One movie that will forever haunt my memory is Robert Zemeckis’ “A Christmas Carol.” Silly to think that a computer-animated dark fantasy starring Jim Carrey, the same guy who played Mr. Popper in “Mr. Popper’s Penguins,” is the reason why I get a little nervous walking the streets around Christmas time. Another computer-animated dark fantasy I watched as a kid and was terrified of, but somehow find myself rewatching at least twice a year because it’s just the right amount of disturbing, is Neil Gaiman’s “Coraline.”
These two movies propelled a childhood filled with on-screen zombies, vampires, the supernatural and first-place ribbons at Halloween costume contests. Horror films, especially psychological thrillers, have been a huge part of my life, and continue to be. So it truly saddens me when my friends would prefer to watch cooking shows or Friends for the nth time on Netflix over a classic noir or, even better… a Haneke film.
Here are a few of many reasons why you should toughen up and watch a horror movie. Number one, horror reflects the ever-changing fears and anxieties of our society. In a New York Times article, guest essayist Stephen Graham Jones explains that Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula and the Mummy all made their way onto screens in the early 1900s as commentary for the Great Depression and economic strife. In the 1980s, when paranoia about nuclear winters and the Cold War was at its peak, cinema audiences lost their sleep to Jason Voorhees’ hockey mask, Michael Myers’ chef’s knife and Freddy Kreuger’s sharp fingernails.
A more recent example would be Mike Flanagan’s “Hush,” which directly speaks to the chaotic political climate of 2016 America, when fears of invasion surged following the rise of fake news, misinformation and the web of nefarious conspiracy theories during the election. The famously twisty kill-or-be-killed plot of Fede Álvarez’s “Don’t Breathe” also offers us a larger social commentary, using home invasion as an allegory for xenophobia as it points to the way capitalist America has created an ugly shell of nihilism and material greed.
Horror as a reflection of societal fears doesn’t just apply to American cinema. Robert Wiene’s “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” shows a wealthy doctor abusing his authority by hypnotizing a sleepwalker into committing murder, serving as a direct critique on Hitler’s authoritarian regime, and a reflection of Germany’s feelings of having been overly punished for the war as well.
There are so many layers beyond the ghouls and ghosts you see on screen. But not only does horror reflect society’s fears, it also serves as an outlet for us and its respective filmmaker to process internal anxieties, too. Negative feelings hidden below must be exercised in some fashion, and horror gives them an outlet. It’s an invitation to lapse into irrationality and experience outright madness, which we so rarely get a chance to do.
Watch a horror movie. Learn to appreciate the art that goes into the making of it by breaking down its parts. How does the high frequency of the theremin, the defining sound of 1950s horror movies, make you feel? What about the director’s choice in filming with a handheld camera, or using a Dutch angle? Does it make you feel unstable? Claustrophobic? Does their choice to perform a close-up shot heighten the fear you already feel?
Marvel at the ways the film performs and its ability to elicit the fears, desires and primeval archetypes buried deep in your subconscious. Let your imagination be haunted and let yourself be scared! Be curious enough to tap into those fears by sitting in the discomfort. And if you’re scared to watch the films alone because it brings out your anxiety, battle your inner demons with your friends — horror is meant to be watched with an audience anyway!
You can even make it fun for yourself by psychoanalyzing the filmmaker based on their filmmaking techniques, or the writer for their character choices. Why are Chad and Carey Hayes, the writers of “The Conjuring,” so obsessed with scarifying nuns? Maybe it’s because they wanted to separate themselves from the typical horror-film character tropes of vampires and zombies, and nuns just happened to be the next closest thing to evil forces. Or maybe it’s because they faced inventive corporal punishment in Catholic grade school as kids, and making the film was a form of catharsis for their trauma. How about Pierre Boulle? What type of childhood trauma do you think this man could have endured for him to come up with “Planet of the Apes”?
With Halloween around the corner, I encourage you to indulge in a horror or psychological thriller. Cult-classic “Psycho” by Alfred Hitchcock is a good go-to. David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive” and Michale Haneke’s “Funny Games” will both leave you on the edge of your seat. And if you’re looking for something extra disturbing, give Takashi Miike’s thriller “Audition” a watch. And, if it’s the “horror reflects the ever-changing fears and anxieties of our society” part of the genre that you’re interested in, maybe even look at what your friends are dressing up as for Halloween and psychoanalyze that.
Angie Tran ’25 is a columnist for the Collegian. She is an undeclared major from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. She can be reached at email@example.com.