Evil Dead, billed as “The most terrifying film you will ever experience,” brought in over 25 million dollars its debut weekend, beating out G.I. Joe and The Croods as the number one film in America. I did not see it, and probably won’t. I can also say, with little doubt, I won’t catch the other two either, but for different reasons. The reason I will be skipping “the most terrifying film you will ever experience” is I prefer not to have a terrifying experience. I have had them, but never knowingly, and especially never exchanging money for one.
Besides 28 Days Later the only horror movie I have seen in a theatre was Pet Cemetery some two decades earlier. It was not the plan to see Pet Cemetery, but after being dropped off at the theatre with three other friends to see another movie, our most devoted horror movie loving friend (the one with a life size Freddie Kreuger cut-out in his room, and chronic insomnia) convinced us to see the Stephen King adaptation. I don’t remember what my options were on that day, but based on a quick IMDB search I probably was secretly lobbying for Dead Poets Society. Faced with being fingered a wimp, I coolly acquiesced. Of course the movie was rated R and the fact that none of us were of age didn’t register until at the ticket window. Recognizing an opportunity, and being one to always sharply fold in the face of conflict I shrugged my shoulders in fake disappointment and began to slide out of line when, to my amazement then and now, our horror movie loving friend turned around and quickly, yet silently, somehow convinced and confirmed with a random middle aged lady standing in line behind us to pretend to be our mother. There were four of us, all the same age, not looking anything alike, and one of us Japanese. With tickets in hand we all said “thanks Mom” convinced we had really outsmarted the hapless minimum wager in the ticket booth. Unfortunately the high I felt upon entering the theater was quickly displaced by terror and regret. The ratings board was right. I wasn’t supposed to see this movie. I spent most of it with my eyes averted, but looked up just long enough to create a lifelong fear of having my Achilles tendon sliced.
It’s not that I don’t like horror films nor do I undervalue their contribution to the culture. It’s that I just can’t watch them. I’ve seen a few in my lifetime, mostly zombie films, but those I tend to lump in with the End-Of-The-World or Apocalyptic genre where the suffering is more diluted on a universal scale instead of concentrated in isolation. Therefore I missed all the Friday the 13ths and Nightmares on Elm Street and all the Halloweens. I unfortunately saw Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but skipped the House at the End of the Street. I know about these movies because all my friends watched them and talked about them in great detail. I liked to hear their plots outlined and their murder scenes described, but when it came to watching them I would usually find an excuse to leave the room.
The original The Evil Dead was one of the movies discussed ad nauseam when I was young. I remember hearing about arboreal rape, pencil stabbings, dismemberment. I knew I would never see it, but still harbored a fascination for its ability to simultaneously enthrall and repulse its viewers. That being said when I saw the trailer for the remake online I decided to watch it. I’d never even seen any clips of the original so I calculated – thirty years older, at my desk at work, during lunch, what’s there to be afraid of, right? However, once I saw that undead girl’s face poking out of a basement door I knew could never not see it again. I had nightmares and two very restless nights afterward trying to fend off visions of that thing crawling up over the edge of my bed.
Despite this error in judgment I still desire an engagement with the genre and do so exclusively now via trailers. The longish set up and quick, usually non-stabby, scenes of violence are generally enough to satisfy whatever it is in me that desires that which it has also, at the same time, forbidden. It’s interesting that this is something one doesn’t grow out of like motion sickness or bedwetting and I often wonder if it’s genetic. My parents never watched horror movies (my dad confessed to leaving the theatre during Psycho) and my son will back out of the room just watching Dinosaur Train. Is there a quantifiable difference between those who enjoy horror movies and those who don’t? I would like to say that they are all crazy, but 2 million plus people in one weekend can’t all be loons, can they? My horror movie loving friend is a strange bird. But maybe it’s me who’s crazy. Maybe I can’t watch horror movies because of my inability to distinguish between separate realities and get lost trying to navigate between the two. Like Kurtz I enter the Heart of Darkness and struggle to find my way out. The horror! The horror!