A Horror Newbie Gives the Genre a Chance With ‘It’

Non-Horror Fan Reviews It

(Welcome to The Final Girl, a regular feature from someone who has steered clear of horror and is ready to finally embrace the genre that goes bump in the night. First on the list: Andy Muschietti’s adaptation of the Stephen King novel, It.)

I walked into the showing of It with a feeling of dread, making my way as slowly to my seat as I could with the hopes that I could miss a few of the inevitable horror movie trailers that would precede the Stephen King adaptation. No such luck. I got a face full of a Blumhouse Studios trailer of Happy Death Day, a standard, somewhat schlocky slasher flick that fits a lot of my uneasy expectations of horror movies: ultra-violent, senseless, and sadistic.

Because you see, I’m not a huge fan of horror movies. You could go as far to say that I’ve tried to avoid them with my entire being — though like that bloody Happy Death Day trailer, I’ve had no such luck. So why was I on my way to see It, a horror movie based on a novel by one of the most infamous horror writers of the past century? Because sometime in the last few years a switch flipped and I’ve started to become more curious about the genre. And this felt like a good place to start.

It Box Office Records

Why I’m Horrified of Horror

It started a few years ago when the critical acclaim for It Follows and The Babadook — before the latter became a gay icon — started rolling in, lauding both of them as smart, allegorical horror films that offered more than just cheap jump scares. Intrigued by the societal metaphors that both films offered, but still too scared to load either of them on Netflix, I’ve kept them in the backburner of “movies I’ll watch one day when I grow a spine.”

For those horror fans wondering how much of a wimp I really am, I got nightmares for a week after inadvertently seeing the trailer for Lights Out, the 2016 supernatural horror film starring Teresa Palmer as a girl stalked by a terrifying figure that could only be seen when, as the title suggests, the lights are turned off. This movie, as much horror does, taps into my own skittish nature and deep, deep paranoia. I have a tendency to scare myself senseless à propos of nothing — case in point, last week I was arriving home late at night and was suddenly struck by a fear that something could be lurking in the wooded darkness near my house. You see, I never grew out of that fear you had as a kid that something might be lurking in your closet. I don’t live in constant fear per se, but my mind frequently wanders to that of the unknown (I ironically have a fascination with ghost stories), thus scaring myself in the process.

So my thinking was, why give my time to films that are engineered to create these feelings of dread and terror when I can easily do it to myself?

But at some point, my fear of things that go bump in the night couldn’t be the only thing keeping me from horror films. Steadily, my distaste of the genre has grown, mostly geared toward the slasher and “torture porn” films. Oh, I have a traumatizing memory to associate with this, too. It is rooted in a sophomore year pool party in which my “friends” wanted to watch the hot horror movie of the moment to wind down the time. Despite my weak protestations, the 2007 reboot of Halloween was put on, and one of the guys thought it would be funny to hold my hands away whenever I tried to cover my eyes during a particularly violent scene. It wasn’t. So, wide-eyed was how I watched the lewd psychiatric ward asssault scene that introduced the murderous tendencies of Michael Myers, as the movie descended into even grosser depictions of violence and sex — especially violence against women. I couldn’t fathom the laughter of my fellow partygoers during these scenes, and could fathom even less how these films were enjoyable. I would learn over the years that horror is singularly cruel to female characters, and have a tendency to dole out misogynistic narrative punishments toward women who stray outside of the strict societal expectations for them — hence the existence of the virginal “final girl” trope after which this column is named. I won’t even go into the deeper implications of the brutalization of the naked female body and the often phallic weapons with which they’re named.

After that terrible pool party, I swore off horror, though it was only a few years later that I would start to be more open to the genre.

top 10 movies of 2016 the witch

The Twist

After The Babadook and It Follows piqued my interest, I couldn’t shake the idea that I may have too quickly brushed off horror films. In 2015, I suddenly found myself in the audience for “horror” films like The Witch and Crimson Peak — of my own volition. I was breaking my self-imposed ban on horror movies, and I started to wonder if I was slowly becoming a horror fan.

This newfound interest could be pinpointed on the advent of low-budget, high-concept horror films like Paranormal Activity, begetting horror-thrillers like The Invitation. It could be blamed on the popular rise of socially conscious horror flicks like The Purge and Get Out. Hell, it may be all A24’s fault, and their sponsorship of genre-bending, eerie horror movies like The Witch and It Comes At Night.

Or I may be more primed to like horror than I originally thought. Outside of my longstanding fascination with urban legends and ghost stories, I have a particular fondness for macabre genres that have their roots in horror: Gothic romance, sci-fi horror, noir, and fairy tales (many of which have dark roots as urban cautionary tales). It’s why I would watch any Guillermo del Toro movie in a heartbeat, without any reservations about how terrifying it would get. I also found that on TV I had a slightly higher tolerance for “horror” elements, delighting in body-horror elements in sci-fi series like Fringe, becoming entranced with Hannibal, and most importantly, falling for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The horror-camp series is easily one of my favorite shows, lending to my fascination with the “monster as metaphor” and the subversion of horror tropes. It was only a matter of time, with the new age of high-concept, allegorical horror films that we’re seeing today, that this would lead to me trying to fully tackle the horror genre once and for all.

But let’s talk about It now.

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