Sleepovers and Serial Killers

9 August 2018

The night sky is overcast and starless. You’re uneasily aware that nobody else is home and curl up inside a blanket in an attempt for comfort and reassurance. You shiver; the air in the shadowy room is ever-so-slightly too cold for your liking. You draw yourself closer, preparing for the imminent disaster about to occur, and hit the play button on Netflix.

Surely that’s the best way of a watching horror movie, right?

Maybe not. During the winter holidays, I decided to spend a cold and uneventful evening binge-watching whatever latest horror movies just released on the site. Spoiler alert: the whole experience could be summarised by a single word, “meh”. The characters followed the same tired tropes ubiquitous in all major studio horror movies, best deconstructed by satirical The Cabin in the Woods. Stereotypical characters like the “jock” or the “nerd” reenact the same plot-advancing but unrealistic actions. Please, please just stop going into the basement if the lights aren’t working.

But my newfound cynicism for the horror genre surprised me. How come the fear factor just didn’t click? What was missing now that was present in the other films that I’d watched?

Well, it turns out that the missing item had nothing to do with the film itself but was more about what I was missing: my friends.

Horror movies evoke a myriad of emotions for their audiences. They can be disturbing, distressing, disgusting, and so on, but for my friends and me, the genre has become associated with nostalgia.

I definitely prefer it when the eerie synth soundtrack is perforated with hushed apologies of “sorry my hand is so sweaty” and soft pitter-patters of popcorn spilling onto the floor. Slasher films become a reason to nervously laugh as you dare each other not to look away as the screen becomes progressively more occupied by red. Just like those clichés from the movies, my friends and I had our designated hang-out space, The Shed. Someone’s dad’s mancave taken over by a group of teenagers, it came with a sofa bed, a few spare mattresses, and a large wall-mounted TV that at one period of time exclusively played horror flicks torrented from the Pirate Bay.

The rise in popularity of films and TV shows like Stranger Things and It suggest that I’m not alone in craving the nostalgic feeling of being able to tackle any problem, no matter how big or scary, due to the strength and resilience of your friendships. Watching a wholesome group of friends beat the bad guys resonates with young people who are starting to face overwhelming expectations and responsibilities in their own realities.

However, gore is something that I absolutely cannot tolerate. I will leave immediately at first sight of a bone sticking out of a leg. But historically, violence has been associated with entertainment with gladiator fights and public executions—maybe partially explaining fans of the genre today.

Horror movies, on their Wikipedia page at least, are categorised under speculative fiction—a genre described as playing out the “what if?” scenarios. While the films’ primary and secondary goals are to create a profit for its studio and frighten the audience respectively, the genre can also reveal the unsettling fears and faults of society at large. Look no further than the phenomenal success of the 2017 Oscar-winning Get Out, an American horror movie that brings out an insidious form of racism that strikes uncomfortably close to home.

While some creations of speculative fiction explore realistic near-future dystopias, many horror films can uncover our anxieties more subtly. Unpleasant matters like drug addictions, unknown illnesses, politics-gone-wrong are shown via metaphor, while other horror films delving into the darker elements of human nature—such as jealousy, greed, or neglect—portrayed via the supernatural.

Horror movies, despite their attempts to petrify their viewers with depictions of the inhumane or supernatural, act as a catalyst for human connection. This can manifest in an assortment of ways depending on the mindset of their audience going into the viewing. The distinctiveness of the horror genre is that a single creation can promote discourse on painful issues while also existing as a way to watch your friends freak out to then laugh about later.

On a Friday afternoon after school had finished, a group of us decided to watch one the Conjuring movies at the local cinema. During one of the relatively creepier scenes, I turned to the friend sitting next to me hoping to share a small, queasy smile for reassurance. The scariest part of the whole movie was in fact nothing that I saw on the big screen, but rather that she was making out with her date. Yikes.

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