Love and Connection Through Horror

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Horror movies unite and bind. Horror movies heal. They cultivate strength and courage. They fortify the relationships and dyads that matter most—those between friends perhaps, or between parents and children. The horror genre itself has historic roots, ones deeply, almost mythically concerned with confronting trauma and prejudice, subverting cultural constraints, and solidifying the path toward a better, more equitable world; one without fear. To be scared in the cinema is to be spurred to action.

Lately, I have been showing my horror-averse boyfriend horror movies almost every other day. There was no particular reason he’d never seen many. Sometimes it was due to a lack of interest; sometimes it was ostensibly graphic content that turned him off long in advance. But when I tested the waters with Wes Craven’s Scream, a favorite of mine and almost the entirety of the queer horror fandom, it ignited a cinematic genre train trundling down the tracks, with no end in sight.

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Early literature, both scholarly and critical in the popular press, painted horror in a disingenuous light. There were video nasties and bans, think pieces contending a taste for horror is a taste for the macabre and evil. Long discredited studies are still omnipresent online. They claim a penchant for genre cinema– those movies about the supernatural and damned, full of blood, gore, pain, and death–correlates with a lack of empathy. The common refrain goes nasty, evil, apathetic persons like horror. Granted, those lines of research, despite their recurrent appearance, are easy to dismiss. Though there are still some latent concerns in any cross-genre relationship to tread into horror.

What is this person going to think of me? Will they think I’m disturbed? Deranged? Are they going to walk out and leave if I can’t stop myself from smiling in anticipation when Ghostface first calls Drew Barrymore? I soldiered on, though. Horror is curative. It has brought me out of the darkest depths of my own fear and pain. It is so fundamental to my life, so thoroughly innate to who I am as a person, a son and friend and boyfriend, that despite those insidious suggestions to conceal it, I had no choice but to share it.

We started with the Scream series. It’s innocuous enough to start with, and perhaps more than any other franchise, it’s abounding with love and adoration for the genre writ large. It’s a springboard. The babysitter movie Casey Becker mentioned? It’s real, and we can watch it. Those horror remakes Kirby rattles off in Scream 4? Let’s check them out. Luckily, he enjoyed them, even if he erroneously remarked that Scream 4 was better than 3. It was pleasant, but it still hadn’t become something of a ritual. Rituals strengthen relationships, per the interpersonal guru himself, John Gottman. I thought, just maybe, horror movies might be ours.

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Halloween (1978) Directed by John Carpenter Shown: Tony Moran (as Michael Myers)

After Scream, we started on the Halloween series, working our way through the original timeline first. Curiously, he’d seen David Gordon Green’s 2018 reboot, though none of the others. He loved both Halloween and Halloween 2. Afterward, I asked which fork in the road we should take– the original cinematic timeline or the dovetailing, Laurie Strode saga. It was less a question, more a demand, that we stick with Laurie. Again, he loved them. We then took a minor break, indulging in a smattering of genre offerings including Final Destination 2, My Bloody Valentine, Piranha 3D, Urban Legend, I Know What You Did Last Summer (and its sequel), and You’re Next.

We augmented it with trips to the theater, catching both The Night House (rough for a new couple to endure) and Candyman, both of which he loved. Then we dove back into the Halloween franchise, this time tracking the Cult of Thorn timeline, and he’s been absolutely giddy at Dr. Loomis’s slow descent into madness, unraveling more in each entry. He absolutely lost it when, in Halloween 5, Dr. Loomis remarked, “I prayed that he would burn in hell. But in my heart, I knew that hell would not have him.”

Shared fear is intimate. It’s deeply personal, yet at the same time, communal. Anyone who’s had a great theatrical horror experience knows this. Being scared alone is fine. But sharing it with friends, partners, and strangers alike is almost euphoric. It’s a community coming together, in a sense, to confront common fears. To identify and interrogate the enduring fears of our own lives and litigate them cinematically. Horror, always deeply political and personal, is exceptionally good at doing this, at encouraging conversations and cultivating a degree of intimacy and understanding other genres sometimes preclude.

There are biological factors at play, too, of course. Being scared releases dopamine, and couples report stronger, better feelings toward their partners when one or both of them are scared. I think it goes beyond that, though. I think that’s just one small part of the long lineage of couples loving horror together. There’s vulnerability and awareness, an almost cosmic mindfulness of the other person. I see you, I know you, I understand you, I love you. We are matched in a way that’s impossible to understand, though horror– this genre and these movies– illuminates it better than anything else.

We may not ever fully understand what draws us to another person, what draws us to share our fears and insecurities with them, to fall and hurt and love again, to commit so deeply, but when nestled up next to them watching campers being massacred or zombies rising from the grave, it feels like we just might. It feels like the secrets of the entire world are right before us, just a scream away.

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