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My Pretentious Deep Dive Into The Horror Genre

As a newbie, horror seems to exist in a space of its own, a unique contribution to the film industry as a whole. What keeps horror relevant, from “Saw X” to “The Shining?”

“Goosebumps” made me cry at a sleepover. Keep in mind, I was 12, but I cried nonetheless. I also might have peed my pants, but I’m not going to confirm anything.

Essentially: I was not a big fan of horror. Recently, though, I’ve been getting into beginner horror. They’re definitely not the scariest horror films out there, but “Barbarian” and “Us” were the perfect mix of underlying societal commentary and some good old ‘what the [Jody won’t let me say this]’ did I just watch?” Along with more contemporary movies, I’ve also been dabbling with some classic slasher films: “Friday the 13th,” “Scream” and “Halloween” being some of my favorites.

Horror movies, to me, exist for one purpose and one purpose only: to get you thinking about something. For the connoisseurs of the genre, I completely understand wanting media of substance; but that isn’t me, most of the time. If I wanted something to really think about, I’d watch a documentary about monkeys or something. I find myself proven wrong, however, when I watch a scary movie and internalize a made-up message all on my own–in that pretentious way column writers so love to do.

The genre exists as a vessel to wake the viewer up–a slap in the face during a life of long, often monotonous work. And for those who really pay attention, there can be a hidden message, like playing a song backward and hearing “satan eats cheez whiz.” My point is that horror movies can have whatever message the viewer deems important, and there can be an endless amount of interpretations that stem from someone trying to make sense of what they’ve watched. 

For more experienced viewers, it can also just be a fun time. Some people just like to get the shit scared out of them, I suppose. But I think horror serves a greater purpose, as all psychology students have a fondness for saying. The movies are a vessel to warn the viewer about something—a grotesque example of what not to do in a situation. Sometimes, this warning can be societal: for example, many critics much smarter than I am have made the connection between class divide and “human clones living in tunnels underground” in Jordan Peele’s “Us.” 

You could apply this logic to just about anything–in “Barbarian,” there’s a not-so-subtle commentary on the culture surrounding sexual assault through a naked incest baby living under a Detroit Airbnb. “Get Out,” another one of my favorite Jordan Peele movies, presents its message on the nose rather than in weird, disturbing alien allegories, addressing the struggles in an interracial relationship and “meeting the parents.” 

Even one of my favorite poser horrors of all time, “Llamageddon,” one hour and nine minutes of pure, unadulterated insanity, teaches me a lesson. To not let an alien llama bite you so that you don’t deliver its baby in a pile of green sludge? Possibly. But also to stick up for the people you love, or otherwise save yourself quickly (aka don’t linger on saying goodbye). There are incredible films, and there are terrible ones, but they all force the audience to look deeper than what’s on screen, the innate and singular duty of a horror movie. 

These films are all disturbing, terrifying and oftentimes make you sit and regret watching them for a period of time in the middle. I’m new to the horror genre, and yet I find myself drawn to it more and more—away from the sappy Christmas-themed rom-coms I guiltily catalog in the winter, and the action movies I now seem to find shallow. Horror is not perfect, as the endless amounts of “Saw” lore can demonstrate, but it’s one of the mediums I find most enthralling now. Films like “Hereditary” and “Midsommar” are placed on streaming services next to “Killer Sofa,” “VelociPastor” and the fourth “Jaws.” There’s an endless amount of content to watch, and if you look hard enough, you just might find the beauty in every horror movie, no matter how low-budget it may seem.