In the milliseconds it takes for the camera shot to pan a half-inch to the left, three things have already happened. One: Popcorn crumbs have left the comfort of their greasy bowl and entered the asteroidal mess of floating dust specks. I dread cleaning them up later. Two: Both my arms flex against the incoming tightness of my friends’ gripping fingers. They sit on either side of me, reaching over out of sheer instinct. As they lean over, screaming, the bed creaks, and for an instant I worry it will break beneath us. Three: The scary face has flashed, the dramatic music has boomed and dissipated, the screen has faded to black in a matter of seconds. And I feel no fear.
I am obsessed with horror movies. When friends come over, and we crowd around a screen flashing dark hallways and pale faces, I laugh through the chorus of shrieks that accompanies every jump scare.
I talk about these movies, recounting their stories, threading wefts and warps of cinematography and plot into a bloodstained patchwork of what couldn’t, shouldn’t, will not exist. “Based on a true story” in a crumbling red font will only conjure an uptick in Google searches on ghost hunters in Connecticut.
“Why do you watch them?” a friend had asked me once.
Well, I never watch them alone.
When I sit with a group of people around me, and we’re screaming at the same scary face, we are brought closer, joined in our fear. When we clutch each other’s arms and rely on each other we’re in active support of one another. I can’t help but think that as these short instances of trust accumulate, they grow into something much broader. Maybe I’ll share with them that I’m afraid of my future. Maybe they’ll share that they are, too. Maybe we’ll clutch each other’s arms in this fear, in this mutual understanding, in this support.
The slam of a door or the shriek of violins puncturing a wall of silent air might make me jump. A figure appearing behind the protagonist may force a gasp from my lungs. But that’s not out of fear.
“Why don’t horror movies scare you?” another friend asked.
It’s because I am always afraid — just not of the twisted images from cheesy thrillers.
I’m afraid that while I walk back to my dorm room from the library, alone and in the dark, lurking in the shadows is someone who can hurt me far more deeply than any ghost or demon could. I’m afraid enough to calculate how high to tie my ponytail so that I’m less easy to grab onto. I’m afraid enough to pour out my drink after losing sight of it, so I don’t have to become one of the three women that statistics are always touting. I’m afraid of acknowledging that I already am one of these women, that the statistic is based on my own true, horrifying story where the credits won’t roll, and the monsters won’t go away.
When I watch these movies with my friends, we are linked in a shared sense of fear. When I walk alone across campus at night, I am linked with the millions of women fearful of being assaulted. More so, I am linked with the women who have been assaulted and fear speaking up in a society where many sexual offenders go unpunished, and victims are often castigated for “ruining lives.”
I obsess over horror movies because each one offers a sliver of hope that there is something out there, even in the realm of imagination, that is scarier than the reality of having autonomy over my own body stripped away from me. That is scarier than being a young woman in America walking alone in the dark.
And so when it comes time to relax and unwind in the comfort of my obsession, I find myself begging the screen, “Please scare me. Scare me more than I already am.”
Contact Clara Spars at cspars ‘at’ stanford.edu.