• Nora Goodin

How to Start Watching Scary Movies (as Someone Who’s Easily Scared)


“Psycho.” “The Silence of the Lambs.” “The Exorcist.” All classics, all movies I had to stop watching five minutes in to prevent a heart attack. As someone who prides herself on being well-informed on all things pop culture, I was very frustrated with my dearth of knowledge when it came to horror movies. Up until a year ago, whenever someone yelled, “Here’s Johnny!” I just smiled and laughed, genuinely thinking they were doing a Johnny Depp impression. When I first saw Jack Nicholson’s face in that door and finally put the pieces together, I knew I had to make a change.

I decided I would jump headfirst into watching scary movies and then turned on Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” as I told myself that if I was going to scar myself for life, it may as well be with the “Best Original Screenplay” of 2018. It was a late October night, the lights were out in my basement, and I was home alone. The perfect setting for someone who had never seen a full horror movie in her life.

As I was watching the movie, I thought to myself incredulously, “This isn’t so bad.” Mind you, I was about three minutes in and was fully invested in what I now like to call the “fun and games” portion of the movie. The characters were smiling and in love, “Redbone” by Childish Gambino was playing, and everything was going great. The girlfriend even invited the protagonist to her parents’ house! What could go wrong?

Well, I wouldn’t find out the answer to that question for several months. I had to pause the movie at the first sign of distress (the characters hit a deer with their car.) It all was too much for me. My heartbeat quickened with every low bass note of the score, and I completely chickened out. However, I wasn’t so disheartened– I mean, at least this time I made it to the 10-minute mark. I just had to re-strategize and try again.

Now, I’m someone who loves reading about scary things. Third grade me was all over the “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” series, so if I ever want to know more about a horror movie, I have a ton of fun reading its Wikipedia summary and imagining all of the bone-chilling moments and directorial choices. As one might imagine, knowing every single plot point, jump scare and dramatic reveal of a movie really tones down the negative effect it can have on you. Unfortunately, it also takes any sort of mystery or suspense out of the film. I would recommend this method of fear-reduction to first-timers but would encourage them to use this strategy sparingly so that they can still get the full initial viewing experience.

In our generation, we’re very comfortable with multi-tasking. I, for one, am always scrolling on social media while simultaneously watching a TV show, and maybe also doing some homework. In most scenarios, splitting my attention this way prevents me from focusing enough on any one activity, normally a counterproductive idea. However, in the case of horror movies, that’s exactly what I’m going for. You can cue one up on your phone, already a small screen that maximizes efficiency when having to quickly look away, and half-listen to/watch it while doing a crossword, writing an English paper or painting your nails. Your brain is so overloaded that the fear doesn’t even register. I’m not sure how that works scientifically, but it sure does seem like the truth.

One of the main contributions to the scariness of a movie is its score. The slow building of tension before a jump scare or grating noises that reflect a character’s utter dread are enough to make me get up and walk out of the room. One way to overcome this major obstacle to watching horror movies is to use subtitles and mute the audio whenever you sense something unpleasant approaching. A lot of the visuals aren’t inherently extremely scary; it’s just the pairing with music straight from a 17th-century, off-key string quartet that enhances the fear. Once that variable is eliminated, you can watch knowing only one of your senses is subject to whatever Ari Aster or Sam Raimi has up his sleeve.

If you want to ensure that your exploration of horror movies won’t cause you to have trouble sleeping, there’s no shame in an early morning viewing. The first time I watched “Scream” was at 8:00 am in a hotel room bed with sunlight streaming through the windows. In this environment, the chase scenes were thrilling as opposed to terrifying, the jokes were funnier and lightened the mood, and somehow Courteney Cox was an even better actor. If I ever had to divert my eyes, I looked out the window and watched people walking around and having a lovely morning. It really took me out of the movie, and that’s exactly what I wanted. Most horror movies’ premises seem pretty ridiculous when the sun is out and you haven’t even had a cup of coffee yet.

My final strategy, and the route I decided to go with when I re-tried “Get Out,” is watching the movie with someone else who is either a) very brave or b) very funny. I watched with my dad, so I got both. Now I must admit, I also combined this method with my first strategy of reading the whole plot ahead of time (and watching cast interviews… and watching Jordan Peele on his late-night press tours), but this was still a very big step for me. We even turned the lights off.

My dad and I joked throughout the whole movie and laughed at all the right parts (and even some of the wrong ones), and whenever I was tempted to quit, I looked over and saw him enjoying and analyzing the movie for its substance while unfazed by the scary conduits used to display the deeper message. I wanted to be more like him, so I just sat back and watched, barely even covering my eyes for the rest of the movie.

I’ve now come to enjoy horror as a genre more than I ever thought I would. It’s not the type of movie I actively seek out on the regular, but I appreciate how many directors use scary images to explore and portray the raw fear and emotions that can come with everyday life. At the very least, I can look at the characters’ situations in comparison with mine and be grateful that even my worst moments don’t have any monsters, demons or age-old curses in them.


[Image via Unsplash]

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