My relationship with horror is—like most things, including gender and dairy—complicated. I swore off Halloween completely when I was nine after enduring a traumatic experience in the home economics classroom my school turned into a haunted house during its annual Halloween party. I barely took two steps before getting so scared I passed out. Another kid threw up. So many parents complained that the school ended up eschewing any sort of haunted house going forward.
I was so traumatized—my mother is convinced that this incident triggered years of irrational fears that would torment me until I was officially diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder as an adult—that I no longer celebrated Halloween in any capacity. We didn’t even mention it at our house. I avoided any and all spooky-looking decorations when October came around and opted to stay inside and watch Spice World on VHS instead of going trick-or-treating on Halloween. But, while I hated getting scared as a child, there was also a certain thrill I missed as I grew up, one that I would continually seek after becoming an adult.
It all boils down to psychology. Horror and thriller are designed to elicit a shock response releasing hormones like adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine, which combat stress and anxiety. Afterward, the brain calms itself with serotonin, resulting in a general sense of well-being—at least neuro-chemically speaking. (Source: Google.)
As someone desperate for serotonin (I mean, hello, this entire newsletter was conceived as a response to this insatiable appetite), who will take it anywhere they can get it, horror has turned into a much-needed reprieve for me. If I’m feeling stressed or anxious, scaring the shit out of myself will, at the very least, distract me from the chaos pinballing around my brain. The only downside is: EVERYTHING SCARES THE SHIT OUT OF ME. Seldom do I sleep soundly after watching something scary. My electricity bill skyrockets because the lights remain on. I will FaceTime my best friend at two in the morning out of precaution because I have to pee only to hurl my phone out into the hallway shouting, “DO U SEE ANY CHILDREN IN VICTORIAN GARB????” It is not sustainable—not for me, not for the people around me! Yet I keep doing it to myself!
Here are eight horror and thriller films that I've watched within the past year or so that I probably shouldn’t have, but did anyway.
Let me start by saying: I don’t mind gore. It truly does not bother me. What I can’t watch—or shouldn’t, I should say—is anything about hauntings or possessions. I think it’s because shit like that actually exists. And I know it does because see: last week’s newsletter. And while Hereditary is lightly garnished with haunting, it isn’t enough to make me shit my pants like the other movies forthcoming on this list. Don’t be fooled: I still jumped after plenty of scenes. And I was thoroughly grossed out. But I was too disappointed that Toni Collette didn’t automatically just EGOT after her performance during that dinner scene to be actually too scared to sleep.
Okay, let’s just fucking do this. Let’s talk about her. First of all, I loved the first Conjuring. It was pee-your-pants-inducing for sure, and I couldn’t sleep for maybe two nights—at most—after watching the first one. But after watching The Conjuring 2, I DID NOT SLEEP FOR TWO WEEKS.
TWO WHOLE WEEKS!!!!!!!!!!!!
I had two sets of string lights in my old bedroom that were on for two weeks straight. I NEVER BOTHERED TO TURN THEM OFF. Listen, that fucking demonic nun scared the shit out of me. I don’t know why. My friends ask me if I’ve ever had an unpleasant experience with a nun. I have not! She just petrifies me! My partner thought she was hilarious—camp even! NOT I.
In order to get over my fear of her, I’ve had a few friends suggest I watch the spin-off based on the nun from The Conjuring 2 because of how bad it was. The logic behind this was that because the movie is so terrible, it will disillusion me. Here’s the thing: just because a movie is bad, DOESN’T MEAN IT’S NOT SCARY. FUCK Y'ALL.
I will watch literally anything with Linda Cardellini in it. I’m also familiar with the myth of La Llorana because I too identify as a perpetually wailing spirit. I took the plunge and decided to watch this one a few weeks ago and it scared the hell out of me too. She did not scare me as much as the nun, but she still did a number on me. Good thing I don’t have kids because I would give those fuckers up so fast!
I recently watched this one for the first time after reading my pal Lindy West’s hilarious recap in her newsletter, Butt News, which you should subscribe to immediately, don’t even bother finishing reading this post! Lindy also watched it for the first time, and after reading her recap I was like, if not now, when? It is, after all, a precedent-setting horror film, popularizing the use of found footage in horror. (See: Paranormal Activity. Seriously see it, because I refuse to finish it, and then tell me what happens.) And, of course, it’s what you can’t see that scares you. Sure, seeing the actual Blair Witch would probably scare me and many others, but it’s so much scarier to hear one of the guys claim they heard cackling coming from the woods. Netflix's 2018 blockbuster Bird Box adopts the same technique: we never see what the folks who are driven to kill themselves see. It’s like edging! But with diarrhea.
I would describe this one as “not Quiet Place.” The words “premier” and “horror” and its application to Case 39 would be a stretch. If you’re looking for the Jordan Peele experience, veer in the opposite direction. But, if you’re like me, and love
bad not-scary scary movies, you will enjoy this one. Renée Zellweger adopting a demonic child? MY CHIPS ARE ALL IN. I need to give credit where credit is due, though: this movie does do a great job with its set-up. I don’t want to commit the sin of spoiling a movie, but it did throw me through a loop for a hot sec. I’ve seen it twice, and I’ll probably watch it again! Not sorry!!!!!!
This is the most-recent horror film that I’ve watched. I know I’m late to the party—I’m late to the party with literally all of these movies—but this shit was fire. I love all the actors in it so that’s what hooked me—and it did not disappoint! The demon that appears behind Josh in broad daylight? I screamed so loud that some neighbor—either next to or below me—shushed me. (Only in New York City can you scream and instead of someone checking in on you do you get shushed instead. :’))))))) Also, that bitch in a wedding dress from Josh’s childhood? I could only deal with her ass with one eye covered. And Elise, my heart! She is so sweet and calm and reassuring in moments of terror and calamity. I want her to be my emergency contact. FIVE STARS.
I know I have a lot of spooks to catch up on, but I’m always looking for recommendations. If you have any scary movies I should definitely not watch, drop them in the comments below. In the meantime, as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark*would say, unpleasant dreams.