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Creeping back into horror

The confessions of a cinematic scaredy-cat.
An illustration shows a guinea pig with patchy brown, black, and white fur against a purple background. Around the guinea pig are images of the moon, a spiderweb, the "Goosebumps" logo, the mask from the "Scream" film series, an image of a Predator, a bat, a spider, a blackbird, and the possessed girl from The Exorcist.
Illustration by Rachal Duggan.

The confessions of a cinematic scaredy-cat.

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Pour one out this Halloween for the scaredy-cats. The kids who were teased while they hid under the blankets during the scary movie at sleepovers. Who were peer-pressured into spending their hard-earned allowance to watch a horror movie between their fingers when they would rather watch literally anything else. 

As a young scaredy-cat who was also trying to be a “cool girl” (it was the late ’90s, early aughts, don’t judge me) I tried to veer movie choice to the classic, more predictable (and less jump-scary) movies, like The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Shining. After 28 Days Later came out, like many others, I went through a brief zombie phase that included Shaun Of The Dead, but mostly focused on classics like George Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead and Dawn Of The Dead.

But as my adult brain developed and was less susceptible to peer pressure, I accepted that this experience that other people seek out and maybe enjoy is not fun for me. It’s not because I’m skittish about the occult; in fact I do enjoy horror when it’s confined to the page and my imagination. As a young person, I was on the Goosebumps pipeline that led to RL Stine, Christopher Pike (Stine’s pseudonym for his older teen fiction), Anne Rice, and Stephen King. At the beginning of the pandemic I went through a Shirley Jackson phase and most recently I’ve read Mexican Gothic, The Only Good Indians, and Nothing But Blackened Teeth, which is The Haunting Of Hill House at a Heian-era manor with Japanese folklore and body horror. 

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So the issue is not a lack of interest in horror as a genre, but once it’s translated onto the screen, big or small, I just can’t do it. I do not enjoy the tension, the jumpscares, and definitely not gore. So I opted out. For a long time, I was fine with that because a lot of horror was deeply unappealing to me, especially films centered on trapping, torturing, or raping people, which felt like an oversized portion of the genre. 

But for a few years now we have been in another “golden era” of horror where the genre is growing and telling different stories. I still have not watched any Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us, Nope) or Ari Aster (Hereditary, Midsommar), or Quiet Place movies even though I really want to. Also Wisconsin has an interesting history as a setting and filming location for horror films. 

As I’ve dipped my toes back into the genre, I’ve learned my long abstinence from horror has made me even more of a wimp. The effort was partly inspired by The Scaredy Cats Horror Show podcast, which convinced me to watch the cat clip from Alien. Within a few seconds I chickened out, so that whole series is not happening.

Someone whose movie opinion I respect highly recommended the Netflix series The Haunting Of Hill House by Mike Flanagan (Hush and Doctor Sleep). I powered through and eventually made it, but only because I was able to frequently pause or outright stop watching and switch to a palate cleanser. I probably went through a whole season of Jane The Virgin in the time it took me to get through Hill House, and Jane The Virgin had some long seasons.

I also made it through the new Predator movie Prey, but with the caveat that it was the middle of the afternoon, full sunlight, at my brother’s house with him and his partner. Also, for a Predator movie, not a ton of gore. Still, I did it!

Hill House was so good I’m slowly acclimating to horror again through Flanagan’s work. The Haunting Of Bly Manor was pretty easy, but I would classify that as more of a Gothic romance than full-blown horror. He also made Midnight Mass; I got maybe 20 minutes in and then something large and menacing swooped across the screen and I was out. 

I started The Midnight Club four days ago and got halfway through the first episode. I’ve gotten through two full-hour episodes of my palate cleanser Love Is Blind (again, don’t judge me) during that time. Maybe by the time this is published in a week I’ll have finished that episode. Stretch goal: finish episode two.

That is only possible from the safety of my home, on my iPad, with my husband and guinea pig present for moral support. Which means I’ll be skipping the numerous horror screenings around town this month and into early November. 

WUD Film has announced an October 28 screening of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse at Union South. Dario Argento’s Suspiria is getting two showings on October 29, one at UW Cinematheque in a new digital restoration and one at the Orpheum with a live score from Goblin. Cinematheque’s retrospective on UW-Madison alum Stuart Gordon wraps up with an October 30 screening of From Beyond at the Chazen Museum of Art. The slow-burn Swedish vampire drama Let The Right One In screens November 3 at Union South.

Meanwhile, I will probably be watching Hocus Pocus.

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