We all remember our first. Specifically, we all remember the first time we were scared witless by a movie or a book, forced to sleep with the lights on for days, or quickly pulling back the shower curtain to startle whoever must be hiding behind it. With this weekend’s release of “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,” I think these memories are all the more omnipresent, as the original collections of short stories were responsible for introducing an entire generation to the horror genre. In celebration of firsts, I decided to ask my fellow Next Best Picture members what their first experiences with the horror genre was, and their responses are nothing short of delightful.
“My real introduction to the horror genre was my middle school’s Hitchcock Club. One of the history teachers at my school ran the club in which we watched different movies by Alfred Hitchcock during club time every week. I joined it largely because it was run by one of my favorite teachers, but soon was absolutely enamored by films like “Psycho,” “Vertigo,” and “Rear Window.” To this day, I am only interested in psychological thrillers because of my early love for them, despite my dislike of the genre as a whole. On a more silly note, I am still recovering from my fear of rabbits because of my second-grade teacher reading “Bunnicula” to the class.” – Nicole Ackman, @nicoleackman16
“The first horror film I remember watching was 1959’s “House on Haunted Hill.” I was four, and it was Halloween, and the piercing screams that open the film made me forget all about my candy. The floating heads of Elisha Cook, Jr. and Vincent Price popped up to deliver some ghoulish exposition, and by the time Von Dexter’s haunting score took over, I was horrified and hooked in equal measure. (Still one of the best horror film scores in my opinion). I never knew moving pictures could affect me in such a visceral way. Every time I sit down for a horror film, I look for the same combination of feeling. Sometimes I find it, and when I do, I become that four-year-old who is unable to look away.” – Danilo Castro, @DaniloSCastro
“I’m not fully sure what started my love of horror (besides perhaps an ever-growing love of classic film and getting to the age where I could watch certain films), but I got very into the best of horror when I was twelve years old. I remember renting countless films from my local library to watch on a sunny Saturday afternoon, films like Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen, and the Scream franchise. By far the most scared I ever got (and probably still to this day) was with the original Halloween. I was terrified by the silence of a killer like Michael Myers and how familiar the film felt in its normal suburban neighborhood that looked like my own. I also became very interested in Hitchcock at this time, reading books on his films for my English classes and watching Psycho with extreme fascination. All of this culminated in me discovering my favorite film of all time which is The Silence of the Lambs, which sits comfortably in being both a crime thriller and a serial killer horror at times. Getting into all these films in that preteen era has allowed me to be kinda drawn to the suspenseful and creepy weirdness of the horror genre.” – Casey Lee Clark, @CaseyLeeClark
“I was a bit of a wimp as a kid. I was scared of everything from the TV channel E (it’s a long story) to all of Disney’s evil stepmothers. And then around middle school, I slowly started getting more and more interested in horror films. My first memory of seeing a horror movie and being actually invested in it rather than just purely terrified was when I caught part of The Shining on TV when I was 11 or 12. I specifically remember the spooky girls in the hallway were of particular morbid fascination to little me. And now I consume horror movies like it’s my job, even co-hosting a horror movie podcast. Thanks Kubrick!” – Cody Dericks, @codymonster91
“When I was a senior in high school, I would tell people that horror movies just weren’t “my thing.” Obviously, the reality was that I was just scared. I had avoided most horror movies up until that point. One of my good friends wanted to go to see the first “Paranormal Activity” for his birthday. As a reminder, the trailers for Paranormal Activity advertised one of the “scariest movies ever” and showed audiences losing their minds. I was obviously too scared to see the movie, but I couldn’t tell the guys that. So I sucked it up and went along with the group. When the movie was over, my reaction was… ‘that’s it?’ That was the moment that I realized I had no need to be scared of horror movies.” – Daniel Howat, @howatdk
“I was around eight years old when my dad showed me The Terminator. While it was an amazing experience that opened my mind to the genre-bending world of science fiction and horror, it terrified me to my core. The fact that humans created technology that eventually caused their destruction was brilliant and completely horrifying. To this day, I don’t trust artificial intelligence. I refuse to buy an Alexa or use Siri. It scared me when AIs are built & then praised because, in the back of my mind, Alexa is the great grandmother of the T-800. Artificial intelligence is praised for being the future of our society, but one day, it could most definitely be weaponized and the cause for our destruction.” – Lauren LaMagna, @laurenlamango
“My mom raised me on horror, and I can proudly say that I’ve felt magically immune to the guts and gore of ax murderers and monsters for as long as I can remember. There was one thing that really did get me — aliens — not the bug-like parasite sort, but the tall, humanoid sorts. That’s right, the only movie I can sincerely say shakes me to my core is M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs,” which most don’t even consider to be a horror movie. I guess this might have to do with some lifelong existential fear of the unknown, and of the possibility that our human knowledge, that our science and technology is nothing in the face of the infinite void of space, and all its potentially devastating secrets… That scene when Joaquin Phoenix sees footage of an alien crashing some kid’s birthday party… it still gives me the shivers.” – Beatrice Loayza, @bealoayza
“So when I was in first grade, for some reason my dad thought it would be a good idea to show me Arachnophobia. We sat down and watched it, and I remember even as we were watching it, I was already drawing my feet inward to make sure nothing could crawl on to them. By the time the movie ended, I was shaken. That night, I slept on top of the covers instead of under them…because you know, there was a spider in the sheets in the movie. The next day, my mom offered me popcorn— nope. There was a spider in the popcorn in the movie! I checked my shoes, the toilet seat, my baseball helmet and shower for spiders every single time I had to use them. The fear of spiders that movie created in me has lasted a lifetime. Obviously, I got over the whole “don’t sleep under sheets and don’t eat popcorn” aspect, but I am still terrified of spiders to this day, and it all started with that film.” – Will Mavity, @mavericksmovies
“The very first horror movie I can remember watching in full was “The Exorcist.” I saw it at my friend’s house during a sleepover and remember feeling rebellious because we were not supposed to be watching it. I think that is what’s so intriguing to me about the horror genre to this day…when we watch something that tells us that we’re not supposed to be watching it. It’s too provoking or disturbing. True horror should make you uncomfortable, queasy and tap into something that feels forbidden, thus unlocking our deepest and darkest fears about our own lives and humanity itself. Typical jump-scare horror, while it does have its place, has never interested me as much as the real-world parallels films such as “The Exorcist,” “Rosemary’s Baby” or modern classics such as “The Witch” and “Hereditary” draw from our own personal experiences. They’re steeped in character and a world that feels very much like our own, thus making us believe, if only for a second, that the horrors that befall those relatable characters could conceivably also happen to us. To me, there’s nothing scarier than that.” – Matt Neglia, @NextBestPicture
As for your humble host? Well, my first time being truly terrified by any kind of media was on my first reading of “Coraline” by Neil Gaiman. I originally read it when I was eight, and I had to sleep with the lights on for weeks afterward. There is something about that story that is so inherently terrifying to a kid; it features your parents disappearing, and an evolutionarily terrifying idea of replacing your eyes with buttons. It captures horror in a way that does not rely on any past contact with the genre to feel it and looking back on it now, that makes “Coraline” feel incredibly fresh. A couple of years after my first reading, I tried to read it again, only to be consumed by the same terror – so much so that I actually threw the book away in the garbage can outside my home, refusing the have the evil stay inside the house. When I woke up the next morning, the book was back on the kitchen table. Fearing that it had become sentient, I ran to my dad demanding an explanation, and he gave me a good scolding for attempting to throw away art (a blasphemous act in my household). Turns out he had seen it when taking out the trash early that morning and moved it himself. I conquered that story eventually, and I can honestly say I love the Laika-produced adaptation of the novel. But it also made me particularly sensitive to any kind of body horror – those button eyes have always lingered in the back of my mind.
That is a common theme with these anecdotes; the fear we experienced when we were young seems to follow us into our adulthood. Of course, this is also true of happy memories, and we see that in every piece of media that preys on our sense of nostalgia. But there is value in revisiting and re-examining what has made us scared and how that has affected us now. Where happy memories remind you of the good times, revisiting bad feelings allows you to realize how far you have come. This weekend, we will head to the theater to see many peoples’ first experiences of the dark side of their minds brought to life, and in doing so, we will get to pat ourselves on the back. Maybe this time, we will only need a nightlight.
You can follow Celia and hear more of her thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @filmsunstuck