By the time I was nine years old, my Father had procured an impressive collection of VHS tapes (around 500, I believe). His collection grew slowly and frugally having collected many of the tapes from garage sales, through clever trades, and store sales: the collection was his hobby and joy.
Now, of course, it’s important to note that there was a whole section that my brother and I were banned from viewing. It was on the top shelf and was a mixture of far-too-sexy 90s action films (looking at you, True Lies!) and then the coveted 70s-00s slasher horror films. Of course, being forbidden simply meant that I needed to watch ALL of these movies.
Lucky for me, both my parents worked retail jobs and so the summer months were free, or, at least they became free when my unreliable babysitter (i.e. my brother) would head out the backdoor leaving me and my friends at the mercy of the VHS player and that forbidden top shelf.
Each summer day, my friends and I would spend countless hours consuming every forbidden film from that top shelf. My favourites, of course, were the terrible horror films, which included riveting titles like: Carrie, Children of the Corn, Pet Semetary, The Exorcist, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Friday the 13th, Child’s Play, and many others.
90s horror kept the torch burning with feature films like: Scream (1-3), I Know What You Did Last Summer, I STILL Know What You Did Last Summer, Final Destination (1 & 2), Ginger Snaps, and Jeepers Creepers. I know there is another Scream film and several other Final Destination films and it should be obvious why I’ve ignored them.
Needless to say, I was a kid who loved a good controlled fright.
I know that this is not everyone’s idea of a good-time. Everyone has different levels of physiological arousal that they’re cool with, which is something I learned when I tried having elementary school birthday party sleepover that included watching a scary movie, which turned into “Britney’s Solo Sleepover” because my friends were all too scared of the movie and called their parents to be picked up–those were good, fun times.
Regardless, my love of a good scary film has held strong and I think, like my Dad, will probably stick with me well into my years.
Now, it’s important to note that there are ABSOLUTELY some topics in horror films, especially the older ones, that are a no-go for me and these turn-off-the-film-and-burn-it topics include things like: rape, cannibalism, torture, and those that demonize mental health.
What I’d love to see in future horror titles (this can be graphic novels, books, films, video games or whatever media tickles your fancy) is a story that can make us jump and gasp in our seats without gross cheap thrills.
As a kid watching these films unsupervised, I wasn’t grasping how problematic some of the content was, but as an adult it’s like sun in your eyes while driving down the highway kind of obvious… but that doesn’t mean that we should give up on horror.
While I certainly can’t watch those old 70s-00s films with the same lens that I did as a child, I’m still grateful for the genre and the opportunities that this genre can uphold in the coming years.
Horror most often reflects and responds to our collective societal fears and this can be powerful and a conversation starter, but I think it’s time that it also reflects and responds to our collective societal needs. I’d love to see horror that promotes body positivity, diverse and complex characters, feminism, and an understanding and education about mental health.
While some may say “just let horror be horror” I stand by a phrases that guide my life:
“We do better when we know better.”
Well, horror, in 2019 we know better and I really believe that you can do better. There are certainly some directors making these changes and we’ve seen some pretty good and scary films in the past few years, but there’s always work to be done.
I don’t think it’s too much to ask media to portray societally responsible messages, and I also don’t think that it ruins anything about the entertainment value. Like those old dried-up VHS tapes we’ve moved beyond, we, too, have retired those gross cheap sensational thrills of crappy horror. We know better, we can do better.