Day 2: Horror
October is Magill Horrorfest month, when my sister Marlie, my cousin Morgan and I all attempt a month-long scary movie sprint together. We've done this each of the last few years, some more successfully than others, but each year it helps to bond us even if we don't get to spend the time together physically. Some years Morgan was in Florida, or Marlie was in Corvallis, or I was in Newberg, and now Morgan's back in Florida, Marlie's in Eugene and I'm in New Jersey. We are in three separate corners of the country, so it seems more pressing than ever for us to share this experience.
The pinnacle year for my horror viewings came when I was a sophomore in college. Apart from a few days where I fudged the rules (watching Indiana Jones or Surf Ninjas instead of anything remotely Halloween-y), I watched a new movie in the genre every night. And it messed with me. It probably wouldn't have been so bad if my housemates had come along for the ride, but other than the first night when we all watched the Strangers, they were generally horrified by my undertaking, in theory and in practice. There was not a true horror fan among them apart from myself, so they would often ask me to wait until they had all gone to bed, past midnight, when I would then watch the movies alone in our home's cavernous common space, wrapped in an afghan that covered all but my eyes.
Night after night I ticked films off my long list, covering a wide range of genre staples, from Disney camp-fest Hocus Pocus to visceral found footage iconoclast the Blair Witch Project (the latter of which spooked me more than any other movie that month). And each day I was groggier than the last. As the month went on, I got used to less and less sleep, to the extent that by the end of October I was every bit as much a zombie as the ones in my movies.
But it was worth it. It was something I tried and did, started and finished. Plus, in case this is not as of yet clear: I love scary movies.
I do. I love Halloween, I love October, and I love horror films.
I catch some flack for it too, especially in my more explicitly religious friend circles. Which is so silly to me, because of all the contemporary mainstream genres, horror actually has the most to say about faith, doubt, good, evil, and other big, weighty issues. That's actually what horror does best, what it's good for in the grandest sense: it puts something visual to certain deep human impulses, bringing light to our fears, our anxieties, and our social concerns.
Horror helps us deal with anxiety by manifesting it, by providing literal monsters for us to run from, battle against and prevail over. It brings to light even those issues we would rather let sit in the dark corners of our psyches forever. And if it's any good, it also shows us how to move forward, how to cope with loss, how to find the light or ask for help when we can't seem to do it on our own. Abject hopelessness is not that compelling narratively, but terror with a glimmer of hope can speak volumes about the human condition. Because sometimes life is terrible, but there is always that little wavering candle. And if you're a Christian, you know your source of hope is bigger than any Big Bad or Boogeyman.
I think of a fantastic Australian Indie horror flick that came out last year called The Babadook. While seemingly just another tale of haunting and possession on the surface, the film actually spins a rather elegant allegory of pain and mourning, and how our own grief can affect those we love. I won't divulge too much else, because it's on Netflix and I recommend it to everyone with even a passing interest in good scary movies.
In any case, horror is something that one must consume with discernment, because many popular "scary movies" traffic more in gore or gratuitous sexuality than in storytelling, but every so often, if you're looking, you can find something fun, funny, witty, profound, compelling or cathartic in the horror genus. And if you do, tell me about it. Because I'm always looking.