Looking back, I realize that I was always into horror; I just didn’t know how to admit it.
I was a nervous kid and a bit of a loner. Panic attacks, nightmares, insomnia… these were as much a part of my childhood as Barbie dolls and Saturday morning cartoons.
This isn’t to say I didn’t like to be at least a little bit scared. As far back as I can remember Halloween was my favorite time of year; the idea of playing dress up was as enticing as getting a sack full of candy. Every October, my art class teacher played the same record, called Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House. I looked forward to hearing it even though it gave me the shivers.
Then there were the movies. I remember being told to stay away from the den when my parents watched The Shining, but when the BBC production of Count Dracula aired I guess they thought something on PBS couldn’t be that scary. Thus, I was allowed to watch it with them. I recall being so terrified that night I put a crucifix, rosary, and Bible next to my bed. Just in case.
It wasn’t just the scene where the Count brought home a leather satchel full of babies and his brides drained them of blood. It was the way Dracula could transform into mist, seeping through the tiniest cracks in the windows, casting a spell on others so that they would not be able to wake up and save you as he drank blood from your neck and eventually turned you into a vampire. For a Catholic kid who would normally lie awake in bed most nights while the rest of my family slept, it was a terrifying prospect.
Sometimes, in order to seem cool, I would watch horror movies with friends and try to convince myself that they weren’t scary. Later on, in the solitary darkness of my bedroom, I’d think about certain scenes and regret my decision. Sometimes all the convincing in the world didn’t work: I watched Poltergeist on cable in my grandmother’s bedroom, and in the scene when the clown doll attacks Robbie, I pulled a blanket over my head and screamed so loud my mother came running.
Pet Sematary was one of the first R-rated movies I saw in the theater. I wasn’t afraid of children or cats coming back from the dead, but seeing Aunt Zelda in the basement paralyzed me with terror. Any logical person would realize there was no way that Aunt Zelda would have been lurking in my boyfriend’s car in the parking lot after the screening, but I made him check before I would get in, just the same.
I continued to watch horror movies as the years progressed, even though sometimes they freaked me out so much I had to close my eyes. Every year I looked forward to Halloween and spent months planning my costume and creating scary music mix tapes. Still, I never thought of myself as a fan of horror movies.
I moved to Canada from the US in 2005. Soon after, I attended FanExpo and experienced Rue Morgue’s “Festival of Fear.” That’s when I finally realized that being a horror fan was an actual thing. Like me, there were others out there who loved to be scared, but who were simultaneously scared of being scared. Discovering the horror community meant I didn’t have to restrict my love of Halloween to one month out of the year; I could enjoy it all the time, through horror movies and TV shows and other forms of pop culture.
It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I would come to understand just how important horror could be to my mental health. That move from the US to Canada brought with it a kind of culture shock I had not anticipated. Years of working in unfulfilling office jobs were taking their toll on my self-confidence. I had always wanted to do something with my film degree and my love of writing but it never seemed to work out, and I was personally and creatively frustrated.
This perfect storm of self-doubt and stress created an environment in which my old childhood nemeses – insomnia and panic attacks – came back with a vengeance. I had a nervous breakdown a couple of weeks before Halloween 2007 and even though it was the worst thing that ever happened to me, it was in many ways, a gift.
During my recovery, I began to actively seek out more horror films, both the ones I’d always heard about but was always too scared to watch and newer ones that seemed scary. They spoke to various fears of mine: betrayal, claustrophobia, gaslighting, isolation, losing one’s mind, sudden death. Being terrified out of my wits became a catharsis. After all, I’d experienced the hell of wanting to kill myself and made it through the other side with my sanity intact. No matter how terrifying, a horror movie is just that: a movie. After it’s over, and adrenaline is pumping through your veins, you remember how glad you are to be alive.
Over the next few years, I kept looking for more horror films to watch – old and new – always trying to find the ones that would shake me to my core. Watching these movies helped me realize where my fears came from, why they caused me so many problems, how to deal with them, and in some cases, overcome them. I began to write about these movies and why they scared me (or didn’t) and why I thought they might scare other people.
After watching (and writing about) so many horror films, it has become harder and harder to find ones that will scare the hell out of me. Every now and then one will surprise me, and it’s that hope that keeps me looking for more. And I’ll never get tired of looking.