I’ve never watched horror movies. They never held any appeal for me. If I’m going in for entertainment generally I’m looking for something happy or at least, you know, not scarring. But it’s October (the spooky season) and I thought – why not? So I watched some of the classics – Jaws, The Shining, and my friend’s suggestion, The Conjuring. Now I can tell you exactly why I’d always opted out of horror films in the past. Everything nice now seems sinister. My mother’s humming? Nope, that means I’m about to die. A child laughing? Absolutely not. Just no. Run.
Besides the usual ‘damsel in distress’ trope and an upsetting number of dogs being killed, here are some other things I’ve learned about horror movies based on these three classics:
Content Warning: this article will contain spoilers for Jaws, The Shining and The Conjuring.
A fixation on destroying happy families
In horror films, there is a common trope of bad things happening to families. In all three movies the antagonist was a direct threat to the happiness or health of a family. In Jaws that was the shark feeding in the family-friendly water, killing a child and attempting to snack on the main character’s son. In The Conjuring the ghost of a witch kept possessing people and forcing them to kill their own children. The Shining was just two hours of watching a crazy man think about and then attempt to kill his family – with special interest in killing his son.
Seriously, what is up with this whole killing children thing? Where does this obsession with disrupting families come from? Heteronormative families, let me note. Honestly, Jaws felt more like a family movie than a horror film. There were like four family dinners in that whole film.
Dads get shit done
Rather than the lone ranger archetype, these horror movies seem fixated on the ‘hero dad’ sort of character. Excluding the father in The Shining who is more of a ‘monster dad’, of course. But in both Jaws and The Conjuring, the dads are the ones who get shit done. The main character in Jaws is the one who eventually kills the shark – which, come on, took forever. And the two daddies in The Conjuring, the exorcist dude and the poor regular-flannel-wearing dude, were this balm on your nerves. If they ran into a scene you were like: “Cool, they’ll get it sorted”. And mostly they do.
Not to discredit the mothers of horror movies, though. The Shining had one capable woman, and The Conjuring had that clairvoyant lady who was pretty instrumental in the whole thing. Not so much Jaws though. She was mostly… blonde and supportive.
Children are not to be trusted
I said it before and I’ll say it again – what’s up with the kids? How did I not know about this whole mania of messing with children and innocence?
Whether it’s placing a child in distress, or having some creepy kid or child ghost, horror movies are just fixated on children. Jaws saw a child ripped to pieces, with another child almost gnawed on. The Conjuring had a whole house of five young girls being preyed on, including a child who had been previously killed in that house. Yikes.
The Shining had poor Danny running away from his father and seeing visions of two other young girls who had been murdered. Also, he had a little boy in his mouth that talked sometimes – what? They twist scenes with kids in it, too, even when they’re not doing anything weird. Playing becomes, “Do you want to play with us forever, Danny?” Screaming in delight becomes, “This scream sounds like me dying and the shark is about to eat someone.” Laughing generally seems to mean a child is dead and haunting them. Delightful, right?
Old films have actual character arcs, new films have cheap thrills
There seems to be a distinction between older classic horror films and the newer ones. The older ones such as Jaws and The Shining are both quite long. They are in and of themselves cohesive movies – with proper story and character arcs. Most of the main characters get proper development and we learn something about them, especially in Jaws. But they also drag scenes on and on and on. Even when nothing scary is happening, such as Jack in The Shining walking through the hotel to get a fake drink at an empty bar, there is really loud scary music playing.
In contrast, more recent horror movies such as The Conjuring seem to be over-saturated with tension and cheap thrills. The characters were hardly developed at all, and the story mainly consisted of constant danger and little reprieve. It gets wearing and exhausting, but also it’s quicker, and didn’t leave me rolling around waiting for the conversation to finish. I can’t say which I preferred. Is neither an option?
So after that not-so-delightful experience, I’m going to go cuddle my dog and pretend that the sound of someone cutting steel outside my house doesn’t sound like screaming. I don’t think I’ll continue to watch horror movies. But now, at least, I can say I’ve seen some of the classics. I really wish I could un-see the dogs dying, though. What a cheap way to get an emotional response (it really worked). Lastly, keep this in mind: music means you’re safe for now, quiet means you’re about to get killed – or there’s a jump scare coming. Really, I’m forever ruined.