For most of my film-loving life, horror was an afterthought, an also-ran, the Luke Hemsworth of genres, if you will. And Luke absolutely will; he’s down for anything. I was lucky enough to have a loving ambassador to spooky cinema encourage me to reconsider. She did this by watching horror movies almost all the time. So … many … Like, you know how you see a film called “Bathroom Exorcism 12: A Demon’s in the Shitter” and wonder “Who would watch this?” I know the answer. And I’m quite grateful!
The reason that so many film careers have been launched through this genre is because it is nonjudgmental and filled with limitless potential. It is uniquely imaginative and touches almost every other genre with its dismembered fingers. Turns out, when it came to horror movies, I was the real monster. I’ve learned a lot, and with the scary season finally upon us, I have 10 rules I think are essential for every horror viewer, from the bloodhounds to spooky newbs.
Thou shalt not be closed-minded
This isn’t just a suspension of disbelief, although you will absolutely need to hoist that SOB in the air. What I mean here is that approaching the entirety of horror requires an openness to bizarre, silly, and even potentially offensive things. If you’re not willing, that’s fine. But if you go into these movies with judgment, you are straight up not going to have a good time.
Thou shalt respect your elders
Maybe because dated effects are part of the charm, or maybe because the social context that underlies much horror is so progressively ahead of the mainstream, but old horror movies hold up pretty durn well. You should at least try ingesting classics from Universal’s monsters to Romero’s zombies and John Carpenter’s thing ─ sorry, that should be John Carpenter’s “Thing.” Whew, punctuation and grammar made a big difference there.
Thou shalt appreciate the subtext
Speaking of that social context … Jordan Peele didn’t invent the idea that horror movies can be about stuff. Nor did he somehow “woke-ify” or “liberalize” the genre. That shit has been there from the jump. Go back as far as you want, and you’ll see that these films have always been intended as metaphors, often decrying intolerance, sexism, racism, and capitalistic greed. Sure, some of them were also intolerant, sexist, racist, and greedy cash grabs. But by and large, horror movies are “about” stuff more than, say, any wretched period drama.
Thou shalt not resist remakes
Another thing that horror movies have been comfortable with longer than their cinema siblings: Remakes. From Sam Raimi redoing “The Evil Dead” himself to countless Draculas (Draculae?), the idea of saying “that’s fun, let’s do it a different way” has never been offensive. Remember when they did a shot-for-shot “Psycho” remake, and nobody was really mad about it? This is just a reminder that you shouldn’t bring your baggage about the “90210” reboot or whatever into the horror zone.
Thou shalt prefer some over others
One of the best things about the genre is its subs. I promise you, there is some subdivision of horror that you will absolutely love. If you need a guide, I did a whole piece on it a few years back (bit.ly/3QQPHeU). Are you a body horror fan who enjoys Cronenberg cracking open ribcages? Do you like cosmic horror, with tentacled beasties that cause madness? What about horror comedies, folk horror, creature features, or slashers? This is a Cracker Barrel of cinema, with nobody mad about impossible meats.
Thou shalt laugh
One of my favorite film memories is watching “Hereditary” at an early screening at Alamo Drafthouse. When the flick went total cuckoo bonkers at the end, half of the audience recoiled in terror and half was full-on LOL-ing. The Venn diagram of ha-ha and “holy crap” overlaps a lot. It’s OK to find hilarity in things meant to be spooky. In the same way love is not the opposite of hate but oddly intertwined, so too is it OK to walk the line of silly and scary.
Thou shalt not tolerate torture porn
This will be the commandment that most riles folks up, but I don’t care. Films that are celebratory of grotesque actions, almost always done to women, are vile and useless. That whole “Hostel” nonsense that exploded for a while can go to hell. You may think this violates the whole “Don’t be close-minded” thing, but lean real close and I’ll tell you a secret: I don’t care. Torture porn isn’t horror, it’s not even filmmaking. It’s perversion that found a profitable outlet.
Thou shalt not be a weirdo about stuff
Don’t gatekeep is a rule that everyone should follow, unless you work at a moat. Every fandom has its share of jerks, and horror is no different. Well, horror is slightly different, in that the thing they are gatekeeping is often somewhat gross. “Only I know how to appropriately love these movies in which a mass murderer vivisects ladies” is like doubling down on the odor that permeated “Last Jedi” Reddit threads. Let people like what they like, hate what they hate, and don’t apply weird standards.
Thou shalt be inclusive
More of my LGBTQ+ friends are into horror than any other genre. There is just a myriad of reasons for that, but I find this fact to be hugely compelling. As a community, they have rarely steered me wrong in recommending stuff. From turning “The Babadook” into a queer icon to “Horror Noire,” a documentary about the history of Black horror films, to the staggering number of women who direct a genre film as their first full feature, there is a lot to love. Speaking of, give Omaha’s own Gayly Dreadful (gaylydreadful.com) some love while you’re at it.
Thou shalt (not) be scared
Here’s the biggest commandment of them all: It’s fine to like horror and not be scared. Other than “The Exorcist,” no flick has gotten to me really. I always am acutely aware that I am watching a movie, so it never feels real enough to spook me. Yes, jump scares will always alarm us: I’m looking at you, “Haunting of Hill House.” But I think it took me so long to embrace the genre because I just don’t really get creeped out. I thought that was “the point.” But it just isn’t. “The point” is to enjoy the creativity, the ridiculousness, the commentary, the inclusivity, and the madness of it all. If this list helps even one of you do that, I would like your name please.