"What scares me is what scares you. We’re all afraid of the same things. That’s why horror is such a powerful genre. All you have to do is ask yourself what frightens you and you’ll know what frightens me."
— John Carpenter
How A Bad Early 2000s Movie Ruined My Life
I was 13 years old when my dad took me to see Takashi Shimizu’s American remake of #TheGrudge. It was the same night as the local high school’s Homecoming football game, so the movie theater was unusually vacant. I remember looking around at all of the empty seats while anxiously twisting a napkin in my hands. I was no stranger to #horror movies, but something about this one gave me a bad feeling. I'd spent a lot of my childhood watching monster movies like Pumpkinhead, Silver Bullet, and Alien with my older brother. They honestly never scared me too much. I’d fall for jump scares, of course, but I was mostly interested in the special FX. These movies rarely kept me up at night, and they certainly never gave me nightmares.
My stomach dropped when the theater lights dimmed and the movie finally started.
The jarred movement, the lifeless stare, that awful croaking sound — Kayako was the embodiment of every fear that I didn't even know I had. And she was unstoppable. There is literally not a thing that any character in this series could do to stop her curse. It follows you until it drives you mad and ultimately destroys you. She appears in showers, in attics, in the stairwells of office buildings, in the reflection of a bus window in broad daylight. I learned quickly that no scene in this movie is entirely "safe" from her foreboding presence.
THIS scene, however, RUINED me:
I spent a chunk of my younger years dealing with night terrors, and hiding under the covers was always a safe place for me when I would wake up fearful. It was my go-to, my only form of defense as a child deeply terrified of the dark. I left the movie theater that night dreading the thought of being alone in my room. For MONTHS, I was scared to be in my own bed.
After years of regularly watching horror and reading about true crime, in spite of my fascination, I’ve definitely developed some lingering anxieties. I was nervous around mirrors for most of my childhood; I’ve been afraid of bugs ever since seeing the flesh-eating beetles in The Mummy; I’ve spent many anxious nights thinking that every single unidentified noise was a masked serial killer on his way to murder me.
In short: I was a really fun person to invite to sleepovers.
Recently, I asked some friends online to tell me about a horror movie scene that frightened them the most as children/teens. How did they process these fears at the time? Did these initial scares develop into long-term fears? How many sleepovers did they ruin?
Many responses were fairly typical, (#Pennywise in the storm drain in It or Samara crawling out of the TV in #TheRing), but there were also a few unexpected anecdotes. One woman said that after watching Jurassic Park as a child, she convinced herself that every time she pulled back a shower curtain, a dinosaur would just be in her shower for some reason? There isn’t even a shower scene in Jurassic Park, but clearly the imagination is boundless.
While some people grew out of their paranoid thoughts, many developed permanent anxieties caused by the intense fear they'd felt after watching a particular movie or show. I’d say a vast majority of these anxieties would be considered minor in the grand scheme of things, but they can still have an effect on a person’s sleeping habits or daily life. Some people refuse to sleep with their closet door open, many others are unable to relax if their foot is hanging off of the bed.
Another woman said that a relative of hers inadvertently saw part of A Nightmare on Elm Street as a child and to this day, still cannot even look at pictures of Freddy Krueger. Her husband has to go ahead of her in Halloween stores to warn her of any Krueger-related merchandise. It's interesting how can we still be so affected by blatantly fictional things from our childhood. We know that these monsters aren’t real. We know that it’s only a movie. Yet, for many of us, our gut reactions override all logic and we can’t help but feel nervous.
How Can This Be Helpful, Though?
As exhausting and emotionally taxing as it can be, working through our fears via horror can be beneficial and cathartic in some ways. John P. Hess makes a good observation in this video lecture done for Filmmaker IQ:
“[F]ilms are a safe place where we can sort through stuff [and] learn skills to apply in everyday life. How do you defeat the a slow-walking Jason Vorhees? You can’t outrun his slow stride. The only way is to face him straight on. Though a zombie apocalypse is a far-fetched reality, the survivorship skills on display in a zombie horror film have some practical merit in our normal everyday world.”
Horror movies allow us to immerse ourselves in fictional dangerous situations. It’s a chance for us to practice our own survival instincts and problem-solving skills. Ever watch a horror movie and find yourself yelling at the idiot on the screen who runs upstairs instead of running out of the front door? Or the one who ducks into an abandoned warehouse to hide instead of staying outside in the open? Do you often think to yourself while watching these movies that you could outsmart the killer?
It’s important to note that while horror movie characters are usually the poster children for bad decisions, these are often decisions made in intensely stressful and life-threatening situations. The victim typically only has a few seconds to act — do they hide in the closet or try to make a run for the woods? Do they have time to grab the knife from the kitchen or will that just slow them down? Should they go back for their friend or save themselves and call for help first? These are split second decisions, and humans don’t always react accordingly when traumatized and fearing for their lives.
As intelligent as we'd like to think we are, many of us might become deer in headlights when faced with a life-or-death situation. Maybe watching horror movies and attempting to understand how humans react to fear can help us prepare for possible dangers in the real world.
I mean, sure, the idea of Freddy Krueger actually murdering me in my dreams is impossible. But just in case, at least I now know from A Nightmare on Elm Street that he can be stopped with a book on booby traps and enough caffeine to give a horse cardiac arrest.
If Japanese contortionist ghost girls and meowing ghost children turn out to be real, well, actually I’m completely screwed if they turn out to be real, so never mind. Make sure my funeral’s closed casket, I guess.
Maybe those of us who spent most of our youth watching horror movies and being afraid at night are extra prepared for when shit gets real. Or, maybe our brains are just permanently warped from being flooded with disturbing images from a young age. Potato, potahto, I suppose.
What do you think? Any thoughts or theories? Got an idea for a topic I can cover in the future? I'd love to hear from you! (Tell me about your scariest movie moment, too!) Comment below or shoot me an email at [email protected].
(Original content found at menagerieofthemacabre.wordpress.com)