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Horror Movies


I got into horror movies when I was young, mostly by way of Science-Fiction. My dad and I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation when I was growing up, and that lead into me exploring some classic films like Alien (1979), The Fly (1986), The Thing (1982), and then eventuall more contemporary things (for the time) like Event Horizon (1997) and The Faculty (1998). And then I'd also stumble across things like The Item (1999) or ExistenZ (1999) that made me question all of my life choices (man, the 90s were a weird time).

It wasn't until many years later, around 2015 that it really clicked why I love horror movies. I had watched The Babadook (2014) extremely early after it was released, and within a few months of that I'd also seen the 1981 masterpiece Possession - both of which are counted among my favorite horror movies still today. What I came away from those two films with is an understand that what I like about horror is how it can take a raw look at our feelings.

I don't mean this to sound pretentious, and don't get me wrong, I love a good slasher and will show up for fun movies. But the horror movies that I'm drawn to are the ones that have the horror aspect as a metaphor for something. Here, let me give you an example.

When you have a drama film about a couple getting divorced, it's about those events. Maybe she cheats on him, maybe he tries to pretend nothing is wrong or makes grand gestures to try and win her back. Maybe they reconcile or maybe they don't. But it's about what happens. Does he meet someone new? Do they stay friends? Is there a custody battle over the kid?

To contrast with this, a horror movie about divorce is what it feels like to get divorced. It's about that unexpected shock, about not knowing anymore who your partner is, not undersetanding what changed or when. It's about the real or perceived selfishness of what you each want. It's embroiled in the emotion moreso than the events.

The dramatic film can feel too dramatic. Melodramatic or over-the-top. It can feel like you're being manipulated by the filmmakers. (Horror movies are also guilty of audience manipulation like this - not just with jump scares but when they harm animals. It is a cheap tactic to get an immediate emotional response.) But horror movies that are confident and well-made don't need to resort to those kinds of tactics - instead, they can feel more honest because they are taking a real feeling and expanding upon it.

Phrased another way: The dramatic film is saying, "Doesn't that make you angry?" but the horror movie isn't telling me to feel scared, it's the director/writer showing me why they're scared. And because of this distinction, I find good horror movies to be extremely empathetic. And yeah, maybe some parts are dramaticized, but it's the focus on the emotional struggle that makes it work. Even in slashers - we gravitate towards the Final Girl because she has the courage to make it. She conquers those fears.

In Possession, Sam Neill's character comes back from some time away on business to find his entire home life upended. The "monster" aspect doesn't kick in until half the movie, but it also doesn't need to, because there is already so much horror between our leads. It's about the things I mention above - the feeling of betrayal, of wanting to fix (revert) things. About not knowing who you are without them.

If you look at The Babadook, it's very clearly about how we process (or don't process) grief. One of the ending moments is literally tending your own garden. The mother becomes abusive, blaming herself and her son for the loss of her husband. We barely know him, we barely know what happened, but it doesn't matter, because it's not about the event, it's about how she feels in the aftermath.

Midsommar is about family, and acceptance, and how it isn't selfish to express what we need in a partner. The idea of being supported and whether people will exploit that for their own gain. What it means to feel like you're home, and what you'd do to protect that. Godzilla is famously about the fear of nuclear power.

Even in those things I haven't myself experienced, I can understand the feelings that they are conveying.

Back in 2018, I had a housemate who had never really watched many horror movies. He wasn't against them, but had never gotten into it, and didn't really understand the appeal. I started compiling a list, a sort of "Crash course" into horror, and we spent a couple of months watching a bunch of horror movies. This turned into me wanting to see even more of what the genre had to offer, and I began to be "serious" about horror films. It is such a treasure trove of experiences, both positive and negative. These days, I watch roughly 100 horror movies per year (which is by far the bulk of my movie watching) and write down my thoughts and feelings on them on Letterboxd.

If you're interested in what that crash course might look like now, this is an Advent Calendar that I ran for some friends. The idea was that I pitched them 2-3 horror movies each day in October, and we watched them. I intentionally left off more "well known" movies, and still managed to get 9 of my personal top 10 on the list.

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