Some people get a kick out of horror movies. They are never more alive than when they watch heart-stopping, goosebump-inducing, scream-inviting flicks. They relish the roller coaster of emotions and the bragging rights at being brave enough to survive them.
I hated horror movies. Why create for yourself a stress so unnecessary? In the case of the cinema, why pay all that money just to get yourself scared? It all seemed pretty silly to me.
This revulsion towards horror movies had some basis. When I was eight or nine, my grandmother took me to watch Lovingly Yours, Helen (the movie) where the late teen actress Julie Vega played the role of a young woman possessed by an evil spirit. After watching the movie, I became feverish—even delirious. I distinctly remember dreaming that the possessed Vega, speaking in another voice and having big, red eyes, was sitting on top of a closet, just like she had in the movie. And yes, she was staring at me.
I must have been sick for a week.
Many years later, I ventured to watch The Exorcism of Emily Rose at a movie house while I was killing time waiting for a friend to get off work. The movie was supposed to be a trial of a priest prosecuted for the exorcism he had performed on a girl, who eventually died. It would be a riveting legal drama, I thought, with all the scary parts supposed to be secondary. I was wrong—I got spooked silly that I walked out of the theater.
Years later, my dread of the witching hour lingered. In Tacloban City, writing about the sixth month mark of Typhoon “Yolanda,” I woke up at exactly 3 in the morning with all the lights in my hotel room turned off—even though I had gone to sleep specifically keeping them on. I had no idea how I was able to make it between then and sunrise.
So yes, I had plenty of reason to be averse to horror movies. They have a way of creeping into my life.
But something snapped this Halloween season, when remembering the dead, enjoying the break from work and school and contemplating all things scary proved to be main themes.
And I thought, since I vowed, at the start of my 40th year, to do things I would never have dreamed of doing before—riding at the back of a motorcycle up the hills, taking a zipline that is supposed to be the steepest in Southeast Asia, trying out restaurant food aside from the stuff I usually order, eating more meat—why not give horror movies another try?
And so this week alone, I saw three movies: two were about possession, and one was about a creature that haunted a household at wartime.
I would be lying if I said that the movies did not scare me anymore.
I noted that the ones on possession were terrible because of their startling effect. Once you actually see the images onscreen, there is just no way to unsee them. But no, I did not develop a fever. These days it is easier to imagine that the effect is such because of makeup and good editing. Just always anticipate that the producers intend to surprise you at every turn.
Thoughts about spirits that roam during the witching hour can also be debilitating. Because these are things you cannot see, who knows whether the spirits are there? Then again, it may also be that they aren’t. Our mind is capable of playing great tricks on us. An active imagination can be used to scare the wits out of you.
So try, instead, thinking about your looming deadlines or your overdue submissions. Let’s see if they do not give you the same sinking feeling of helplessness and foreboding. Would it not be to your advantage if you took your ripe imagination, sat down in front of your computer, and typed away? As for the movie—just admire the painstaking work and dedication of the film crew to come up with this product.
Now this is spookier: Think about the stealthy monsters that whack you on the back of the head when you least expect it, ruining your happiness just when you believe things were going so well. Shall you just cower? Of course not. You pick up your weapon and slay them.
There are ghosts that cannot seem to be extinguished, because they keep turning up just when you believe they have gone away. Shall you pull a blanket over your head? Of course not—stare the ghosts in the face and claim you will eventually be ok.
My experiment is not done. Several others are lined up for the next few evenings. One coping trick: Sometimes I watch several minutes of a comedy right after each horror film just so it is not the last thing I remember before I go to sleep. I also remind myself, if it gets really unbearable, that I can just close my eyes, cover them with my hand, or shut the darned thing off. Yes, I have that much power.
So bring it on—it’s just a movie, after all. Real life, with its blows and heart-stopping surprises, is way, way scarier. Imagine the bragging rights if you come out of that, unscathed.