Why I Hate Scary Movies
Art by Kirsten Hemrich
I was at a sleepover for my best friend’s birthday party when I saw my first and last scary movie. It was Orphan, and afterward I had to lie on an uncomfortable couch and try to fall asleep. I knew I never wanted to watch anything like that again. My friend’s basement had a sliding door that went directly out into the backyard, and even among a big group of girls I felt like something was absolutely going to come through and murder me in my sleep.
OK, I lied about that being my last scary movie. But the next one doesn’t count because I never actually saw or heard it; I merely was in the same movie theater where it was on the screen. My friends, intent on ruining my life, insisted that we go see a scary movie. I could have simply refused and gone home, but when you’re 14, purposely excluding yourself from a social situation doesn’t seem like an option. I walked into the theater with headphones and a blanket. I paid for a ticket just to sit in the movie theater seats with my music on full blast and a cover over my eyes for an hour and a half. Please don’t ever make me go back to middle school.
As I got older, I grew more assertive. My mom (who also hates horror movies with a passion) told me that if I ever wanted to leave when my friends wanted to watch one, I could text her and she would come pick me up. I employed this to my advantage. I would simply say “If we watch a scary movie, I’m leaving” with as much melodrama as you can imagine. I would be more critical of my past self, but my present self still very much does that. On vacation with my family this summer, my brother suggested that we all watch a horror movie (It, I believe) and I vehemently rejected this option in any form. “I’m not staying in this room if we watch that,” I declared, and he acquiesced.
I wanted to see Get Out to feel included. I watched the movie on my laptop in my parents’ home, where I felt safe from the effects of an active imagination, as I was grounded in reality and years of comfort. I’ll admit, I read the plot summary going in. Still, I rested my pointer finger on the mute button with trepidation. I used my cursor to scroll through the movie length and remind myself of scenes that I recognized as particularly unnerving and made mental plans to watch them in silence.
I would be more critical of my past self, but my present self still very much does that.
The fact that I’m not a horror movie fan is clear. However the issue of my relationship to fright is a little more complicated. Last fall, I became obsessed with kidnapping cases. I researched everything I could about the Elizabeth Smart case, the Jaycee Dugard case, and more. I went so far as to read to lengthy court transcripts for no reason other than my morbid fascination. Looking back, my self-immersion into the traumatic experiences of others reminds me of when I’ll Google the plot and spoilers of different horror movies I know I’ll be too scared to actually watch. Reading something already inherently threatening or horrifying gives me a sense of control of my own emotions--there’s no loud soundtrack or sudden noises and appearances.
I guess control is what it boils down to. I don’t want to submit myself to an experience of unpredictable panic where I have to tenatatively put my fingers into my ears in the vain hope that they will block out all sound. I don’t want to have to squint at the screen behind hands just in case something gruesome and horrifying pops up unexpectedly. I especially do not want to go through these things when I can watch a light romantic comedy with a predictable plot and a feel-good ending. I want to be able to control the distance I have to an experience. If I immerse myself completely in another person’s story, I want to be able to maintain a piece of control over my reactions. A lack of complete sensory submission gives me that control and allows me to sustain a sense of detachment from the material.
I’m laughing at myself that I came to the realization that control is my issue, because of course--I am a control freak in most aspects of my life. Even if I’m watching a movie or show, an experience meant to be relaxing and immersive, I want to control that experience by choosing its course. Watching a romantic comedy I’ve seen a hundred times will inevitably produce a prectable train of reactions and emotions, and they’re all happy and bubby and even if I cry that feels cathartic. And when sometimes I want to make myself cry, I know what to watch for that too. I find an inevitable happy ending much more palatable than a gratuitous jump-scare. It’s even better if the movie is based off an Austen novel I’ve read a million times before. So, I unabashedly own my unironic love for the cheesy rom-com because that’s what makes me happy and what helps me fall asleep at night.
I also won’t apologize for my aversion to scary movies--the real world is already unpredictable enough. It’s my life, and I get to be in control. (But that’s also kinda scary too.)