In the last few posts I’ve talked about common female tropes found in horror movies and some of my favorite female protagonists in horror, but what’s the point of all that if you don’t like scary movies? Personally, I’ve always loved the genre and have found that I don’t scare easily, but that’s not true for a lot of people. Over the years I have come up with a method to prepare for a movie that I find makes it so much more entertaining to watch.
Part of the problem with a many horror movie-watchers is that they go into the experience already frightened. This makes them tense and on edge, and that’s no way to watch a movie. Now, I’m not saying you should be totally relaxed, you might fall asleep or be so unawares that you have a heart attack. But, when you’re getting ready to put on a horror flick, you should be calm but guarded, open to the experience but ready for the jump scares and poor decisions that come with the genre. Mastering this guide will help you appreciate the film, not take it too seriously, and fall in love with horror movies in general.
Here is my how-to guide to enjoying scary movies.
Step 1: Pick the right movie!
If you’re new to horror, you probably don’t want to jump in head first and put on Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), The Shining (1980), or The Exorcist (1973), all of which are regarded as some of the scariest movies of all time by multiple sources (links in sources). Start with something a little easier. Some good options might be the 1991 classic The Silence of the Lambs (a realistic, crime thriller with few jump scares) or something a little more light-hearted like Scream (1996) or The Cabin in the Woods (2012). If you want a movie that is a more honest horror, go for the former, but if you are looking for something that will really ease you in and mock the form a bit, go for one of the latter. You should also be conscious of content. If you’re deathly afraid of spiders, don’t pick Arachnaphobia (1990) even though it’s a little comedic. If you do not care for gore or graphic content, you should probably skip out on 2004’s Saw. Picking the right movie is not always easy, it’s all about knowing what you can handle and what you’re looking for in your viewing experience.
Step 2: Find a friend/friends.
Watching horror movies is fine on your own, but it’s so much more fun when you can share it with a pal. Having another person in the room definitely helps relieve some of the fear and tension that can build when watching this genre, plus it can be nice to squish up close to someone for moral support if the movie is really getting to you. When you have someone to watch with, it can make a horror-comedy funnier and a slasher more entertaining because you can place bets on who’s going to make it out alive (that might sound gruesome, but schadenfreude, am I right?). And don’t limit yourself to one movie-watching friends; the more the merrier!
Step 3: Be prepared!
Being prepared for a horror movie includes a couple of things. Let’s break down the perfect preparatory process.
- Go to the bathroom. Now, you might be thinking, “but I’m watching at home, can’t I just pause the movie in the middle if I need to go?” And yes, you can, but do you really want to be scared into… relieving yourself? Probably not. Definitely hit the head before your hit the play button.
- Snack time! You’re watching a movie for goodness sake. If you don’t have a bag of popcorn (or chips if you don’t like popcorn) and some kind of movie candy, you’re not doing it right. My personal favorites are popcorn with some Old Bay and M&M’s or Twizzlers, but you can’t go wrong with plain buttered popcorn and any kind of chocolate or fruity candy. I also like to make myself a cup of tea or hot chocolate, just because it’s nice to have something warm to sip on if you start getting goosebumps or chills. There are plenty of good movie snacks and drinks, but these are my favorites.
- Blankets don’t hurt. I like to wrap myself up in a nice cozy blanket before I start the movie; it makes me feel safe and secure. Everyone knows that blankets protect you from monsters.
Once you do all that, you’re ready to start the movie!
Step 4: Keep an eye out for ‘movie magic’.
Undoubtedly, no matter which scary movie you pick, there will be a moment when you can feel the fear creeping up, slowly growing inside you. When that happens, remind yourself that it’s just a movie. Sometimes it’s a lot of fun to totally throw yourself into the movie and go where it takes you, but if it becomes too much you can keep a look out for what I call ‘movie magic.’ When I say that I mean the bloopers, the special effects, the bad CGI, and other things that can help take you out of the moment. One pretty common example is the pea soup used for vomit in The Exorcist (1973). One I can remember is from the first horror film I saw in the theater. I went to see The Possession (2012) in theaters with my mom and I was getting increasingly nervous. As the end was approaching, and with it the climax of the drama, there was a scene during the exorcism where Em (the possessed little girl) leaps off the table, attacking the rabbi performing the exorcism. In that moment, my fear dissolved and I actually burst out laughing because of the bad CGI used to make the actress look demonic.
Another good way to relieve stress is to take bets at the beginning of the movie. Within the first five minutes, or after meeting a majority of the protagonists, you can take bets on who’s going to live, or die, or become possessed. It may seem a little sadistic, but hey it’s just a movie after all.
Step 5: Wind down with something funny.
Once the movie is over, it’s not uncommon to be left with what I’ll call ‘phantom fear.’ The movie is over, dead, but its ghost is still there haunting your mind. The anxiety you felt while watching the movie is lingering and you might be having some trouble moving on from it, especially if you’ve watched the movie at night or in the dark. The best way to overcome ‘phantom fear’ is to watch something funny. Throw on an episode of whatever sitcom you’re watching, something you’ve already seen so you don’t have to think too much about it. Or, if you have the time, put on a comedy special. They’re usually an hour long and, by the time it’s over, you’ll have put the scary movie out of your mind. It doesn’t really matter what it is, as long as it’s something that can make you laugh.
Step 6: Get on with your life.
Congratulations! Now that you’ve conquered whatever movie you decided on, and hopefully enjoyed it, you can move on with your life. If you didn’t like the experience, no big deal, you don’t have to keep watching this genre of film. But, if you liked it, you’ve unlocked a whole new level of movie watching. In the end, the only thing that matters is that you were entertained. Sure you can watch movies with a critical eye, but, for the most part they were created to give you an escape from your mundane day-to-day life.
Watch movies that you enjoy. Watch movies that push you out of your comfort zone a little. Watch movies that make you happy, or sad, or whatever emotion you want to feel. It shouldn’t matter what genres you like or don’t like. If you’re looking to expand your horizons, try a new genre. If that new genre is horror, give these steps a try, you may find that they enhance your movie-watching experience.
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Sources for Scariest Movies Lists:
“100 Best Horror Movies of All Time.” Rotten Tomatoes Movie and TV News, editorial.rottentomatoes.com/guide/best-horror-movies-of-all-time/.
Barone, Matt. “The 50 Scariest Movies of All Time.” Complex, Complex, 1 June 2018, www.complex.com/pop-culture/scariest-movies-all-time.
Beaumont, Mark. “The 25 Scariest Horror Films of All Time.” NME, NME, 21 May 2018, www.nme.com/blogs/the-movies-blog/the-25-scariest-horror-films-of-all-time-2098907.
Beres, Damon. “The 31 Scariest Movies of All Time.” Reader’s Digest, Reader’s Digest, 23 Feb. 2018, www.rd.com/culture/the-31-scariest-movies/.
Roffman, Michael, et al. “The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time.” Consequence of Sound, Consequence of Sound, 7 June 2018, consequenceofsound.net/2018/06/the-100-scariest-movies-of-all-time/full-post/.
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