Guest Writer: Michael J. Miller
I am a huge baby. I don’t try to hide this. When Kalie and I began dating two years ago I’d only seen one or two horror movies. Why? I don’t like being scared so I didn’t like them. However, apparently part of being in a relationship is sharing each other’s interests soooo now I spend a lot of time watching horror movies. Aaaagggh!!! As I’ve embarked on this frightful foray into the world of horror (beginning with Annabelle and most recently A Cure For Wellness) I’ve come to appreciate and even enjoy the genre in my own way. I’ve also developed a series of coping mechanisms so I can survive watching these films. So, if you’re like me and you’re forced to watch you enjoy horror movies but are TERRIFIED while watching them, try these tricks!
My methods rely heavily on popular culture and using my imagination to outright redirect the story in my head. If you can harness your thoughts, I promise these approaches work. They even make horror films more enjoyable! Their success on countering the nightmares that follow? Eh, about 65% effective. My best tool for beating the nightmares is to space out viewing. Multi-night marathons will mess you up in dream land. As there are different types of horror movies, I’ve had to develop different methods for controlling my fear and moving myself to a happier place. These techniques are as follows:
1) Know how long the movie is going in.
Normally I don’t ever like to know the length of a movie I’m watching. I don’t want anything pulling me out of the film you know? I like to be totally lost in the story. Not with horror movies though! I need to know how long it is so I can do rough mental calculations as it goes on with how much I have left to endure. As the fear starts to hit I say, “Okay…you only have about fifty minutes to go. Right? What’s fifty minutes? You can survive that!” Or I’ll say, “You’ve gotten through about forty-five minutes! You can do another hour. You’re about half way there and still alive. You’re good!” Trust me, if you’re scared of this stuff like me, the run time is your best friend. Incidentally, I don’t find bathroom breaks helpful. In the theatre you have to go back in to the scariness with the added bane of being disoriented with the plot and at home it gives you a false sense of security that’s shattered when you hit play again.
2) When would I call the Ghostbusters?
This was my first real thought-out technique. It’s helped me often and it’s made my horror watching more fun. Given the nature of Peter, Ray, Egon, and Winston’s expertise, this technique helps with films about ghosts, demons, possession, and the like. Here’s how it works. You begin by watching a horror movie. You legitimately enjoy the start of the film where everyone’s alive and part of a happy family. As things start to get weird and go south you put yourself in the character’s shoes. If you’re imagining that all of this is real and that it’s actually happening to you then it’s not a far stretch to imagine the Ghostbusters are also real. Then consider, “If this was happening to my family/house/child/significant other/self/etc., when would I call the Ghostbusters?” From that point on you watch a different movie in your head, the one where the Ghostbusters arrive and save the day. You use the power of your imagination to put them in every single scene and see how it all changes! I guarantee you’ll be a lot more relaxed. The guys in grey are always ready to believe you and the ghost never has a chance. The Ghostbuster-infused versions of the films you create in your imagination always end up happier and funnier too.
This works very well with classics like The Shining, The Innocents, The Exorcist, The Haunting and more modern films like The Conjuring (Part 2 as well), Insidious, Paranormal Activity, the Ouija movies, Lights Out, The Vatican Tapes, The Darkness, and that twisted horrifying mess that is Sinister. They’ve already dealt with Krampus in their comic too. Bonus! Now we have two sets of Ghostbusters so you can pick your team or mix and match who you’d like in any particular scary movie. If we’re talking about Bughuul, I’d recommend calling in all eight of them.
3) What if Wolverine was in this movie too?
What do you do if it’s not a ghost or demon freaking you out? Any film where you’ve got a lot of violent psychos chasing you or crazy home invasions playing out or some sort of sadistic killer stalking you could be easily handled by Wolverine. Just imagine it – Logan is a badass. He’s not flinching. He’s not scared. He’s ready to fight when needed. But it gets better! Wolverine has a healing factor allowing him to recover from just about any wound. He also has razor sharp retractable claws and an unbreakable adamantium skeleton. What horror movie baddie can handle Wolverine? Let me answer my own question – none of them. So this technique works similarly to the Ghostbusters one. You watch the movie. When it starts to get too scary you imagine Wolverine walking into the scene. Then you imagine all that follows with Wolverine there to kick ass and handle shit. I like to imagine him slowly emerging from the shadows and saying something like, “This isn’t gonna end well for you bub. Take my advice. Walk away now.” Of course they don’t and then Wolverine proves, with grim efficiency, why he’s the best there is at what he does…even though what he does isn’t very nice.
He’d be a perfect fit for The Purge (the sequels too). Can you imagine anyone trying to purge with Logan there? The same is true for situations like The Green Room or the Saw movies. Also, Logan would be a natural help with The Blair Witch Project (or Blair Witch too). His superhuman senses could help navigate the disorientation. On that note, he’d make short work of The Thing and I’d love to see him go toe-to-toe with Michael Meyers in the Halloween movies.
4) What if Deadpool was in this movie too?
This is the third option for the imagine-a-different-movie approach. Say you like the idea of an indestructible hero but the film is so creepy the tone needs to be lighter too. Is there a way to mix the Wolverine method with the Ghostbusters method? Of course! That’s where everyone’s favorite Merc with a Mouth comes in. Deadpool gives us lethal fighting skills and a healing factor as good (if not better) than Wolverine’s. There’s nothing your average horror movie villain is offering up that will take out Deadpool. But he also gives us a steady stream of pop culture references, cutting sarcasm, and wildly inappropriate innuendo. Deadpool never shuts up. This is perfect because a) it’s entertaining for us as viewers and b) it annoys the horror baddies all the more and, to be honest, those creepy monsters deserve to have their ear talked off as they’re being cut apart by katana blades! Admittedly, this one’s a bit more trying for the imagination as coming up with quips on the fly as fast as Deadpool is a challenge. But, it also gives you something to think about other than your own fear.
I think Deadpool would fit well with Strangers. I hated that movie! Gah! So creepy. Those horrible, horrible human beings could stand to get their asses kicked and have their ears assailed with his nonstop stream of sass. He’d also be a good addition to something like Scream, which is scary and features the sort of meta-humor that’s Deadpool’s trademark. Plus he needs to be in The Shallows just for marriage reasons :). And who wouldn’t want to see him babysit The Children Of The Corn or help Lauren Cohen babysit in The Boy?? Sign me up please! He’d certainly be an interesting foil for the girls in Knock, Knock too. I could also see him fit in Don’t Breathe.
5) How do I conjure my Patronus charm again?
Sometimes it takes more than a superhero or a team of trusted supernatural exterminators to protect my sense of wellbeing when I watch a scary movie. Sometimes a horror movie is either too scary for that or it leaves me feeling too freaked out afterwards to have any semblance of balance. That’s when I turn to Harry Potter and the patronus charm. A patronus is a defensive spell, called forth from your happiest memories, to repel Dementors (ghastly monsters that prey on happiness, sucking your soul out as they feed). Calling to mind a patronus during a horror movie has two benefits. (And when I say “calling to mind” I literally mean I imagine I am actually casting one.). On the one hand, it lets you imagine dropping the patronus in the scene like the techniques above and everything scary running away. On the other hand, you can think of what your happiest memories are as you imagine conjuring one yourself and literally distract and protect you from the horror unfolding before your eyes by thinking of happy things.
I am hard pressed to remember a recent movie as disturbing as The Cure For Wellness. It was masterfully crafted but messed up. Happy memories are a must for what that film leaves you mulling over. Of course, for continuity sake, we have to conjure our own patronus for The Woman In Black right? I mean, I kept expecting
Harry Daniel Radcliffe to do that in the actual movie. So the least I could do is conjure one in my mind to help keep the fear away. Other good fits for this one include The Ring, The Disappointments Room, The Witch, or even classics like Psycho.
6) Let’s take apart all that’s trying to scare us and see why it’s scary.
My imagination doesn’t always cut it though. Sometimes I can’t drop the Ghostbusters or a superhero into the movie to make everything alright. Sometimes I’m too scared to pull the happy thoughts that will create a patronus. So when the fear is really crawling in my mind and my heart is racing and my anxiety is rising I deconstruct the scene in a mechanical way. “Okay,” I say to myself, “why are you afraid? You know this is a movie. You know this isn’t real. This whole film was created to scare you. So how are they doing it? Look at the lighting. Listen to the music. Look at the camera angles and cuts. Those are all chosen specifically to elicit the reaction you’re feeling right now. They are literally assembled to scare you. It may be working but if they weren’t there, you wouldn’t be scared. So, since the fear is only a product of these assembled parts it’s not real. I’m not really scared. So that means I don’t have to be scared of these intentionally assembled film techniques.” This is pretty effective. I don’t always use it because, sometimes, it pulls me out of the movie too much to go back in and authentically feel the plot. Still, it works. So when I need it I resort to it, whether or not it ruins my ability to be able to participate in the rest of the movie.
7) Lastly, there’s literal meditation.
Sometimes this is the only option. When all else fails, I close my eyes and focus on my breathing. I try to shut out everything else (which is rough because you can hear scary stuff too) and only pay attention to my breathing in the present moment. I breathe out the anxiety and fear growing in me as I would breathe out any distracting or unwanted thought during meditation. On my in-breath I gather calming thoughts and on my out-breath I release my anxiety and fear. I pay attention to how my mind and body are trying to react to the stimuli I’m taking in. I note and value those reactions and then I allow them to leave with my out breaths. Then, when my heart rate has slowed and a bit of calm has returned, I go back to the film. This is effective but, given the nature of being at the movies you can only meditate for so long. This is good to recharge yourself for a few moments during the movie before jumping back into the fray.
These seven techniques have honestly helped me (especially in the early days of my horror career) to be able to watch these movies without weeping from fear. If I’m being honest, I totally did that during Annabelle. The opening scene had these cultists attacking an eight-month pregnant woman (not cool!) and stabbing her in the belly (so not cool!!!) and I was gone. Kalie looked over, my eyes were squeezed tightly shut as I gripped her arm and tears streamed down my face. “Are you alright?” she whispered worriedly. “Yes,” I squeaked. “You really don’t like horror movies do you?” Kalie whispered again. “No,” I squeaked again. Motivated by compassion she asked, “Do you want to leave?” I mustered my courage to squeak again, “No. I’m fine. We can stay.” It was rough!
I worked my way through months of blind fear and horrible nightmares to get where I am today! I don’t have to resort to my techniques as often as I used to either. Woo hoo! But, I do owe Kalie a “thank you.” I’ve always loved going to the movies. And a part of me was always bothered by the fact that there was an entire genre I couldn’t participate in because I was just too scared. Kalie gave me a reason to subject myself to sheer, blinding terror and was there to hold my hand when needed. She’d also tell me when it was safe to open my eyes. Through it all I’ve finally gotten to the point where I can enjoy horror movies! I get excited to see them now too (even if I’m always filled with regret and fear as the lights start to go down). However, if it gets too bad, I’ve got my handy bag of tricks to get myself through it! May they help you as they’ve helped me. Oh, and if you have any other ideas for managing fear as you watch horror movies, please let me know!!!