I've been a fan of horror movies as long as I can remember. Part of my love of them is based on how they tap into our most primal fears and so inspire an often unmatched group dynamic that surges through an invisible thread of electrified terror that connects audience members most clearly when we all groan, squirm, leap and scream together. It's this sharing of scares and screams that makes horror movies so much fun, and such a strong source of bonding from slumber parties to dates and midnight screenings.
But the sinister side of horror is the scares that follow you home afterwards. When you're all alone and the twisted scenes play out in your memory, does that weird bump in the night give you pause? Does shutting off the lights to go to bed cause anxiety? Do nightmares plague you the whole night through?
Whatever the immediate effects, I've found that there's a more lasting impact horror has had on me, making me fear—or at the very least be wary of—a handful of things that recur in some of the most terrifying movies. Below I share the things I fear along with why I believe their impact is profound and universal.
My fear of the ocean began as a kid withJaws, which today persists as being one of my favorite movies of all time because of its scary and satisfyingly exhilarating narrative. I revisit this movie at least once a year, usually before I go to the beach. So yes, I am doing nothing in the way of squashing this fear, but that's by design. The ocean is massive--and even with all of our technology--still wild and unknowable with beasts we strain to comprehend and sometimes can't even find. It is deep, vast, mysterious and a place where we don't belong. The same goes for outer space.
Similarly a wild zone, the woods strip away mankind's best evolutionary tool of survival: society. Whether it be horny teenagers slaughtered at an isolated summer camp (Friday the 13th), arrogant city slickers terrorized by raping rednecks (Deliverance), or curious college kids being stalked by a rabid and ravenous beast of legend (Troll Hunter), the woods is a place where there's no hope of calling in the authorities to the rescue. Here the hero must fight for their survival on their enemy's home turf, and the results often favor the feral.
If you claim you've never been freaked out while home alone in the bathroom, you're lying. The bathroom is often where we're most vulnerable to surprise attacks. Here is where we are literally exposed, and totally defenseless. Plus, we're ingrained in a routine in this space that it can make us blind to dangers, like the cross-dressing serial killer skulking outside our shower (Psycho), the countless creepers who live to lurk in our mirror's reflection, the zombie outside the stall (Zombieland), or the carnivorous critter crouched in the toilet (Ghoulies II). Okay, if you weren't a little freaked out by bathrooms before, you are now, right?
No filmmaker has articulated my fear of having something living growing inside me quite like Ridley Scott. In Alien and Prometheus he had characters harboring ghastly developing extraterrestrials in their guts, and in both instances the results were gruesome with the little bugger hell-bent on its host's destruction. As if pregnancy wasn't scary enough, there's a whole subgenre of creepy kid pics where these wide-eyed little cuties are likewise naturally bent to kill and maim. Whether its The Bad Seed, Rosemary's Baby, or We Need to Talk About Kevin, these features bolster my fear that just because a child might grow inside you doesn't mean you can possibly anticipate what it'll be for better or worse…but mostly for worse.
Breaking The Rules
Scream spelled it out: "there are certain rules that one must abide by in order to successfully survive a horror movie." For slasher movies like that, it's all about "the sin factor," but horror is rife with rules that if broken, incite a horrible and often deadly penalty. This was especially terrifying as a kid because it confirmed all of my deepest fears about rule breaking, and because it was prevalent in the first horror movie I remember watching, 1984's Gremlins. All the terror unleashed on the sleepy small town of Kingston Falls came from Billy Peltzer's refusal to follow the three simple rules of Mogwai pet care. More recently, the ensemble of Halloween revelers in Michael Dougherty's underseen but excellent anthology Trick 'r Treat reminded us of the importance of rules as they suffer or thrive based on how they choose to respect the rules of tradition. I won't pretend horror has made me a total goody goody, but its demons have often been angels on my shoulder.