People who like scary movies, and there exist many wonderful examples thereof, tend to be of the stoic, or at least very cynical type. You know, the ones – you might even be one! – who can watch creepy, gruesome, and/or generally petrifying films and appreciate the structure, the pacing, and the relative artistic values without batting an eyelash, and sometimes with a laugh.
Personally, I cannot pretend to understand how these giants of will manage it. I belong to the other, much less popular variety of horror enthusiasts. I am terrible at scary movies. Let me give you the most recent example of what I mean. Friday night, I went to see Mama. I had seen two or three trailers for it, and knew it would be at the outside edge of my tolerance, but I love Guillermo del Toro and had to give it a shot. In terms of plot, it wasn’t really what I had expected, but I enjoyed it. Overall, I thought it was well-made if not groundbreaking. This is, of course based on the 95% of the movie I actually saw, because there were definitely moments where the peep-gap between my elbows closed for my own protection.
You see, I spent the first half of the movie fidgeting and trying to melt into the theater seat, with the intention of hiding just how bad I am at being scared from my companion. There was a moment around halfway through when it just became too much and I gave in. My knees came up to my chin, and I hugged them until the scary parts, when I pulled my hood over my face to watch through the weave. That worked until the really scary parts, when I wrapped my arms around my head and peeked through my elbows, which worked until the worst parts where the elbows closed and I was safe. All of this was accompanied by near-hyperventilation, and a great deal of effort spent on not making a sound. And that’s just while the movie was on.
The worst part of all of this is that because the movies are so good at getting me to identify with the situations the characters are in that I absorb the fear, and the movie is never completely over. Once I’m out of the theater, the movie is just a movie I saw…until bedtime. Once I’m home, even if I’m not alone in a dark house, everything is sinister and I physically cannot help being afraid. I see creatures and creepers in every shadow, every corner, and my closet becomes an enemy. I don’t turn lights off, I don’t leave the room (I tried Friday night, but was too scared of the hallway), and I certainly don’t sleep. This can go on for days – it did this time! Friday night, I didn’t sleep. Saturday I slept fitfully, still with all my lights on. Sunday night, I turned off my overhead lights, but not my bedside lamp. And so on- it’s a process. This movie turned out to be particularly bad for me, but it’s hardly alone. This sort of this isn’t unusual for me when I go see horror movies (especially zombie movies, which I also feel compelled to see no matter what), or even non-horror movies with creepy parts or similar. Even Cabin in the Woods, which I loved, cost me a few hours’ sleep.
The point of all this is not just to embarrass myself in front of the internet, or to celebrate my psychological frailty, but rather to demonstrate the different ways that audiences can experience genre media, all with equal legitimacy. People who witness my extensive cowering often suggest not watching scary movies, but why shouldn’t I? I like them, and I like the stories they tell. I don’t like being unable to sleep, but I can live with it every now and then. Just because I don’t have the constitution of a columnist for Fangoria doesn’t preclude me from enjoying the same films, in the same way being an adult doesn’t preclude me from watching animated movies, or being female doesn’t prevent me appreciating action movies. Genre films – all films – have core, targeted audiences. One of the best things about being a genre fan is being part of a group of people who share your tastes and experiences. But it’s not the only thing – ingroups do not exercise sole ownerships over things they enjoy, and you should never feel like you don’t deserve to love something. If you’re like me, though, you should maybe make sure you don’t see a scary movie the night before doing anything important.
PS If you saw Mama and weren’t sufficiently creeped out, you should watch this motion test.
PPS I’m definitely not the only person with my problems (though I can’t speak to their severity for anyone else), as evidenced by Day’s videos of himself playing Amnesia: the Dark Descent. Watching his playthrough makes me feel better about myself, except that I would never follow the instructions and play it in the dark. And I can’t play StarCraft at all, so I’m obviously not as cool as Day.