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I Avoided Horror Movies for Most of My Life — Here’s What Happened When I Changed That

October is a month I dread. While I love the changing leaves, chill in the air and warm drinks, I despise the flood of horror movies that hit theaters along with the resulting TV ads and posters all over town. Until this week (when I finally decided to test my limits), I’d watched exactly zero horror films in my life but had seen enough glimpses to know they weren’t for me. That being said, I’m not here to judge what anybody does with their personal time and money. I just think there is a segment of us out here for whom this time of year is kind of traumatic, and that is worth talking about. 

I first encountered horror when I was 10 and finagled my way into staying at my friend Rosemary’s house after dark. She wanted to watch Friday the 13th, and had the freedom to do so because her parents were divorced and her mom worked late. But as soon as the kid got an arrow through the neck coming up through the bed, I was out. I squirmed in my bed for days and several times resorted to sleeping on the floor to avoid the fear of something wrapping around me from under my bed and stabbing me in the night. only made one more attempt at watching a horror film after that. A college friend wanted to see Pet Sematary, and I, being a chump, agreed. But from the moment a guy showed up with half his brain hanging out, I was out of there. I pushed past the knees of the people sitting next to me while they giggled at my cowardice. There was no amount of shame that was going to make me sit back down.

I know what part of my problem is — I have a vivid memory. Every gruesome moment that plays out in a horror movie is basically permanently imprinted in my brain. I’ll be honest. Because those scenes stay with me for so long, I never quite understood why someone would want that kind of imagery in their mind to begin with. I get that half the appeal of horror is the adrenaline rush that comes from being startled, but it hardly seems worth the price of admission. I’ve grown older and become more adept at separating fantasy from reality, a second reason to avoid horror has become even more prevalent. There are elements of it that are all too real. I’ll never watch movies about demons and witches because I believe strongly in the spiritual world. I also believe there is too much evil in our everyday lives, which the news basically confirms with each horrific new story. 

All that brings me to this week, when I agreed to watch one horror film to see how it impacted my feelings about them. I pulled up the on-demand service and started scrolling through the Halloween options. I went to the slasher category. I finally settled on Leatherface, a 2017 prequel to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series. 

The first half was surprisingly interesting. It’s somehow always easier to stomach the beginnings of movies, though, regardless of the genre. It was the slow escalation, the dread, the increased amount of gore that made me start to feel less interested in the story and just want to look away. (The fact that they stopped developing the story at all undoubtedly impacted my feelings.) My gut started to tighten with discomfort, and I felt myself squirming. Not only because of the blood and pain but because these were the cruelest kinds of stereotypes about poorer folks, the cops and so on. Not to mention the brutal violence was just a step too far. 

After it ended, I stood up and shook from head to toe, like I’d come out of a pool and could shake off the feeling. It didn’t work. I felt polluted, a sense of visceral disgust, and moreover, I wondered what the redeeming point was? I know this was an origin story, so there really wasn’t one. But I was left feeling so unsatisfied as a human and a film watcher. I still wondered what the appeal was besides just adrenaline. Because when I was awaiting brutal moments, I felt adrenaline, but by the end of the movie, I felt sick with it. And angry. I was irritable at my husband and just wanted to go to bed with my soft and eminently innocent cats. my questions remain.

I understand horror to be one of the most profitable genres for Hollywood. Often made with a shoestring budget, the films can see returns many, many times the investment. In 2017, horror viewers pumped more than $733 million dollars into Hollywood’s pocket for stories including Get Out, Happy Death Day and Jigsaw. Lots and lots of viewers want to be impacted this way. I’m just not one of them.

Until I am, if ever, every October, you’ll be able to find me waiting and watching for my favorite Halloween viewing… It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

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