I’ve been spooky my entire life. Horror is such a staple in my life that my twin brother got me the entire Scary Stories collection as a high school graduation present. In elementary school, my library got a copy of Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to tell in the Dark. The anthology of folk stories, urban legends, and macabre songs became my all-time favorite. Things started really picking up around the 5th grade. That year, I read my Dad’s entire collection of Stephen King novels (sorry, Mom!) and kindly asked my mom to buy a new vampire book from that January’s book order. The book? Twilight. Okay, hear me out! It’s trash! It’s melodramatic! It’s not a healthy relationship! But damn, was it a fun read! My mother had let me read on my own at that point for a few years. It was my favorite thing to do, and with quantity comes higher reading level, so I ran out of things to read. But she was unsure of the content and agreed to order it only if she could read it first. Skip ahead to later that year. My dad was driving me to the Walmart midnight release for the movie, and as the books came out, I had to beg her for spoilers. It was hell to see her reactions and not know what was happening!
Now, Twilight wasn’t my only exposure to the spooky side of life. As my mom and I started reading more of the same books, she introduced me to one of her favorite vampire books-turned-movies, Interview with a Vampire. From there, I quickly spiraled into reading The Chronicles of Vladimir Todd, The Vampire Diaries, Vampire Academy, Wicked (no relation to the musical) and by the time I entered 10th grade, the entirety of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles.
During the height of this obsessive reading, I was struggling through middle school. With puberty, I started gaining weight that I wasn’t eating and couldn’t get rid of, I was acting out in self-destructive ways, and I was so anxious I wasn’t sleeping for weeks at a time and had trouble leaving the house. Even at family parties, I was too anxious to get up and get my own food— I was a tween trailing my mom around during holidays because I couldn’t cope. I know now that I was suffering from Metabolic Syndrome (Insulin Resistance), which can become diabetes but also has the side effects of anxiety, depression, PCOS, and other complications with my reproductive system. I was diagnosed with all of them: insulin resistance, major depressive disorder, acute anxiety disorder, polycystic ovary syndrome, and as I recently discovered: endometriosis. On top of feeling like my body wasn’t working, my parents were fighting through a long-overdue divorce in which I was strictly team mom. There were so many things going on (all of them wrong) that it took forever to start trialing medications.
For Christmas that year, I received the entire* Tim Burton filmography: Nightmare before Christmas, The Corpse Bride, Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, and my overall favorite Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. My initial discovery of horror-fiction included noteworthy classical literature titles such as The Picture of Dorian Grey, Dracula, Frankenstein, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights. Sweeny Todd’s synthesis of Victorian England and musical theater captivated me!
Although I’m much more of a theater snob now, this was a turning point in my consumption of scary movies and horror literature. It introduced me to cannibalism, something horrific and absolutely delightful. My mom made the off-hand comment that I’d probably like Silence of the Lambs. I was hooked! The moral ambiguity, charisma, and mindless violence of Anthony Hopkins’s Hannibal Lecter was everything I ever wanted. Serial killers became my escape, something I could investigate and figure out and understand. I went through the all-American roster of Ed Gein, Ted Bundy, and John Wayne-Gacy, and started watching NBC’s Criminal Minds.
My sophomore year of high school Hannibal and Penny Dreadful premiered on TV, and my house gained a new source of entertainment: Netflix. As things felt worse in my life with college approaching, SATs, and the horrific lingering issues from my father’s existence, I found refuge in this world of bloody violence and supernatural suspense. I’ve been using these movies as a sort of therapy… scare-apy, if you will. It gives me an outlet for my overabundance of fear and anxiety. Even in psychological horror, there’s a reason for the anxiety–something written into the script to apply my sometimes irrational and unfounded anxiety onto with some sort of pay-off via the conclusion of the film.
Recently I’ve watched and re-watched The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix, which has a story full of jump scares and ghosts of both the spectral and mental variety. It works like a sort of cognitive journey through grief and ends in a satisfying way. The resolution in horror films, whether happy or not, makes going through the anxiety worth it unlike real life, where people who suffer with chronic anxiety often live with copious amounts of fear, paranoia, exhaustion without reason and without resolution. Although, I personally enjoy the creative freedom within the genre and sub-genres, it’s become a coping mechanism for me–one that I can enjoy as a fan of all things spooky and learn from as a writer. There is no guidebook on anxiety or any mental illness or how to cope with the loss of loved ones, divorce, poverty, academics, and illness. This is something that works for me. It gives my brain something to fixate on, puzzle over, and feel real fear and anxiety that I can then put away once the film is over. I’m not sure if I grew up slightly spooky because of Alvin Schwartz and my elementary school library, or because of the vampire craze sparked from Twilight, or even my absurd love of Hannibal Lecter. But I do know that it’s evolved into a part of my life, something manageable in the face of a world I can’t control, sometimes even when it feels like I can’t control myself.
*not the real entire filmography, but the ones that had been on DVD at the time. It was 2012.