The first horror movie that ever scared the shit out of me was one I hadn’t seen before. I still haven’t. I won’t ever watch this particular film, nevertheless it kept me awake for a whole week of my elementary school life. This is at the start what you could understand about me.
It was The Ring, in case you were wondering. And I didn’t have to look at it because, once I was 7, my friend decided to inform me the entire plot beat-for-beat. I hung onto her every word, horrified, then spent every night afterward looking at my bedroom door, just in case some dead girl who’d been trapped in a well found a way through it. I never even needed to see Samara for her to crawl out of the small screen and right into my brain, where she haunted me endlessly.
I’m fairly sure I could watch the movie now and be positive, but I don’t particularly care to. Horror has never been my genre. I used to be all the time the child who was afraid of all the pieces—and I mean all the pieces. I screamed once I saw an ant. I stayed distant from my babysitter’s coat closet because her kids convinced me that if a baby stepped inside it, they’d be endlessly trapped as a doll. When I used to be told a ghost story, even one which was blatantly made up within the moment, it would go away me skittish and paranoid for days. From an early age, the adults in my life thought scary movies would psychologically destroy me—they usually were right.
For years, essentially the most exposure I needed to horror movies were the snippets of The Poltergeist I’d catch once I ran by my sister watching it within the front room. It was enough for me to know I never wanted to look at considered one of my very own volition. Unfortunately, I’d soon come to learn I couldn’t control when or how the horrors found me.
* * *
Here’s the thing about being the one that is thought for getting easily scared: Everyone wants to scare you. It becomes a game, almost. How long will it take for the fear to take hold? How little time? How much can you truly handle?
Whether or not I liked it, my life was filled with individuals who loved putting me in situations that made me squirm. My cousins would persuade me to sneak into the graveyard with them at night, then tell me they might see ghosts there. During sleepovers, friends would find ways to make the furniture creak while we huddled on the ground in our sleeping bags, then claim it was probably since the house was haunted or that somebody had by some means broken in. And during movie nights, inevitably, someone would queue up a horror film.
“You’re like Chuckie,” my cousin told me once, except she wasn’t talking concerning the ginger killer doll—one other character I used to be unfortunately sometimes in comparison with, because of the hair—however the Rugrat. “You’re a redhead, you wear glasses, and also you’re afraid of all the pieces.”
I hated that she saw me that way. More than that, I hated that she was probably right. I couldn’t tell if it was higher or worse than being in comparison with the murderous doll, because a minimum of which may elicit some respect. Instead, I used to be too sensitive, too anxious, too lame. I used to be too soft to handle the horrors of Hollywood.
If I were a braver person, perhaps I’d have just walked out as soon as someone pulled out their horror movie collection, but bravery not being much of my strong suit is sort of the purpose here, isn’t it? I couldn’t stomach blood, I couldn’t stomach dread, and I actually couldn’t stomach disappointing the people around me. I wanted so badly to maintain the peace, even at my very own expense.
And so I watched the films—or pieces of them through the cracks of my fingers—and I did stay awake. At night, I began using white noise to distract myself because if I couldn’t hear the groans of the home settling around me, I wouldn’t need to spend hours convincing myself there was something darker occurring.
* * *
But there have been all the time dark things occurring, weren’t there? Once I became a teen and got unbridled access to a pc and the web, I discovered myself falling down rabbit holes on YouTube, on Tumblr, on Wikipedia. Online, you would learn the grittiest details of a mass murder. You could stumble across a video of a freak accident, watch an individual die before your very eyes. You could read through the comments, see the cavalier replies of people that didn’t seem affected in any respect—or, worse, cheered it on.
It terrified me. But here’s the thing: It also fascinated me. The cruelty of the world was difficult to look away from, especially after being sheltered from it for therefore long. I had been taught to consider that goodness was an inherent a part of humanity, and yet here was the contradictory evidence of what I started to wonder was the reality. Had my perception of the world been flawed all along? I felt compelled to try to know all of it, regardless that it was unimaginable to make sense of any of the senselessness. I still wouldn’t watch horror movies, but I spent the late hours of the night scrolling through my browser, reading true stories that felt like they need to belong in fiction. The softness I used to be known for began to slowly chip away from me.
I’m undecided I’ve ever truly processed the burden of all the pieces the web allowed me to witness from a young age. I’m not even sure my parents knew what dark corners I managed to seek out, the things I learned and witnessed through the small glowing screen—my very own personal Samara, crawling out from the boxy display to terrorize me. Sure, I didn’t die, nevertheless it felt like an element of me did.
* * *
The first horror movie that didn’t scare the shit out of me was one I didn’t particularly want to look at. But it was the lead-up to Halloween of 2018—just per week or so before—and when my friends gathered together for a movie night, all they desired to do was watch something spooky. My friend pulled up considered one of the Conjuring movies on Netflix. “I’ve heard this one is basically scary,” she told us. “It’s presupposed to be based on true events.”
At first, I braced myself for what I used to be about to see; then, ten or so minutes in, I started to calm down. I watched the entire movie without having to cover my eyes. I didn’t jump, didn’t flinch. In fact, during one portion of the film, when someone was dragged down a hallway by a supernatural force, I almost laughed. The whole thing felt so dramatic, so purposefully overdone, as if the filmmakers were trying so hard to make their audience feel afraid—a lot in order that it became funny.
But in my defense, it was hard to take anything that felt so fake seriously, not when the world was filled with so many real horrors that it not felt I could escape. I’d spent years watching pockets of my family grow to be politically radicalized to the purpose where I not recognized them. Almost each time I opened Twitter, I’d read concerning the latest mass shooting or instance of police brutality or murder of an innocent Black person. The white supremacist movement was alive and well, and also you couldn’t go to any corner of the web without encountering it. Everything on the earth felt terrible on a regular basis, and I used to be always terrified it was getting worse. In comparison, a movie felt so inconsequential—even one which claimed to be based on true events.
When the movie was over, everyone turned to me, the resident horror hater, for a response. But all I could do was shrug. “That wasn’t so bad,” I said, which felt like an understatement, nevertheless it felt kinder than telling them I felt nothing in any respect.
* * *
This 12 months, during a very busy week of October, I texted my friend, “I’m so sad, I don’t think I’ll have the time to look at all of the Halloween movies I would like to before the top of the month.”
Her response was swift and only somewhat comforting: “It’s okay, you’ll be able to watch them any time of the 12 months. Halloween could be over, however the horrors persist.”
The concept that “the horrors persist” is an internet joke stemming from… well, the proven fact that we live now, amongst all of this. A variety of current humor originates from this general sentiment, I’ve noticed. It’s a forced nonchalance, or perhaps an actual one which we recognize is inappropriate given the situation but that we aren’t sure what to do about. It’s a approach to divorce ourselves from the constant undercurrent of dread—or from the guilt we experience after we realize we not feel it so acutely.
But who can blame anyone for this response (or lack thereof)? Years and years after I spotted how desensitized I’ve grow to be to scary movies, I still find myself casually scrolling through my newsfeed and seeing a few of the most egregious acts of hate and violence I’ve ever witnessed in my life. We live in an age where we are able to watch war crimes and genocide in real-time through the screens of our phones. We carry around DMed death threats in our pockets from anonymous people we’ve never even met in real life. Just as easily as we are able to jump online and find the echo chambers that parrot back our own beliefs, we are able to find content actively advocating for our demise. In the midst of all of it—this latest brand of normalcy, in case you will—we forget how completely foreign this lifestyle would have been to anyone born before us. For higher or for worse, we cannot disconnect ourselves from how connected we’ve grow to be to the remaining of the world.
So perhaps it isn’t all that surprising that the myths and folktales that after entertained our ancestors not affect us in the identical way. Ghosts and monsters and the supernatural just don’t hold the burden that they used to. Similarly, I still don’t really care to look at horror movies because regardless that they don’t scare me anymore, I don’t find them particularly entertaining. They’re a reminder of a special time, when what was hiding in my closet or beneath my bed were essentially the most terrifying things I could imagine.
Because my friend was right—even without horror movies in my life, the horrors persist. There is enough violence and terror in the actual world; I don’t really want to search for it elsewhere.