An Emotional Exorcism: Horror as an Outlet
I love horror films. I also love horror games, and novels, and horrorcore – I love the whole spiel. I don’t watch them super often; I’m particular about the topics I’m comfortable watching explored and a lot of the people around me are big babies (love you - no offense). But, when I do, I find they’re often my favourites, revisiting them time and time again.
I grew up in a house that watched a great deal of horror: my mum would regularly regale stories of going to watch films like Phantasm and ALIEN with my grandad in her youth, her dad gripping the steering wheel on their way home way past midnight insisting she wouldn’t tell her mother about the grit and gristle they had just watched. It’s now my first instinct when I watch a good horror film to tell my mum about it (talk about disrupting the cycle, huh?), although she’s almost always seen whatever I’m talking about long before me.
I feel like horror has a real reputation for being gratuitous, non-sexual (…normally) torture porn – which there is truly nothing wrong with in my eyes. Everyone’s looking for something different. But for me, I’ve realised that the best kind of horror is something that makes me feel things. Sure, sometimes those feelings are best conveyed by a horrible chase scene of an axe murder running through a 1970s summer camp incurred adrenal spike (Thanks, Fear Street 1978!). Sometimes, though, those feelings are best explored through truly fucking devastating themes presented with a camp-ly taloned hand (...And thanks, Fear Street 1994: the first R. L. Stine production to nearly make me cry).
The best horror, in my eyes, is the kind that makes me sad. I love being wrapped up in excitement and stress for the duration of the story and left feeling like a sad, reflective little husk at the end of it. I want to finish a film feeling like I have been emotionally steamrolled. The first time I watched Jennifer’s Body (which was way after the fact, by the way – Halloween 2020) I was taken for a ride through the glittering and gory tale of feminine revenge and retaliation. Every line of the dark comedy is delivered with an air of tongue-in-cheek sadness, hitting you like a one-two punch: first you laugh, and then you cry. The film took me on a ride of emotions, needless to say. I felt similarly when I finished playing Night in the Woods for the first time, and the director’s cut of Little Shop of Horrors, and the 1975 Stepford Wives, and Sissy Spacek’s Carrie (because let’s face it – she made it her story), and so many more. We may not be able to escape the crushing systems we exist in, but we can seek to explain, discuss, and explore them through tales of futile protagonists trying to strike back against them.
It’s no big secret that I’m a fairly anxious person. I’m a ‘sensitive soul’. This can make it seem like horror would be a poor match for me – and it’s true, sometimes it is! I am a devout user of DoesTheDogDie.Com, a website completely dedicated to checking media for upsetting content across a whole range of topics. There are some things I completely will not watch, or I will run out of the room when it happens until it’s over (tough boys have boundaries, people!). I feel like horror, when wielded correctly, can be perfect for carving out time to be anxious. I was given the advice once to ‘schedule time to worry’ when I was struggling with managing my anxiety and stress. It’s pretty good advice. Horror creates a safe way to feel this full-body anxiety with a clearly established ending to the feeling, and with the knowledge that the feeling isn’t for any ‘real’ reason.
I also think having this designated target to be anxious about sometimes helps me displace in scenarios where I am already stressed or anxious. I realised this last year when I distracted myself during a situation I was particularly upset about by listening to clipping. for essentially the duration of the stress. Sure, there’s nothing soothing about stories of femme fatales eating men, but… It’s a damn sight better to fret about that than whatever real-world issue I am dealing with in that moment. Hopefully whatever real-world issues I am dealing with will never involve women trying to kill me, otherwise I guess my whole coping mechanism is going to go to shit.
As autumn rolls in, I’m looking forward to spending less time looking at the horrors going on around me - or less time looking inward at myself - and more time escaping into the worlds of haunted VCRs and ski-masked murderers. We all owe it to ourselves to be able to feel our feelings in a safe, contained way. Just… I’ll maybe lay off the zombie films for the time being.
(Fuck you #Alive2020 for being amazing and making me shit scared of living in an apartment building.)