Tiptoeing through my fears
In this lengthy post, I jump around from discussing the beginning of my horror film journey in between some dialogue I had on the set of Kid Simple.
Thoughts from September 19th | 10 PM:
Today, after loading in for Kid Simple (the theatrical performance 4381 Productions is collaborating with), the Director was explaining his vision for the show. Since there’s virtually no set, he wants it to be expressionistic/noir. He describes the setting as the “void.” Essentially, nothing. Blackness. Only the actors will be lit throughout. They’ll be acting in this void to help with technicalities (but I imagine it’s also to ensure their performance is the focus).
I looked to my fellow crew.
“Kind of like when Eleven is in the upside down in Stranger Things?”
The first time I consciously watched something I’d heard was scary might have been Stranger Things. I didn’t know anything else about it except that the principal actors were children (one of which was a young girl that shaved her head for the role), and that everyone was talking about it. Somehow, on a random summer night with my family, I decided that was good enough for me to join them in watching this “really good” show that might have been a little scary.
On this Friday night, some four odd years ago, I was a little scared. Despite the fact that my family was kind enough to leave the lights on while we watched (a nicety they’re not as willing to extend anymore), and that the target audience is pre-teens. I’d definitely say the flesh-hungry, faceless monster had a lot to do with my stomach knots, but the important thing was that I still watched. As freaked out as I was, I binged-on with my family until I was watching the end credits of the last episode, sad that the season was over.
Was it that good? I’m not sure what it was, but over the next couple years I would put up with some slightly unsettling episodes because I seemed to really enjoy all the other parts of the show.
I believe it was one of the precursors to my horror journey.
It might be really cheesy of me to say I like the show, but I do. Although the following seasons didn’t match up to the first one for me, I still come back to it. Thankfully, not scared anymore.
Since having watched, I’ve been told by several people it was never really scary at all… Although that makes the me who saw the first season a few years ago feel wimpy, I see why. There’s just so much more to the show than horror.
I mean, that’s why I like it.
“I’ve never seen that show.”
I pondered this reply for a moment (thinking everyone had seen it).
“Have you seen Insidious?”
At this point, I didn’t even recognize myself.
Insidious. That’s one of those movies. The kind I never, ever, planned on watching (but didn’t actually know anything about, on account of: I’m scared, so I don’t care).
To explain how I got here, let me back-track a little bit.
My horror film journey had quite the chaotic start (going back to the extremely difficult task of trying to classify and label horror films). My family was thrilled to be leading the way for me, as I finally joined their little game of movie masochism (am I being dramatic?)
I suggested The Blair Witch Project. I’d read that it might not be as scary to a modern audience, and figured it’d be a decent place to start. Let me explain that thought process.
Freshman year, I took an Intro to Cinema course at my community college. Nosferatu and Psycho were on the syllabus, which meant nothing to me until the professor labeled them horror films.
That’s it?? That’s all I could think after watching them. Not about how revolutionary or artistic, nor about how inventive or classic – I was just relieved that I wasn’t terrified. Not significantly enough to remember or notice, anyway.
After this, I thought I’d figured it out: old horror films aren’t that scary. I thought maybe cinema had gotten too convincing now and that I was free to watch as many old horror films as I wanted to because they wouldn’t get me (there might be something to this, but it’s certainly not complete).
With The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari added to my list after taking History of Cinema at UH, I was once again proud to leave the screen and have sweet dreams, but this time I was able to pay more attention and understand why it was “scary” – why it was a horror film. The concept and the visuals were twisted enough for me to appreciate the sentiment, but safe enough for me to feel unaffected by the end. I enjoyed watching and felt like I had been misunderstanding horror for so many years. Especially how expansive it could be.
So there I was, reading reviews for The Blair Witch Project on a Saturday night with my family. It might have been that the reviews were warning viewers to heavily consider the context of the release year (and I didn’t think my family would appreciate it as much as I would) or that we had to pay to watch, but we kept browsing.
We settled on a movie called In the Tall Grass after watching the trailer and deciding I could handle it. Sigh. I told my family I’d seen Bird Box completely by mistake and thought it was disturbing, so they tried to find a movie that would be around the same level. I’d say they were right. I think nearly anything is scary, so this film was no exception. Bird Box and In the Tall Grass both make me feel uneasy. The malevolent presence in both movies is left a mystery, but when seen (or touched) by the characters, it takes over. I. don’t. like. it. The loss of control that the characters experience is already completely creepy, and then to throw more layers on top of that, where the characters then try to get other characters to join (in an even more creepy, and possessed way), is unsettling. Not to mention the- um- suicides and murders.
My family, however, thought it was boring. They’re not wrong: it’s a movie that takes place entirely in tall grass… but they thought it was nothing more than just a little creepy. (Spoiler) HOW is a woman eating her bloody newborn a little creepy?
It wasn’t the fear they were looking for. Although the very twisted deaths in these films certainly made me uncomfortable and scared, my family was confident they weren’t horror films. Just, kinda creepy, suspenseful ones.
That’s probably why they decided to ramp it up to Insidious. I figured that movie was months away from my tolerance level, but after my cousins debated, they decided there were only a few jump scares and I would be able to handle it. Of course they would throw around “it’s not even that scary” a couple times. But they said the same thing about so many other films… I agreed anyways.
In a shocking twist: I survived.
There were times I had lingering fears for days after watching the film. I made sure to watch it during the day, but when I found myself alone at night, my brain thought it’d be funny to all of the sudden start remembering the movie. Any tips on how to stop thinking about a scary movie after watching? The best I could do was try to see the funny in it to distract myself, but that won’t work for every movie.
SPOILER: The scariest part for me was the voice talking to the mother through the baby monitor (typing this at night while I sit alone is not super bright of me). The mystery and demonic intentions of the red monster thing throughout the movie obviously scared me. Especially when it appeared within frames where it was unwelcome.
As I remember it, I recall being very, very scared. Especially as I try to re-paint these creepy pictures back in my head to write this. However, my family was onto something when they said it gets a little cheesy. There’s a chunk of the film that becomes silly almost. It’s still freaky, but I obviously wasn’t trying very hard to suspend my disbelief (probably as a coping mechanism), so it was easier to see how cheesy the characters ended up looking and acting.
Not to mention I found myself thinking of SpongeBob when “Tiptoe Through The Tulips” started playing. Why they’d use Tiny Tim’s very distinct voice when my favorite cartoon debuted with “Living in the Sunlight” 11 years prior is beyond me, but it helped ease my stomach while watching. That’s good news for me, but…
I was looking for a movie that was worth being scared over.
I don’t think Insidious was that kind of movie. But, I did get to use it to describe lighting on a set. And I felt cool doing it. Like a person who watches scary movies.
As lame as it is, I also feel a little bit accomplished. I checked off a box for a movie I didn’t think I would ever sit through, and one that I know other people think is scary also.
At least some people.
“Yeah, I’ve seen it”
“Okay, cool. You know when the dad goes looking for his…”
Afterthought: This particular photo of Nosferatu is from a separate SpongeBob episode. I couldn’t help myself.