Not a Phase: My Relationship with Horror Films over my Lifetime

One of the many things I love about horror is its capacity to mark time. A horror film produced in one decade is very different from a horror film produced in another. Movies and books that scared us as children may not scare us as adults (and vice-versa). We all remember our first experiences with horror films; not many genres have that same impact. Last week, readers on social media voted for another personal blog post over another film analysis in our latest poll. With that, and since this blog is still fairly new, I wanted to take the opportunity to share the chronological evolution of my love of horror films.

Childhood

My earliest memories of watching something that awakened literal fear in me are very clear. If you read my second blog post or if you follow this page on social media, you may have seen where I shared the scariest movie I have ever seen: The Great Mouse Detective (1986). No, I am not kidding. I am not joking. I am not saying something that absurd to get attention. I am 27 years old, I run a horror blog, I read/write/watch horror every day (not to mention I have a Master’s degree and pay bills and such), and I physically cannot watch that movie or even look at stills from it because I worry about what would happen to my mental state if I do.

If you really want to know…it’s that bat. That cackling, jump-scaring, still-gives-me-nightmares bat. My memories of watching that movie involve five-year-old me hiding behind the couch and screaming for my mom to fast-forward every time he was in a scene. Most kids were afraid of Ratigan (voiced by Vincent Price, woop-woop), but, for some reason, he did not bother me. Maybe if I would be a big girl and watch the whole movie I would get over it and find an age-appropriate scariest movie I have ever seen, but…just not tonight.

Figure 1: The Scooby Doo/Dynomutt Hour, Season 2, Episode 2; “Vampire Bats and Scaredy Cats”

Like many people, I am sure, my love of horror and mystery started with some age-appropriate Scooby Doo. The first episode I distinctly remember is “Vampire Bats and Scaredy Cats,” where the gang spend the night in a haunted mansion and encounter vampires. I remember my young brain being fascinated by that image of a vampire leaning over a sleeping Daphne (Figure 1). There was something about that image that stuck with me. The contrast, the suspense, even the color scheme resonated with me and, unexpectedly, began my lifelong love of everything spooky.

Teenage Years

Figure 2: The Lost Boys (1987), dir. Joel Schumacher

Oof. Just writing that heading is frightening enough.

I was an angsty, black-souled, rage-fueled teenager (sorry, parents, I truly am), which I realize now was the result of unchecked mental illness and living in an area that I absolutely hated and felt trapped within. I found refuge, however, in classic horror. My mom introduced me to so many classics that I still love today: The Lost Boys (1987), Psycho (1960), An American Werewolf in London (1981), Night of the Living Dead (1968), and Halloween (1978), to name a few.

If I could select one film that defined my teenage years, it would be The Lost Boys by Joel Schumacher. I have loved vampire stories my entire life, and this one did things with the vampire legend that I had never seen before. I was enthralled with the characters, the cinematography, the soundtrack…I watched it at least once a week for several months. When I turned 17, it was the first rated-R movie I purchased. When I went through a weird phase when I had clip-in hair extensions that did not match the color or thickness of my natural hair, I made the most of it by making it look as Lost-Boys-esque as possible (I will embarrass myself with the pictures at a later date, I promise). I still watch this movie regularly, and it remains one of my favorite vampire films of all time. There will absolutely be a film blog exclusively on The Lost Boys, which I am very excited to put together!

College Years

My early college years (freshman – junior year) were when I really started getting into a variety of horror. A few weeks into my first semester, I watched The Silence of the Lambs (1991) for the first time. This was a unique viewing experience, especially since I watched it twenty minutes at a time before I went to class. Spacing it out like this further enhanced the mood of that film. Thanks to Dr. Lecter and Clarice, I developed an interest in horror and crime stories.

This was also the period of my life when I was into anything and everything to do with zombies. I do not know where this fixation began or why it lasted so long, but I watched and read all the zombie content I could find. I was simply fascinated by zombies, how they behaved, how they differed from one story to another, it was a fun time. I even started writing a horror/dystopia novel about vampires trying to survive a zombie apocalypse. I plan to finish it one day, but it needs a lot of work. I freaked a few people out with my interests at the small campus I attended, but that is all pretty tame compared to later.

In my later college years (senior year – graduate school), my poison was slashers. As an undergraduate, I was a double-major in English (Rhetoric & Composition) and Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. In my capstone WGSS course, I was required to write a final, article-length essay on the subject of my choice, as long as it could be related to gender or women’s studies. My classmates went the practical route on very important topics, including women and poverty, rape culture on college campuses, and childcare access. I had been fascinated by the social influence of film since I wrote my first exploratory essay in my first semester of college, so I knew I wanted to write about film and media.

Figure 3: The Reverse Bear Trap from Saw (2004)

I won’t go through my entire brainstorming process, but eventually the focus of my paper was traditional gender roles as they are presented in the Saw movies. Basically, my thesis was that the traps featured in the franchise as well as the configuration of the victims represented real, gendered constraints in stylized and graphic ways. It was a 27-page paper that I would be happy to discuss further with anyone who may be interested, but for now I will share only one example. One support for my argument was my analysis of the reverse bear trap, one of the first traps featured in the franchise (Figure 3). My argument for this particular trap was that it visually represents the silencing of women. That paper and the experience of writing it was wild, and I am very grateful to my awesome professor for trusting me to pull it off for the assignment (I got an ‘A,’ if you were wondering).

I did not have the opportunity to write about slasher films in my graduate studies (my focus was pedagogy and professional writing), but I enjoyed slashers the traditional way with my friends. I would give anything for another slasher movie night where we congregated in someone’s living room and laughed at the poor decisions of characters and the deluge of gore that ensued. Horror movie nights in general are some of my fondest memories from living in a college town…ulgh. The scream-filled nostalgia. Most of my engagement with horror films looks pretty unnerving from the outside, but I have found that it truly makes me happy and makes any coinciding experience more memorable.

Adulthood / Present

In the past couple of years, I have gained a new appreciation for classic monster movies. Once I had moved into my own place and settled in, I wanted to tackle some watchlists that I did not have the time to finish in grad school. At the top of that list were the Universal Pictures monster movies. I had seen Dracula (1931) with Bela Lugosi, but that was all. Working for a public library system, I had access to all of the classic monster movies and other similar titles, more than I ever knew existed. I watched The Wolf Man (1941) for the first time a couple of years ago. It remains an enthralling cinematic experience every time I watch it; that and Bride of Frankenstein (1935) are my favorite Universal Classic Monsters films. Watching monster movies from different decades and eras of film increased my appreciation for the work and cultural influence that go into horror films.

Figure 4: Florence Pugh as Dani in Midsommar (2019)

Currently, I am interested in horror with clear, emotional value. Anyone who is a fan of Ari Aster knows exactly what I mean. The stories and performances I witnessed in Hereditary (2018) and Midsommar (2019) awakened something in my mind, much like my previous experiences with new types of horror. At this point of my life, I know that real-life tragedies and struggles are scarier than traditional horror tropes could ever be. Florence Pugh’s dynamic performance as a woman about my age battling an anxiety disorder showed me that I could access my experiences with obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and depression to create rounded characters and real terror in the horror stories I write. Other recent films like The Babadook (2014) and Relic (2020) also use a foundation of deep, emotional influences in their horror. Horror films of the past decade or so have tried new things and elevated horror in so many unexpected ways, and I am excited to see what comes next.

Horror films have consistently been a special part of my life. I found who I was in the dark and romantic worlds of classic stories and those that have emerged in my lifetime. Every time I add anything to this blog is exciting for me. If you feel a similar connection to horror films, I hope you enjoy what you encounter here. I have some fun film blogs lined up for 2021…for now, I will continue studying up.

Until next time,

Jordan

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