The first movie I remember walking out of was Hocus Pocus. I recall crying as I ran to the exit full of fear and regret. I remember watching The Witches for the first time, I didn't finish that either. I walked out of The Others in 2001, the Orcs forced me out of the first Lord of the Rings film and to this day I've still never seen a Final Destination movie.
I'm a coward, loud and proud, a total scaredy cat. I'm terrified of almost everything. You don't need to tell me how pathetic it is to be frightened of movies, I get that. Which is why this year I challenged myself to watch one scary movie every night for a week.
1. I must not have seen the movie before.
2. I must watch the movies after dark, in the dark.
3. I must not get too drunk while watching.
4. I must watch the movies alone.
Day one started like any other: I was just another sexy coed minding my own business. I was your regular Sidney Prescott, a less sleep-deprived Nancy Thompson, 2015's Laurie Strode. I guess I was so carefree because I didn't really have anything to fear. Or so I thought...
I made the decision to start the week with Stephen King's It. And it sucks. It sucks so hard for two reasons: Tim Curry is fucking horrifying as Pennywise, and the movie is a three-hour sprawling narrative with momentous pacing issues. Worse yet: I was terrified the entire time.
What I quickly learned with horror movies is that they aim to totally subvert the mundane and the safe. It plays on the idea of childhood fears and presents the viewer's most innocent ones back to them, pushing them to the ultimate end: death via fanged clown beast.
I woke up around 4 a.m., which is not unusual. I've never been a very good sleeper and being awake at this hour is a regular occurrence. I still took my phone with me to use as a flashlight on my way to the bathroom, the first time I would be confronted with a drain since It. Pennywise taunted his victims from drains and it's only when you're taunted by something do you notice how haunting they've always been.
I pissed with the lights on and the door wide open. "Who cares if my housemate sees my dick," I thought, "when a demonic clown could grab me at any moment." Covering the drain with a bathmat, I darted to my bedroom hoping to get a little more sleep. Hope floats, I thought. They all float down here...
It was Tuesday the 13th, so it made sense that the second movie on the list was 1980's Friday the 13th. I never went to summer camps so at least I had the ability to separate myself in that small way. "This could never happen to me!" I thought, "because I'd never purposefully go on vacation in the woods." The woods don't have wi-fi.
Where It played on the notion that fear itself could be my undoing, a noticeable theme of Friday the 13th is: as soon as you fuck, you're fucked. As soon as you let your guard down and allow yourself to succumb to sexual desire, you're vulnerable to the possibility of a brutal murder. Worse still, it was like someone had dropped a vat of Viagra into the water supply at camp Crystal Lake. Never mind all their friends kept turning up dead, these horny teens were desperate to get their fuck on!
I want to say I didn't find this scary. I want to say it, but I know that every time a sexy teen was brutally murdered, I jumped out of my skin. The infamous Kevin Bacon scene played through my mind later that night when I was in bed. Never knowing if or when you'll be brutally murdered is one thing, but having a vague awareness that it will probably happen when you've got your dick out is another. Luckily I was having about as much sex as Jason Voorhees was at the bottom of that lake.
When I asked colleagues why they enjoy horror films, the most striking reason turned out to be exactly why I avoid them. "When you're watching horror, your fear takes over and you're completely immersed in the film. That doesn't happen for me with rom-coms."
What if I don't want to be immersed in a world where driving down a highway can eventuate in a family of chainsaw-wielding cannibal rednecks torturing you?
Which led me to day three: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
My least favourite in the entire process, Texas Chainsaw Massacre derives pleasure in lingering on pain and terror. The finger sucking, the waxy old man that's basically every Grindr hookup I've had, the disgusting masks, the filthy house. I was on edge the entire time and yet no one could answer me one very important question: what happened to the truck driver at the end of the film? Was he OK???
Later that night I was laying in bed and heard something innocuous from the other room. My skin felt like it was on fire as terror wrapped its hands around me. The tiniest noise and all of a sudden I realised Kevin Bacon was in bed when he was killed. I was in bed... I was... Kevin Bacon?
By this point I started to realise the way I interact with horror films centres around ego, how I position myself in the movie's world. I know I'm not the final girl type, I'm not the character that deserves the survivor's treatment, and I'm not sticking around for the end credits. I'm klutzy, loud and offensive enough to know that if there's a masked man chasing a group, I'll be singled out and taken care of early on. I don't identify with the survivors, I'm identifying with their idiot friend.
On Thursday I broke rule three and got incredibly drunk to watch 1981's Evil Dead. Rule three existed because I knew if I had the chance, I'd spend the time on Twitter, disassociating myself from the film as much as possible. And that would have been true had it not been for exactly how fucked up Evil Dead was. I get that there's humour in the film, I get that, but I was scared! Scared and drunk! And even in my saturated state, Evil Dead still managed to make me sleep uneasily.
The close quarters of the film is jarring, the claustrophobia of their surroundings - but more so the way nature itself becomes villainous. The sexualised violence, while played for comedy, is still really horrific and filled me with unease. Watching horror movies drunk was so far my favourite way to experience them. Reading my drunk texts the next day was less great.
I woke up the next morning with what can only be described as an Evil Head but powered through the hangover as I was so close to the end of this horrifying journey. Of course I couldn't go past the original Halloween.
I can't tell if horror movie characters make the worst decisions, or if they make the exact decisions I would. Halloween is one of those films that really displays the human decision-making process at its worst. Laurie spends so much time trying to convince her friends she's being stalked by a creepy madman, yet when Tommy alerts her to a boogeyman figure stalking the house, she brushes his concerns off as poppycock. Laurie, you dickhead.
Halloween genuinely frightened me, mostly because of how much of the film occurred during daylight. Michael would just appear in places, stalking a woman for seemingly no reason, and killing anyone he interacted with. Not because of some ~demonic curse~ but because he was just a really fucked up dude. Awful.
Nearing closer and closer to the end I made a really stupid mistake. On the sixth day, I went and watched Crimson Peak by myself. OK it isn't a TERRIFYING film, but sitting alone in the cinema, there were enough jump scares to make me super uncomfortable. Not even Tom Hiddleston's bare ass could put me at ease.
Later that day I broke rule four and made my housemate, Rob, watch Nightmare on Elm Street with me. "It was scary!" He said afterward, shrugging like I had just asked his opinions on aubergine. Nightmare on Elm Street works on a simple premise: you're not safe when you sleep, and you never know when you're dreaming. It flip-flops between Freddy's nightmare world and reality with such fluidity that you have to always question what you're seeing. Hated it. Hated it. Hated it.
Nancy's mother in this film sucks more than any other horror movie character, when her daughter is giving her ironclad proof that Kruger is attacking her friends, it takes her mum AGES to finally concede, "yeah OK I pushed the guy you've been accurately describing into a furnace," and then locks her in the house. Not cool, Mum. Not only did I identify with Nancy because I too am an adorable high school girl, but I barely sleep. Plus, Nightmare and Friday the 13th include what I like to call "Everything Is Fine LOL JK" scares right before the final credits. It lulls you into a false sense of security that everything's going to be fine, and then BAM - pulls you right back into that anxiety that no one is safe. That's just uncool.
On the final day, I broke rule two because if you think I was going to watch The Exorcist at night you're as dumb as I look. Throughout this whole experience people would tweet me with which film scared them shitless, and soon after someone would immediately contradict them. This happened a lot with The Exorcist, someone would tell me it was the scariest film they had ever seen - only to have someone soon after tell me it was fine.
I didn't hate The Exorcist as much as other movies throughout the week, it's masterfully made, and it really does stand the test of time - even when it has been parodied to the point of no return. Possession films always terrify me because they're pitched as ~based on real events~ and I immediately assume I'm about to be possessed.
Maybe it was the fact that I watched it on a sunny Sunday afternoon or maybe I had built up some kind of resistance to horror films, but The Exorcist definitely didn't creep me out too badly.
When the credits ran on the final film I realised I had survived. I was the final girl. I was Marilyn Burns in the back of the pickup truck. I had been through vigorous finger-sucking and lived to tell the tale.
But everything has changed. Mostly, I realised my couch is a horror villain's dream: the fabric tucks into itself in a way so inviting for hands to reach out and grab you. There's gaps between the floor for murderers to hide under, there's mysterious stains that I can only hope to God are mayonnaise, and there's space between the wall and the couch; perfect for an arm to reach up and yank me into some ungodly hell dimension.
I still don't understand what it is that drives horror fanatics to scare themselves into oblivion, but I know I can survive it. I made it through chainsaws, possession, Kevin Bacon and demonic clowns - so maybe I can make it through them after all. I spent my whole life avoiding these movies because I wasn't sure what would happen if I watched them, but it turns out - maybe I am a survivor after all.
Just please, God, let there be no sequel.