universal language. The horror genre is the most transcendent genre in existence because — no matter who you are, where you are, or where you come from — you know what to do when a monster jumps out and goes “boo.”
Becoming a horror fan wasn’t just about personal growth in the end. In learning to love scary movies, I entered the largest community of film lovers on the planet. The universal nature of horror films just goes to show that anyone can learn to love a scary movie. With the right motivation and a few easy films under your belt, you too can shake off your “sissy” label and join the esteemed ranks of horror fans.
You’ll be very glad you did.