Yep. And yes, obviously this is a question I get asked a lot because of all the times I’ve been open about struggling with anxiety. I mean, I’m probably literally the person who cinemas warned shouldn’t watch The Exorcist if they’re ‘of a nervous disposition’ (I did, in fact, watch The Exorcist at the cinema, but only after first watching it on TV, and yes, it scared the crap out of me).

It wasn’t always this way. There was a large period of my life where watching a horror movie was the last thing I wanted to do, precisely because it made me anxious. I think that was basically from around age 20 to 40, the years when I was focused on my studies and then my career and, being exhausted most of the time, I wanted something easy and nonthreatening to distract me. Before and after that period though…

A brief personal horror movie history:

I think the first horror film I saw was American Werewolf In London (1981) on VHS (actually it may have been Betamax), no doubt a pirate copy that my friend’s mum had got. I’m guessing I was about seven or eight years old. My friend, who was no doubt already immune to it all after so much parental exposure also showed me Michael Jackson’s Thriller video in the same night. The walk home was all of two minutes but it felt like two hours as every shadow was out to get me. I cant remember seeing much horror after that other than The Day of the Triffids TV series (1981), which scared me, and maybe a few Doctor Who episodes also made me hide behind cushions. Oh, and Christine (1983) and Carrie (1976), both of which I watched before I was nine.

I don’t think I particularly enjoyed the experience—I didn’t like that feeling of fear and was actually quite angry about it all—but real-life experiences soon overshadowed that anyway (maybe something for another post).

When I was in my early to mid-teens I started staying over at a friend’s house. We’d always get a small bottle of vodka and rent one or two (or sometimes three) horror movies on VHS from the video shop. I guess watching these types of films was part and parcel of liking metal music, but this was a golden age where all the best horror from the ‘80s and early ‘90s was available, with eye-catching video covers enticing you to rent them. We were, of course, technically well below the age that we should have been watching these (and drinking vodka of course) but that didn’t stop us and we drunkenly got through most of what are now considered classics of the era. The ones that stuck with me were of course, Hellraiser (1987), Bad Taste (1987), Child’s Play (1988), The Evil Dead (1981), Jacob’s Ladder (1990), and Flatliners (1990). We also watched a lot of absolute trash. Many of them I’d forgotten until quite recently.

I’m wondering if the early childhood exposure to horrifying images and the drunken absorption of them in my teens is why when I have nightmares they’re not ‘stress dreams’ but full-on monster-filled stories that are gruesome, gore-filled and utterly horrifying. (I say this because so many friends tell me about their nightmares which to me seem like minor embarrassments, not nightmares at all)

Anyway, I stopped watching these until I started getting towards middle-age and suddenly I started again. I can’t remember what the first one was, but soon it became a new hobby. And I realised why I like them despite or perhaps because of having anxiety.

In real-life there are some things that I absolutely can’t enjoy. Putting aside the anxiety-inducing experiences that of course I work to deal with and improve my ability to manage (therapy is great), something that genuinely scares me in a not-at-all enjoyable way is… rollercoasters. In fact a lot of fairground rides. And I just cannot get my head around what people find fun about them, but I think, perhaps, it’s the same sort of process underneath it all. A rollercoaster is scary, it gets your heart pumping and you holding your breath, but you know that really it’s safe, you’re not in actual danger. For me, horror movies are the same. I get scared but I know that it’s just a movie. So this sort of rush is enjoyable, but, unlike the rollercoaster it has the additional benefit of:

  • A story that hopefully absorbs you and may even make you think
  • Great cinematography and filmmaking (horror movies are often seen as bad movies but this is entirely incorrect)
  • Acting (I studied acting so I love to watch this)
  • A whole bunch of nano-genres, there’s really something for every taste
  • A large community of knowledgeable fans

I’m currently regularly writing reviews on of all the films I watch, so if you’re interested in exploring horror here are a couple of lists I’ve made:

My favorite horror movies

Jewish horror movies