My Horror Journey

Updated: Oct 1, 2021

When I was a kid, I never expected horror films to become such a huge part of my identity. Even a glimpse of a horror film used to give me nightmares as a child, no matter what I saw. Simply knowing that what was coming across the screen belonged in that genre created such a visceral reaction in me that I would run and bury myself under all the blankets I could find.

Art by Amanda Mazzillo

One film changed my mind and started my near-constant infatuation with the genre - The Evil Dead (1981). At this point in my life, I was discovering how much I appreciated comedy, my other favorite genre. The Evil Dead films progress further and further into comedy as they go along, so I was inspired to give them a chance. The original film has a special place in my heart for sparking my interest in the genre, but the sequels, Evil Dead II (1987) and Army of Darkness (1992), were even better. These movies helped establish my tastes in a genre I fought against for so many years. My family’s distaste for the genre made me think I felt the same way, but throughout my childhood, I devoured horror-adjacent films and found love in the gothic aesthetic without really knowing it.


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When I was a little kid, I watched The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). I do not remember a single moment from the film, but I remember hating the experience. Years later, I saw the film again, after some people I knew told me not to watch it. This second venture into Tobe Hooper’s classic slasher gave me a new lease on horror. I started to realize the worth of what is under the surface of horror films. Watching this again after years of studying film ---- both in and out of classrooms ---- was wonderful and opened me up to the art of horror and how much I enjoyed analyzing the genre. This also helped me take pride in my views and analysis of cinema, even if others disagreed. At times, I think horror and comedy are my favorite genres because of how often they are looked down on by others. I love finding the most interesting films in a genre so often ignored.


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I sat with my cousin as Rose Red played on the television. This miniseries created by Stephen King explores the legacy of a haunted house and the ghosts within. My first thought while watching this as a child was not one of fright, but one of female empowerment. I felt this house hated men but would nurture women. This was one of the first times I was not scared watching horror. I even acted out scenes from the film with my cousin’s dollhouse. We would utilize the balcony often, and spent a lot of time focusing on the fact that parts of the dollhouse were unfinished. This was our Rose Red. I never once felt this was my beginning interest in horror because nothing about it felt all that horrifying to me. But, I do think this, and the countless dark-skewed children’s entertainment I consumed was a formative part of my childhood, leading directly into a later interest in horror.


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My crush on Wednesday Addams started strong and has remained with me ever since. This film helped develop my deep love for gothic fashion and girls with big eyes. I would constantly rewatch Beetlejuice, never once thinking this could lead me towards horror films. I still pushed the genre away, scared by even the mere mention. I watched Beetlejuice, The Addams Family, Clue, Casper, and many more horror aesthetic films aimed at children.


Even though these films clearly feature horror elements, my view of the genre was twisted. I thought horror had to be slashers and jump scares, and to a lesser extent, I didn’t identify anything I liked as horror because for so much of my life I told myself I hated it like the rest of my family.


My sister, who can read but not watch horror, liked Beetlejuice and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. This made me view these films as disconnected from the genre. My personal style quickly developed into an even mix of horror and cute vintage even before I was open to watching any film I truly saw as horror.


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I sat in my elementary school reading classroom; book open to the assigned teleplay of a Twilight Zone episode. I was already familiar with the episode and many more of the series but still found myself drawn into the story. That’s what you get from watching the New Year’s marathons throughout childhood. My family loves science fiction, so back then I never viewed the series as horror, but episodes like "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street," "Eye of the Beholder," and “Living Doll” gave me an education in horror before I knew it really existed.


“Living Doll” follows a young girl who is given a Talky Tina doll that kills men she doesn’t like. “Eye of the Beholder” sets itself in a world different from our own, but just as focused on appearance. The main character tries and fails to get plastic surgery to look like everyone else, but the surprise comes when her bandages are unraveled. Both episodes rely on suspense and the unfamiliar.


“Living Doll” is a precursor to the extremely popular horror series: Child’s Play. “Eye of the Beholder” is a subtle prototype of the body horror subgenre which includes films like The Thing (1982), Shivers (1975), and Society (1989).


This reading class gave me a love of reading, the written word, and cinema. Analyzing episodes of The Twilight Zone was my first foray into looking at film and television the same way we do literature. Critical analysis in classes such as this one made me interested in studying literature when I first went to college. I ended up studying writing and film after realizing that I wanted to analyze that combination between script and screen.


We cracked our books open to a chapter on Edgar Allan Poe. Reading his short stories and poems led to Roger Corman film adaptations, frequently ones starring Vincent Price. In this fifth-grade classroom, away from my family, I watched more horror movies than were ever shown in our home, but this newfound interest in Vincent Price ---- one that has remained since and brought me to Theatre of Blood (1973) and The House on Haunted Hill (1959) ---- gave way to my mom telling me about her childhood experience watching The Tingler (1959). My mom frequently talked about how scary this movie was to her as a child. She never wanted to revisit it, but there was a hint of happiness to her recollection.


In the past, my parents would tell me about the horror films they had seen with a guise of warning me away from them, but as my interest progressed, these stories shifted. Instead of telling me not to watch The Silence of the Lambs (1991) ---- which in turn made me more interested in seeing it ---- they realized the value in the fear they felt and wanted me to experience it with my own love for the genre.

Art by Amanda Mazzillo

Years later, I was once again in a classroom reading a short story from the horror genre ---- "The Most Dangerous Game.” We watched the 1932 film adaptation which starred Joel McCrea and Fay Wray. The classroom bustled with kids who had never seen a black and white movie before. Everyone complained about having to watch it, even as Joel McCrea came across the screen in all his matinee idol glory. I looked around and said, “Why? He’s hot.” My friends looked at me like I said something unbelievable, but to this day I still believe Joel McCrea is a classic Hollywood heartthrob. I kept it to myself that I was attracted to both the leading man and woman. It wasn’t quite the time to let all my classmates know that aspect of my identity.


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I sat in a darkened theater, waiting to see Spider-Man swing between buildings as our friendly, neighborhood superhero. The film began, and I was drawn in from the very beginning of the credits.


Sitting in a theater, watching a genre I was comfortable with, made the moments of fright I felt unexpected. But those moments ---- the ones that scared me ---- are also the ones that made the film so memorable and important.


Those were the scenes that lived in my brain and popped up when I wanted to buy a Spider-Man shirt to proudly wear down the halls of my elementary school. I constantly thought of Norman Osborn staring into the mirror, his reflection changing and speaking to him, showing him his inner pumpkin-bomb-loving demons. The wall of masks in Norman’s house terrified me, and I was exhilarated.


I wanted to feel this strange, intense feeling again, but I still thought I hated being scared because that was how everyone in my family felt. I tried to think my reactions to horror were ones of hatred when I would see movie trailers in darkened theaters, but inside, I was happy, and I wanted to see Drag Me To Hell (2009), even if I told my family otherwise.


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It was sleepover night with my cousins again. I was living in Georgia, so it must have been in the early 2000s. We were browsing the halls of Blockbuster, each of us picking up a movie to rent. I picked something innocent, childlike, and safe. My cousins picked A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and The Last House on the Left (1972). I was so scared of any and all horror, so we ended up watching different movies in separate rooms.


As “One, two, Freddy’s coming for you” wafted across the hall from the room my cousins were in, curled up in blankets exploring the horrors of this dream world, I sat with my children’s film on the screen. I wanted to block out any sounds of horror, even the DVD menu instrumentals that played all through the night once they finished the movie. Simply knowing it was horror sent me on edge. I curled myself up in blankets like a burrito filled with scared meat, the best kind according to some balls of light.


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Flash forward to 2020: I’m spending night after night in my room, wanting to watch horror classics I never saw. I ended up back in Freddy’s world of nightmares, and I found solace. I found survivors worthy of my love, and strange connections to my childhood. Nancy Thompson ---- my favorite final girl ---- fell asleep in the bathtub, held onto her dream demons, and had stress-induced gray hair.

Art by Amanda Mazzillo

When I would take a bath as a child, my mom would constantly check on me because I frequently fell asleep in the tub. When Nancy’s mom said, “You're not falling asleep, are you? You could drown, you know,” I was transported back to my own childhood. I felt a connection with Nancy and adored her strength.


Nancy is strong, resourceful, and has thick, sometimes unmanageable hair. I was reminded of my own hair struggles and seeing the beauty in Nancy’s helped me appreciate and love the thickness and waves of my own. Throughout the film, Nancy’s hair becomes gray from the stress of fighting Freddy. I loved how the film shows the impacts of having to be a final girl, and I also remembered the time when I got my first gray hair all the way back in middle school and my cousin plucked it out of my head.


A Nightmare on Elm Street (1982) is a slasher classic with a creative story and wonderful world-building of its dream world and a memorable final girl. I looked up to her, finding power in identifying with the women who survive until the end of the movie.


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As a child, I tried to grab items within my dreams, thinking I could bring them into the real world. Even though Nancy Thompson did this, my inspiration came from my favorite childhood show: Big Wolf on Campus. My love for this show felt like an anomaly at the time, but looking back, it was formative. It frequently referenced horror films such as The Evil Dead, The Lost Boys (1987), and the Nightmare on Elm Street series. This childlike and comedic exploration of horror allowed me to enter the genre from my comfort zone.


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I always loved movies. My siblings and I would browse the Blockbuster aisles, looking for new and exciting films to rent. The horror section always intrigued me. I equally wanted to run through as quickly as possible, so as not to be scared for too long, and explore the section forever, gazing at covers of movies I would never watch.


One film cover has always excited and intrigued me. It was Lucky McKee’s 2002 film May starring Angela Bettis. She was beautiful and fascinating in that gothic princess way, especially on this contrasted and slightly harsh cover design. I always walked past and touched the case, wanting to rent it, but also wanting to run away. I didn’t watch this movie until 2020 and by that time I had already seen most of Lucky McKee’s other films.


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Now, I watch horror films often. I’m subscribed to Shudder, and I find endless joy in the community I found while watching The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs. One night when I was maybe 7, I watched a movie on TV and a horror host came on after to introduce a late-night movie. I leapt to get the remote and turn the channel before I could see a glimpse of the gore that was sure to follow. This very well could have been MonsterVision with Joe Bob Briggs. Shudder giving him a new show brought me the experience I always needed but never knew I wanted. Even though I started as an overly scared child growing up in a house with no horror fans to guide my way, I am now a proud member of the Mutant Fam for life.


Horror is a part of my identity. I find happiness when I find friends who see the same worth, enjoyment, and significance in horror. Within horror, I found feminist ideals in final girls, metaphorical strength in body horror, and discussions of projecting the worst aspects of ourselves onto villains. I started out on the outskirts, scared of even seeing a horror trailer, to seeking films out and writing my own analyses and film reviews focused on the genre. Thank you, Sam Raimi, for leading me on such a life-changing journey to finding my own taste and making The Evil Dead series a staple of my horror marathons and movie nights over the years.

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