Why I’m Drawn to Horror
One thing I love about the digital world we live in is the ability to chat with people from all over. Through Instagram and Facebook, I’ve connected with horror fans, writers, artists (IBTrav Artworks), podcast hosts (Homos on Haunted Hill and Fatal Follower Presents:), indie film creators (Chris Moore, Children of Sin), and physical media advocates. I recently befriended Anthony Yb, the creator of Fatal Follower Presents:, and asked him what he thought of my film reviews. After publishing several reviews on Horror Oasis during summer 2021, I wanted feedback. What did I need more or less of? Were my reviews worth reading? (That’s my imposter syndrome talking.) Anthony responded, “It would be cool to get some insight on your background with horror and what you like or dislike. That’s just me as a reader wanting to know more about you.”
The last time I wrote about my love of horror was at college in 2014. Isn’t an About Me article a little self-indulgent? Why should you care? However, Anthony made a good point. The reader might want to know more about the guy behind the articles, and it might give them some context into the types of movies I cover. And, while not all of us have the “oomph” to be a horror personality like Elvira, Joe Bob Briggs, or the Crypt Keeper, that doesn’t mean we should hide who we are or what we love from others. So, I’m here to take a one-article break from writing reviews to talk about why I’m drawn to the genre.
When my dad had custody of my siblings and I on certain weekends, it was a Friday night tradition to hit Blockbuster. I distinctly remember certain horror VHS covers. I was young, maybe in kindergarten or early elementary, and the artworks and photography pulled me in. Examples include Wes Craven’s Scream films (I liked seeing all the characters in formation on the cover), the Nightmare on Elm Street films, Jack Frost (who doesn’t remember the lenticular art featuring a happy snowman transforming into a jagged-toothed nightmare?), Fright Night (that face in the sky!), Dead Alive, the Child’s Play/Chucky films (especially Bride of Chucky – there’s something memorable about Chucky’s and Tiffany’s faces side by side), Hellraiser, The Sixth Sense, and Thir13en Ghosts. I was too young to watch any of these, but I was occasionally lucky to watch something scary. The Sixth Sense gave me nightmares. I don’t remember being that terrified of something since.
Way more influential than VHS cover art was my Grandma Sue. She loved horror movies and microwave popcorn, cutesy-spooky stuff, and the fall/Halloween season. During the crisp autumn months, her apartment was always covered top to bottom in orange-and-red leaf garland, clove brooms, and Halloween décor. There was always something sweet in her kitchen, like butterscotch toffee cookies, and a giant glass jar of candy corn on the table. On Halloween, she would often dress as a witch. As a kid, it was magical. She inhabited the true spirit of Halloween. She was into ghost stories, the supernatural, 70s-80s horror, and haunted house movies. She loved The Lost Boys, Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, Poltergeist, Halloween, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, The Fearless Vampire Killers, Salem’s Lot (really anything Stephen King), and horror comedies such as The Ghost and Mr. Chicken and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Of course, I wasn’t allowed to watch most of these. She provided a lot of family-friendly horror though, including Disney’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and the Vincent Price-hosted CBS special Once Upon a Midnight Scary (1979). I was exposed to a lot of horror and fantasy (The Dark Crystal) from a young age.
My grandma didn’t mind movies with a little bit of blood or profanity. However, she enjoyed movies that had a good story or mystery, and movies that were committed to character development. That was lovingly passed down to me.
Horror with Heart
I like to get emotionally invested in the characters and their troubles. No matter what horror subgenre I’m watching, I want to feel something when “the bad thing happens” and they kick the bucket. Also, when I invest in a movie, I want some sort of payoff – either for the characters or for myself. Did the characters learn something that irrevocably alters them? Did everyone in the movie die, and if so, did that mean it was all for nothing and we were cheated? Or, if the characters didn’t learn anything, did I learn something (or was I at least entertained)? Maybe some of this is the English major in me, but I’ve always enjoyed picking apart movies and literature. Everything has intent, purpose, or a message, and I like to discover what it is.
It should go without saying that many horror films are cautionary tales. This is evident in basically every 80s slasher (“Don’t stick your nose where it doesn’t belong,” “Don’t smoke or drink,” “Don’t have premarital sex at Make-Out Point”). However, many contemporary horror films reject this format (see Hereditary, The VVitch, The Babadook, etc.). If you’ve seen The Babadook, then you know it’s a very metaphorical type of horror. The monster can be interpreted as a monster, but it’s truly about a woman’s repressed grief and denial growing and growing until she can’t avoid it any longer. That’s the kind of horror pulling me in lately – a very cerebral horror where the character is battling something horrific within. I also enjoy horror where the monsters are more than what they seem – sometimes they crave life, love, and intimacy in a world that rejects them (see May, The Eyes of My Mother, and every interpretation of Frankenstein).rankenstein).
In ninth grade, one of my friends introduced me to Army of Darkness. It was an oddball mix of horror, slapstick comedy, and action/adventure. I immediately sought out The Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2 and watched the trilogy in order. That was an awakening.
My interest in horror grew exponentially when I got my license and could drive myself to Walmart. With a small amount of cash, I could purchase bargain-bin DVDS and sometimes spoil myself with new releases. While DVDs like The Lost Boys were already in my growing collection, one of the earliest horror DVDs I purchased was James Wan’s Dead Silence. It had everything my grandma would appreciate – an engaging plot, a creepy doll, and a surprise twist. I liked that Wan’s movies took an old-school approach to supernatural/haunted-house horror, experimenting with various camera angles and returning to makeup and practical effects as much as possible.
The horror movies I collected from my DVD-hunting were a haven, an escape, and a reprieve during some emotionally difficult and socially awkward teenage years. I felt different and was unable to connect with my peers. I was basically “adopted” by the emo kids at school. I didn’t listen to the same music or dress the same way, but I felt a small sense of belonging. The emo kids were also treated as Other, on the fringes of high-school society, and we had a mutual understanding.
I mentioned earlier (and in my Babadook review) the idea that, if you ignore something long enough, it grows and grows until it’s unavoidable. Things can get dark. My feelings of confusion developed during my adolescence didn’t vanish. Eventually, I had to dig deep and look at certain parts of myself that I thought weren’t “good” or worthy of love. Growing up, kids could be mean. They weren’t afraid to ask me flat-out, “Are you gay?” As if it were something vile. At the time, I didn’t have an answer – that drawer was shut, and I wasn’t ready to open it, and I felt shame and anger. Horror movies continued to be an anchor, something to go to when the world felt like it was caving in.
I think a lot of people who feel different and “on the fringes” connect with horror. It’s a safe way to explore uncomfortable and unusual topics. I myself felt Other, and uncomfortable and unusual. I think a lot of horror fans who were bullied can connect to some of these films because the monsters were also on the fringes and ostracized. Heck, in some of these movies, it’s emphasized that the humans are the real monsters (see Nightbreed). Jason Vorhees was bullied. Carrie was bullied. The list goes on. There’s no singular reason why people love horror movies, though. We all have our reasons. But I think for most, there needs to be a personal connection.
So, in my personal life, I faced my own Babadook and came out. If you’re wondering why I’m telling you this, it’s because I think it’s important – there’s an extremely large portion of the LGBTQ+ population that enjoys horror. This is evident on Instagram – I’ve made so many wonderful connections on there with other gay horror collectors and enthusiasts. Everyone across the entire spectrum enjoys horror, and that’s something to be celebrated.
My biggest horror boom was around the time the Scream Factory home video label was created by Shout Factory. Whenever I could (and still can), I stocked up on Collector’s Edition Blu-rays. The commissioned artworks (many from Joel Robinson) also drew me in. I discovered The Thing, Prince of Darkness, The Sentinel, Ginger Snaps, Cat People, Night of the Demons, Terror Train, Sleepwalkers, Silent Night Deadly Night, The Legacy, The Howling, and The Funhouse. Late 70s to 80s horror will always have a special place in my heart. They’re just fun! I mentioned earlier that I’m often drawn to cerebral stuff (Baskin, The Lighthouse), but sometimes with 80s horror you’re watching it because it’s funny, campy, bloody, and schlocky. A lot of these films aren’t setting out to make some grand statement or gesture – they exist to entertain you! Depending on my mood, I like nothing better than pouring a giant bowl of popcorn and watching a slasher. Scream Factory, Arrow Video, Severin Films, and other physical media labels make this possible. It’s a great time to be a collector.
I also embraced Italian horror (Suspiria and The Beyond), Canadian Horror (Black Christmas, My Bloody Valentine, Curtains), cosmic horror (The Void, Mandy, Color Out of Space), gay horror (Hellbent, Cruising), Hammer Horror films (The Vampire Lovers), and more. I don’t think there’s a limit to what I enjoy in terms of horror, and sometimes I just like movies because they’re visually appealing or they have a good score. There are so many components to a movie, and I never want to say a movie is 100% awful. I admire the fact that a group of people got together to create something. Someone had a vision and they saw it through. It’s brave to put something out into the world and to hope that it does well. And if it doesn’t go well, then maybe in a few decades it’ll reach its audience and turn into a cult classic.
Watching movies is a sensory experience – what you see, what you hear, what you smell (popcorn), how you feel, and what you’ve gathered from it after the credits roll. I’m someone who loves to talk about movies right after leaving the theater. If there’s one takeaway you get from this writeup, I hope it’s this: I’m someone like you who loves horror movies. I like to watch, connect, process, and write. I hope you’ll check out some of my reviews on here – let me know what you’d like to read about next and check out Fatal Follower Presents: episode #27. This writeup is very much a companion to that.
Bret Laurie is an editor, writer, and longtime horror fan living in Massachusetts. He received his B.A. in English at Worcester State University and currently has six years of editing and social media marketing experience.
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