The 5 Stages of Watching a Scary Movie


Buckle up for the equivalent of a cinematic roller-coaster. Recently, I had the pleasure of having a horror movie night with my niece and nephew, along with my 3-year old daughter. I know, I know but we could not find a babysitter. It’s OK, she was on my iPad watching her cartoons and I managed to make sure I concealed her eyes and ears when the naughty bits occurred. It was a double feature Friday night. On the menu – The Conjuring and Evil Dead remake. The kids, sans my daughter, who are both 13 years old, never really got a taste of horror and me, being a horror aficionado, thought it was time to get their feet wet with some horror flicks. I’ll save the classic horror for another time as I don’t think their attention spans will muster story line.

I briefly explained the premise of each film, The Conjuring, allegedly based on a true story – based on or inspired by true events is surely to get anyone, especially, tweens a bit riled up. I threw in Evil Dead to introduce them to some modern gore. Plus, I wanted to watch it again. I made the popcorn, grabbed a few chips, some soda, some blankets for them to get under if things got too intense and dimmed the lights until we were submerged in darkness.

Horror fans know the torturous emotions that await, but we keep coming back for more. While plot twists and scare tactics change, the viewer’s horror movie experience usually follows a familiar pattern. Who hasn’t fallen victim to the tranquil opening scene, only to be dragged through blood, guts and a hellish villain for the following two hours? If you’ve sat through a few horror films, you’ll recognize the anticipation, fear and defense mechanisms associated with horror films. It is this rush that I strive for, always on the lookout for that new, or undiscovered horror flick that will conjure up such emotion… see what I did there? Get your popcorn and relive the stages of watching a great horror movie.

Pre-Movie Fear

You’ve read the reviews and talked to your friends. The consensus: you might not make it out of this one alive. Sometimes the anticipation is worth it than the real thing. As you buy candy and sit through previews, you’re preparing yourself for the worst. By the time the opening credits roll, your heart is pounding like you’ve just seen a ghost. Don’t worry, a pleasant opening scene will ease the tension.

The Calm Before the Storm

Pleasant, blissful and free of monsters, these opening scenes ease your senses before putting them through the ringer. Consider the opening scene in the 2012 horror hit “The Cabin in the Woods.” Five friends pack their bags for a fun-filled trip to a cabin off the beaten path. With drinks, food and the outdoors, what could go wrong? In a word: everything. If only those friends could have had an uninterrupted weekend relaxing. But that’s not what we came here to see …

Sheer Terror

Midway through the movie, you notice your fingers hurt from gripping the armrest too tight. If you love the horror, you’ve probably managed to forget that you’re in a movie. What’s happening on the screen is real, and it’s spine tingling. You take on the identity of the main character. It’s you chained up in Jigsaw’s labyrinth, and you feel every excruciating act. By now, the hair on the back of your neck is standing, and your body can’t handle the emotion. Why do you do this to yourself?

Inappropriate Laughter

Bad horror instantly becomes good comedy, and horror directors usually find a way to slip in a few laughs. Horror fans find reasons to laugh even without a punch line, though. It’s a defense mechanism against all stress and trauma on screen. We laugh to keep from crying, shouting or covering our eyes. When you feel like you haven’t taken a breath for a few scenes, it feels good to burst out when the monster from “The Ring” makes a funny face.

Euphoric Relief

At long last, it’s over. Even die-hard horror fans appreciate the relief when a terrifying film ends. Now is the chance to claim you knew what was going to happen the whole way and deny jumping when that shadow popped up. While your vitals return to human levels, you still might want to double check your home-security system before you go to bed. If the movie left its mark, you’ll be extra sensitive to sudden movements and shocking noises. And after you consider the consequences of these traumatic movies, you’ll be left with one question: When is the next one?

Have any other stages you want to add? I’m all ears.

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